The Front End — Macworld Expo: Silicon Beach News for HyperCard Developers

by Raines Cohen
MacTech Quarterly
Summer 1989 – Page 127

Last January’s MacWorld Expo in San Francisco featured a number of announcements exciting to HyperCard developers. Some were notable in and of themselves, while some represent milestones in discussions that began long ago and are likely to continue for the forseeable future. 

The most talked about software of the show was, of course, SuperCard from Silicon Beach Software. SuperCard is a HyperCard-like package that is highly compatible with the Apple product yet goes beyond what HyperCard can now do. Full-screen or larger scrollable color cards, multiple windows, and the ability to produce standalone applications are among the highlights of SuperCard, announced at Expo and expected to ship in the second quarter of 1989. A kind of Resource Editor is built in. The basic premise of the product, from the developer’s point of view, seems to be: “In HyperCard, you can prototype applications easily. In SuperCard, just as easily, you can develop them!”

The program’s author, Bill Appleton, is no stranger to HyperCard compatibility. He is the author of HyperDA and HyperEngine, both published by Symmetry, respectively a desk accessory and an application module that can understand rudimentary HyperTalk, recognize HyperCard file formats, display cards and perform searches. These products, while useful for read-only uses of stacks (like looking up a phone number) and on-line help systems, have been much criticized by HyperPhiles for their limited vocabulary. SuperCard goes much further, crossing the critical 90 percent compatibility mark (via a separate translator application), to the point of working with most current HyperCard external commands and functions.

The potential for SuperCard’s ability to do standalone applications is exciting. When you as a user put an application created in SuperCard through its paces, you can go “under the hood” and customize its look and functionality directly, to the extent permitted by the original developer. What’s more, SuperCard applications could send messages to each other, offering a simple Inter-Application Communications (IAC) capability well before most standard applications will be able to support it.

Before the show, there was a great deal of speculation as to Cupertino’s reaction to SuperCard. Would Apple file a look-and-feel lawsuit? Was Silicon Beach planning to make its product run on PC’s as well? (The data-fork-only file format it uses is optimal for that sort of translation, à la PageMaker.) Would Apple aggressively develop HyperCard 2.0 and trample SBS?

A collective sigh of relief was heard when Apple’s Jean-Louis Gassée showed up at the SuperCard press conference/reception Wednesday night, and commented on the product’s high “drool value.” Bill Atkinson promised not to look at SuperCard while developing HyperCard 2.0 (although Dan Winkler could be seen at the reception), and the impression from others on the HyperCard team was that it would be fine for SBS to claim the high ground in the world of HyperCard features. While Apple is bound to make significant improvements in HyperCard 2.0, now slated for August release, the current word on the streets is that color won’t enter the picture until at least HyperCard 3.0. The general impression Apple is giving, at least in this regard, at this moment, is: “We’re just interested in selling computers.” 

HyperTalk Language Committee

At the show, Jean-Louis announced the formation of a HyperTalk Language Committee to standardize extensions to the language. Much remains to be seen about this committee. Who will be on it: stack developers? Only HyperCard-extenders like SBS? Third-party applications developers? Book authors? User Group Groupies? Will Apple have veto power? What opportunities will there be for public input? Will the committee stick with Dan & Bill’s (occasionally broken) rule of not making older stacks break with new revisions of the language? Will it suffer the fate of many language committees and either retard the development of the language by adopting a lowest common denominator mentality or splinter into factions as the Unix/Open Systems Foundation committee has done? As a not uncommon quote on UseNet newsgroups goes, “The nice thing about standards is that you can have so many of them.”

The standardization of HyperTalk is a critical step if it’s to become a standard language for IAC on the Macintosh. Major third-party software developers have said that they would support HyperTalk if it was a standard. This would be a boon to all users of Mac software, especially those who use more than one application at a time. Consultants and other application customizers could integrate multiple applications into custom products without having to re-invent the wheel.

Collective Concern

All of this is predicated on the committee really forming, and standardization really occurring, and more. In this year of tight margins at Apple, I imagine they’ll hold the crown jewels of HyperCard’s search engine and graphics compression algorithms closer than ever. They might need, as always, a little nudging to keep from forgetting the potential benefits of an open, system-wide, standard.

I suspect that readers of MacTech Quarterly (yes, you!) are, collectively, one of the groups most aware and concerned about the issues involved in IAC and language standardization. Please send me anything you’d like to make sure the committee doesn’t neglect or overlook, care of MTQ , and I’ll summarize and pass relevant comments on to the committee and/or run them in future columns.

Expo Notes

Some other notable HyperStuff was making the rounds at Expo, too. John Sculley’s HyperTV demonstration, brought off with the assistance of Steve Maller and more equipment than most of us will see in our lifetimes, was intended as a demonstration of the power of Desktop Presentations. Now, instead of always chanting “roll the tape” every few minutes in his speeches, John can just press a button in a HyperCard stack, and play a sequence from a custom videodisc through a color digitizer and display it on his screen. Magic, huh? Think about it, though — whoever used to “roll the tape” is now unemployed. Ain’t technology grand? 

Also worth noting is that on February 6, 1989, Robertson Reed Smith, author of the notorious Stack Starter, joined the HyperCard team. Watch out for zany sample stacks to be bundled with the next HyperCard.

About the author

Raines Cohen is a Geography student at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder of the BMUG HyperCard Scripting SIG.

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