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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 own (AppleScript, Apple Media Tool, Perl, JavaScript, etc).

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 perspective.

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 university's LAN.

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 dynamique", etc.
  • Douglas Engelbart: "Human Augmentation Systems", bootstrapping.

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?

Love. :-))

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, (RDF + JavaScript + RPC) underneath the hood, and the 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 JavaScript... and perhaps some Java after-all (if I can locate and hire some pros to do this part of it for me). JavaScript has hooks into Java, and 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, etc.

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?

HyperCard Pantechnicon, 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 3.0).

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, etc.

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.

 
A day of acquaintance, And then the longer span of custom. But first -- The hour of astonishment.