The Genius behind HyperCard: Bill Atkinson
Author: from Quick Connect
Date: November , 1987
Keywords: release profile interview
Text: He is a dreamer, an inventor, a soft-ware artist, and one of the biggest names in personal com ing. Best known as the author of MacPaint*, Bill Atkinson has a penchant for pushing the frontiers of the Macin dream: to put the power of the personal computer into every user's hands. First, he gave all of us the power to create so cated graphics on a computer. Now, he's given us the power to become software developers without having to know a single word of pro ming code. HyperCard* is already pushing the outer limits of this dream farther than anyone thought possible, except, of course, Bill himself. We asked Bill to tell us his story of HyperCard and to make a few predictions about the future. Here's what he had to say. How did you get the idea for HyperCard? Actually, HyperCard is a descendant of two ideas. One was the give-away Rolodex program that I wrote just to keep track of my own journal articles. The other was a research project I did on what the new generation com puter should uncompressed. So I worked out a new packing algorithm. I remember waking up at four in the morning and going down stairs to work on it. Basically the algorithm I came up with worked. It allowed us to pack many many more images per disk that we would have been able to oth wise. Another breakthrough was working out the tech ogy for fast searching. In my research, I had already figured out that, at least theoretically, the searching could be speeded up 100 times. When I actually got to doing it, the measured performance was 700 times faster! This breakthrough allowed us to search the Los Gatos town library card catalog-which had 100,000 cards or 15 megabytes of text-in 2 seconds instead of 10 minutes. We were really pleased. It was very exciting when that first broke. How would you compare your work on HyperCard with MacPaint? HyperCard is much more open and much more ambitious. Unlike MacPaint, HyperCard is something that you build on top of. It's going to open up people because there are so many things you can do with it. In terms of ambition, HyperCard is about 15 times as big as MacPaint. The assembly language alone in HyperCard is bigger than that in QuickDraw. It's certainly the largest thing I've attempted, and I think its the most significant in terms of what it will do to the computing com nity as a whole. What will HyperCard do to the computing community? All the people with great ideas or specialized knowledge of information won't need access to a pro sional Macintosh programmer with time on his hands to express themselves. Making stacks is no big deal. It's easy. The great ideas that are yet to come in the Macin tosh world are mostly going to be from people who aren't programmers but who have great ideas. HyperCard is going to enable them. You've said that HyperCard is part of the original Macintosh dream. Could you explain what you mean? The Macintosh dream has really been putting the power of the personal computer into an individual person's hands. We succeeded to some extent by using graphics and menus, and a consistent user interface and direct-manipulation metaphors to make the software more usable and accessible. The end user didn't have to learn all the control characters and all the command sequences and bits and bytes and stuff like that. You didn't have to be a computer jock to use the Macintosh. But at the same time, we made it harder for the pro mers to create Macintosh applications. It really takes not only a professional programmer, but also someone who has spent a year or so learning the Inside Macintosh handbook to understand how to use all the Toolkit features, the graphics, the menus, etc. So the Macintosh dream wasn't really complete because the individuals couldn't get all the power of the personal computer. They could only use canned pieces of power. HyperCard, acting like a software erector set, really opens up Macintosh software architecture to where individual people can make their own customized information environment, and interactive information and applications without having to know any programming lan guage. It takes the creation of software down to the level of MacPaint images that you like, then pasting buttons on top of them to make them do what you want. HyperCard puts this power into the hands of any Macin tosh user. What is the most exciting thing about your work as a software designer? The art of creating software that is usable by individuals is a communi tion skill. It is not a pro ming skill. Program ming and what a software artist does is analogous to a pianist who needs to know how to move the keys and have that down cold so that he can concen trate on the feeling and message that he is portraying in his rendition of this music. So slinging the bits is an enabling technology for me to express and com cate and teach. The most exciting thing for me is when I see people amazed and pleased at the newfound power they got from a program-when they say, ''Wow, I can do this!'' That's the feeling people got back in 1984 when they saw MacPaint and started using it. It's the same kind of feeling that is going to happen here with HyperCard. But that feeling will be magni fied, because the amount of power you get out of HyperCard is really so much greater. HyperCard is going to open up the whole meaning of what personal computers can be. Can you make any predictions about the future? I think if we look a year from now, I'll bet there will be 20 times as many people making interactive in tion for the Macintosh as there are now. A lot of people are going to get opened up, enabled, empowered to control their computer. That's really what we're trying to do. It's the same dream. Nothing's changed. It's the original Macintosh dream of making the power of personal computer accessible to in als. HyperCard is just unfolding another layer of Macintosh. It touches all the people who now own Macintosh computers, and a lot of people who are going to own them because of this.
Copyright © november , 1987 by from Quick Connect