Why did HyperCard wither away? [was: Re: Why is Konfabulator 'Pretty?']

Bill Marriott wjm at wjm.org
Fri Dec 9 21:13:05 EST 2005

Well, I had the good fortune to be at Claris during the HyperCard 
transition. I knew the development team and the product managers well. I 
don't think it was anything so deliberate/nefarious as you surmise.

- Claris didn't know how to make money on a program that had been given away 
for free. The demotion of the "free" HyperCard to a "player" and starting to 
charge for the full version ended up upsetting/alienating a lot of 

- In those days, there was free, unlimited, "red carpet" technical support. 
You could call in with just about any question and the support group would 
go to the ends of the earth to solve it for you. (This included writing 
scripts and debugging stacks.) With everyone from commercial developers to 
11th graders calling in, HyperCard became one of the most expensive products 
to support, surpassing even FileMaker Pro.

- Key members of the Apple team that built HyperCard declined to move to 
Claris and the product just wasn't upgraded quickly enough or smartly 
enough. It took forever to get their act together under the reorganization 
chaos. Not enough features were added, and the ones that were often were not 
done in a way that pleased customers.

- No one knew how to position it within the Claris product line. FileMaker 
was also the chief moneymaker, and there was some question why someone would 
use FileMaker if HyperCard was able to do the same things (easy reports, for 
example). There was actually a lot of contention for a while whether to use 
HyperCard or FileMaker as the engine for the technical knowledgebase 
(FileMaker won).

- As a producer of software primarily targeted at consumers and small 
businesses, Claris didn't have the depth of experience to create a 
developer-oriented tool.

- The HyperCard team tended not to integrate well with the rest of the 
company. They didn't eat lunch at the same tables. :) I think this prevented 
a lot of discussion, crossover ideas, and innovative thinking from 

- HyperCard was not making a profit; there were therefore no substantial 
funds for marketing it. Combined with all the other factors above, other 
companies (like SuperCard) stepped in and started to compete for the 
HyperCard audience. Market share of HyperCard fell dramatically.

After HyperCard went back to Apple there may have been some additional 
machinations that I'm not aware of. However,

1) The Claris spinout was the beginning of the end for HyperCard as far as 
I'm concerned. It's not that Claris was a bad company (quite the opposite); 
it's just that insufficient strategic consideration was given to how it 
would grow there, and it probably should never have left Apple anyway.

2) I never once at Claris heard the notion that HyperCard stacks reflected 
poorly on the image of the Macintosh. Quite the opposite.

3) No one -- except a few crazies no one listened to -- saw the potential 
for HyperCard to impact the Web (and vice versa). "So close yet so far." 
(sigh.) HyperCard's paradigm was mired in floppy-disk distribution of 
stacks... a bandwidth-friendly, streaming, component-ized, multi-user, 
client-server world was simply not envisioned. By 1993/1994 the Web was 
clearly "the next big thing" and HyperCard missed the boat.


"Mark Swindell" <mswindel at santacruz.k12.ca.us> 
wrote in message 
news:2e1610f5ac8c751d31ec1db2600dc2c7 at santacruz.k12.ca.us...
>I think they were ok with HyperCard staying a fun toy for amateurs, but 
>they didn't want to blur the line by giving it full-blown professional UI 
>potential.  Then their platform would have been populated by half-baked 
>applications that worked poorly but which could have appeared superficially 
>to have been produced by professionals and would have helped define the Mac 
>"experience" as amateurish.  That would have been bad for business and 
>their reputation.
> DTP programs used the computer to produce docs, for good or bad, but they 
> "weren't" the computer in the same way a Hypercard stack "became" the 
> computer while it was in use.  Same for web pages, later on.   They were 
> documents, not applications.
> Mark
> On Dec 9, 2005, at 3:03 PM, Bill Marriott wrote:
>> You mean, like how they abandoned desktop publishing because of all the
>> horrid newsletters that sprung into existence? And how the web never took
>> off because of all the ugly sites? :)
>> Bill
>> "Mark Swindell" 
>> <mswindel at santacruz.k12.ca.us>
>> wrote in message
>> news:3e8f7badaa4353e28739d750b1cd8224 at santacruz.k12.ca.us...
>>> HC's rep was so tarnished by all the unsightly crap put out there by 
>>> "the
>>> rest of us"  that they didn't want it associated in any professional
>>> context with their upscale brand identity.  Sure, there  were nuggets of
>>> gold among the piles of HyperCard coal, but even they were covered in
>>> black (and white) dust and hard to find.
>>> -Mark
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