Alain Farmer on xCards
Current Occupation: Entrepreneurial researcher, consultant, and
value-added solutions developer, and more!
Occupation when you last worked on your HyperCard clone:
I last worked with HyperCard a few months ago. I'm on
the verge of completing the scripting of a
HyperCard-to-RDF exporter.. in HyperCard, of course.
It is 95% percent complete. All that needs to be
completed is the Export of the Pictures. I'm going to
resume this work in the coming weeks. The next step
will be to process the stacks of the Pan (hundreds!).
This RDF can subsequently be used by any ware (many)
that support this, including XulCard of course (e.g.
my web-native FreeCard).
How did you get into the job you were performing on your HyperCard clone?
There are many questions here. I guess it (work on my
HC-clone) started in the nineties, when AppleInc was
struggling to sustain itself, and renegged on its
"Flight of the Pheonix" promise, e.g. HyperCard 3.x,
as the toplevel "Qt-interactive" "application" layer.
IOW, this would have fused-together Quicktime and
HyperCard. Almost as grievous, perhaps more so, is
Apple's failure to follow through on OpenDoc.
I became a programmer by learning and thoroughly-using
HyperTalk. I took some programming courses while I was
in college (BASIC and COBOL), a few more while at
university (Pascal, Turing), and several more on my
I became a list-op early in my Masters degree (1996).
I was an Apple Educational Consultant (for 3 years)
and, early-on, one of my 'clients', a university
teacher, hired me to craft coursewares for his
students. In the first year it was 100% HyperCard, but
subsequently we moved to the web for
multi-platform-ness. This teacher provided me with an
office, which I still have now (ten years later), and
we had a high-speed Internet connection installed too.
Once I was up-and-running with WebStar, Web Sharing,
AppleShareIP ... I became a list-op. :-)
As for tech-writer, I have just published an article
in a well-known Education portal. It's only in French
at this point, but I have been contracted to translate
it into English (in the coming days). The subject is
web-based collaboration tools from a pedagogical
Did you have a HyperCard clone related job before you worked on a clone?
No. I never had a JOB related to my HC-clones. It is a
'HOBBY' of mine, that I might leverage into a business
in the next couple of years. When I was an Apple
Eduicational Consultant, I helped [potential] Mac
customers with their mundane needs and questions
related to just about anything Apple-ish; plus we did
some promotions, P.R., and such. MetaCard Inc did not
hire me to produce FreeGUI, nor did Runtime of course.
It is just me, doing my thing, on my own time. :-)
Did you work with HyperCard before you started working on your clone?
I have been working with HyperCard since 1987, the
year it was first released. When I saw it for the
first time, I knew that I had found EXACTLY what I
needed to accomplish a very ambitious IT project that
I had going at the time. And never looked back!
Furthermore, while getting an undergrad degree in
Educational Technology, I was solicited by several
teachers to teach them and their students on how to
use PCs and Macs. On the Mac side, I tutored them on
Word, MacDraw, SuperPaint, and HyperCard! The climax
of the course was a student presentation of a custom
HyperCard stack [that I helped the students pull-off].
These same teachers also hired me to craft some
HyperCard-based wares: (1) a HyperTalk tutorial++ that
actively assists user in their first scripting steps;
(2) a sophisticated collaboration system: wherein 2-8
students work in teams, view and edit each others'
information, draw graphics together, etc ... long
before I had ever heard of a wiki, or the Web for that
matter! It only worked when they were connected to the
How is/was working on your HyperCard clone?
I enjoyed it. Felt empowered. Hoped that I would
similarly empower other like-minded people. Now that I
have scrutinized, analyzed, and distilled everything
there is related to HyperCard, I am thoroughly
knowledgeable in this regard. It helps me now, in my
efforts to port HyperCard to the Web, because I
already had all of the properties and such mapped out,
plus the experience, etc.
What was your first job, ever?
Entrepreneurial landscaper for several condo complexes,
at the age of 15.
Who was your hero/idol at the time?
- Alvin Toffler ("The Third Wave", "Future Shock").
- Noam Chomsky
Who is your hero/idol now?
- Pierre Lévy: "Intelligence collective", "Idéographie
- Douglas Engelbart: "Human Augmentation Systems",
If they are different, feel free to elaborate why
They are similar in that they are futurists who are
imagining alternative futures that are better than the
ones we are facing now. They are often accused of
being too optimistic, techno-centric, etc ... but I
believe that their ideas are viable and something we
should aim for. In a word: "empowerment". :-))
What is the most important thing in life for you?
Which clone did you work on?
FreeGUI built with MetaCard 2.5.
When, how and by whom did you get introduced to your clone?
Back in the late nineties.
What impressed you most about your clone?
WYSIWYG cloning of the appearance of HyperCard, most
functionalities working as they always have.
What do you consider your main contribution to FreeGUI?
I did the whole thing, from scratch.
And now I'm doing it again, for the Web. :-))
Please describe your HyperCard clone in one sentence
As you know, Uli, it has evolved over time. First
there was FreeGUI, an interface-alternative for the
MetaCard engine, and, at the same time, [a prototype
of] the GUI of FreeCard. FreeCard started out as a
4-person C++ project, where you and Tony DeRobertis
were the lead developers. Adrian Sutton came along,
and by-and-by the project was 'ported' to Java,
because of its many libs and other advantages. both of
these languages were, and still are, beyond my
programming abilities. From the start, throughout, and
subsequently.. I argued that we should encode FreeCard
in XML, that it should be a web-app, and that it
should be scripted versus programmed.
Therefore, now that everyone has flown the FreeCard
coup, I have 'reverted' to what I know best, in order
to pursue my|our goal of a new HyperCard[-like]
alternative: XML and scripting. To be more precise,
winner[s] of the current battleground of the Browser
Wars, e.g. JQuery, OpenLaszlo, Mozilla/XUL... and JS
to tie it all together, for the client-side UI.
Therefore, XulCard will be a web-app, and, like
HyperCard, it will be an authoring-system that allows
ordinary folks to RAD their apps/stacks, with little
knowledge or concern for the nuts-and-bolts of how
it is accomplished. The [Semantic] Web needs such an
authoring system (app), as much as Apple needed
HyperCard when it was first released, e.g. too few
apps, too few developers. The UI of webApps will be as
dynamic as the UIs we're accustomed to with
desktopApps once the dust settles. RDF (standardized
semantic form of XML) is becoming dominant; plus I
already have ALL of our RDF worked-out. This RDF will
be handled on the server-side, by the XulCard
application (programmed in PHP, Python, server-side
can locate and hire some pros to do this part of it
vice-versa, so including Java for critical algorithms
is NOT beyond the realm of the possible. And, finally,
I'll be using Remote Procedure Calls (xmlrpc, soap and
ajax) to achieve what the UI-alone cannot ; plus
server-side storage, persistence, value-added services,
2.7) IF YOU COULD ADD ONE MORE FEATURE
TO YOUR HYPERCARD CLONE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I have nothing to ADD here. :-)
When, how and by whom did you get introduced to HyperCard?
HyperCard was bundled free with new Macs. Got it when
I purchased my first Mac. I had a ongoing project that
HC was perfect for.
What impressed you most about HyperCard?
Simplicity and empowerment.
What did you consider your main contribution to HyperCard?
including the artefacts that I have shared.
Please describe HyperCard in one sentence
Authoring system for the rest of us.
If you could have added one feature to HyperCard, what would it have been?
I would have said "color", but, since it is excluded,
I will say: merging HC with Quicktime Interactive (HC
Do you think there is a new HyperCard today?
Given that my efforts have not borne fruit yet, I have
to give the nod to MetaCard/Revolution. After all,
they support HyperTalk, they can read HyperCard's
secret proprietary fileformat, etc. No one else is
even close. Even XulCard won't support HyperTalk as
well as the MC-engine does. Not because we can't, but
because it is no longer advisable to do so, IOW we
are going to craft an even-better xTalk, while
endeavouring to maintain the spirit of simplicity
spearheaded by HC.
Do you think there's still a need for a new HyperCard?
ABSOLUTELY! :-)) More than ever before... for
[Semantic] Web [Apps], sites, services, etc.
What do you think the competing products did better than you?
HyperTalk compatibility, reading HC's fileformat,
native color, multi-platform deployment.
What single thing do you think XulCard will do better than the competitors?
100% Web-native, SemanticWeb-savvy,
standards-compliant, large-scale inter-operability,
Why did you start writing a HyperCard clone?
Because Apple stalled us, then steved us. We want to
avoid [planned] obsolescence. We want our tools, xCard
experience, and our community to endure, to remain
relevant, ... perhaps even to get our "second wind"
(jogging metaphor), to prosper once more, to be
vindicated for our loyalty and patience, to obtain
satisfaction from Apple to.. to.. PROTEST!, and also
because I am experimenting with community-based
empowerment strategies and systems.
Do you think HyperCard clones are/were a good thing?
I'm so GLAD that Raney invented MetaCard. What a tour de
force! Multi-platform, native-color, tons of new
features, HyperCard compatibility (90%), etc. I wish
it had remained his, but there's not much anyone can
do about this now. Runtime [Rev.] is doing a fair job
of keeping the xCard tradition going. I have not
upgraded to Rev because I am satisfied with MetaCard
2.5, and I'm not keen on the changes made to the
licencing in subsequent versions of the MC engine.
Anything else you want to say?
The Fat-Lady has not sung yet. I have definitely not
thrown-in the towel. XulCard is becoming a reality.
Thank you Alain, for this exhaustive interview.