Volume 6 no. 12 (December 1988), page 22

I received a survey in the mail the other day that was asking about my preferences in database software. All the biggies (and some of the smallies) were there.

Except HyperCard.

Perhaps believing Apple Computer’s position that HyperCard is system software and not a database program, the creators of the survey choose not list HyperCard. That could mean only one thing: Legionnaire’s Disease of the Macintosh Community — HyperAngst — had claimed another victim.

HyperAngst: 1) a condition in which you are not sure if HyperCard would survive as a real program if it were not given away for free with every new Macintosh. 2) a condition in which you aren’t sure if HyperCard is the solution to all the world’s problems, or a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. 3) the paranoid certainty that all stackware developers are actually agents of a secret coalition of mass storage manufacturers.

An art director of my acquaintance told me last week that she had finally bought an SE with Illustrator and XPress, and asked if I could give her some pointers on using her system. The first thing she wanted to do was to learn HyperCard, because the salesman had told her she had to do that before she did anything else.

Consultants run into this all the time, I’m sure. A new Mac in a new installation with a new user, and all of a sudden HyperCard rears its ugly head. The user feels he or she should be using it because Apple thinks enough of the program to include it with the hardware, and the consultant feels the need to support HyperCard because it is system software after all, right? And yet the user doesn’t really know what he or she wants to do with the darn thing and the consultant isn’t sure how to tell them to do it.

I happen to like HyperCard for some things. I keep my address book information in a stack because neither QuickDex nor Filemaker offers the type of data control I need, but dBASE Mac is too slow and 4th Dimension is overkill (and too expensive for a flat-file application such as mine). I also use it for some limited programming instead of BASIC or Pascal because I can get things done quickly, if not cleanly.

This actually brings up another question: is HyperCard the BASIC language of the Macintosh? If it is, may the saints preserve us. As confusing as most programming languages are for most of us, at least you can look at a program listing and see all the elements you are dealing with. With HyperCard, why, you might have bits and pieces of program code hidden virtually anywhere. Is there a script for that field? Have to look and find out. How come this button does what I want even though there is no script to go with it? Sounds like HyperCard is passing handlers up the hierarchy, whatever that means.

HyperCard is a database program that doesn’t do reports. HyperCard does math but don’t ask it to do your accounting. HyperCard handles words but don’t expect to write a book with it. HyperCard is a bit-mapped art program in an era of laser printers. HyperCard is kinda like hypertext, only different. HyperCard could provide a graphic interface for communications programs, except that it works too slowly. Semanticists must love HyperCard because whenever you attempt to define it as being something, it actually turns out to be something else.

I have a simple, two-step procedure to sorting out this whole mess. First, we declare a moratorium on new stackware. This really won’t help much of anything, but at least we can relax for a minute without having to worry about missing some great piece of HyperCard programming that gives us all a reason for living.

Second, we wait and see how Silicone Beach software markets its new HyperCard work-alike program when it comes out in a couple months. There is nothing like a little advertising to help you figure out why you want something that you’re not even sure you need.