Back in the day, simply using a computer meant becoming a bit of a programmer yourself, a far cry from how buying a new machine works today: You turn it on, you press a few buttons, and away you go.
Now, some beautiful soul has re-created one of the finest examples of software bridging the user-programmer divide: HyperCard, Apple’s 1987 visual programming tool, which shipped with new Macs for free at the time. HyperCard let users create stacks of virtual cards that ran simple code written in a language called HyperTalk. Cards in a stack could link back to other cards, an ability that was effectively early hyperlinking, one of the web’s defining features.
The internet revamp of HyperCard is called ViperCard. It’s open source, and it’s pretty fun. You can create your own rudimentary HyperCard stacks, and even play some “featured stacks” like the basic game “Glider,” which was originally released as shareware in 1988. We don’t know a lot about whoever created ViperCard, except that it's copyrighted by one Ben Fisher. Good on you, Ben Fisher.
ViperCard’s old school look and faithful recreation of the HyperCard experience bring back days when users were encouraged to play with their new machines rather than simply follow their glossily-rendered instructions. In a 2016 interview, HyperCard creator Bill Atkinson said that the point of the tool was to “give programming abilities to people with a passion, rather than trying to give programmers a passion.”
This revelation, Atkinson said in the same interview, was inspired by an acid trip. It’s a long story that begins on “a park bench outside [Atkinson’s] house” after having “taken some really nice acid.” During this trip, Atkinson thought about the parallels between stars and streetlamps, and “saw the curvature of the planet.” Eventually, he had a realization that boiled down to average people engaged in different areas of knowledge—music, biology, poetry, chemistry, etc.—being able to talk to each other. Really, information being able to link to other information.
“If you can facilitate the connection between different bodies of knowledge talking to each other, then there’s a trickle-up effect that maybe you’ll develop some wisdom on the planet,” Atkinson said in the interview.
With ViperCard, a tiny bit of that original acid-tinged vision for computing is back.
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