Bill Atkinson on what might have been

Bill Atkinson on what might have been

In my book, I have a piece about the significant of HyperCard as a precursor to the Web. Essentially, Bill Atkinson — the inventor of HyperCard — had the entire associative linking concept, except that he thought all the links worth making were between things on your own hard disk. Now, in a poignant Wired piece, he ruminates on his mistake.

“I have realized over time that I missed the mark with HyperCard,” he said from his studio in Menlo Park, California. “I grew up in a box-centric culture at Apple. If I’d grown up in a network-centric culture, like Sun, HyperCard might have been the first Web browser. My blind spot at Apple prevented me from making HyperCard the first Web browser.”

HyperCard was conceived and created in the 1980s, almost a decade before the explosion of the Internet.

“I thought everyone connected was a pipe dream,” he said. “Boy, was I wrong. I missed that one.”

Atkinson recalled engineers at Apple drawing network schematics in the form of a bunch of boxes linked together. Sun engineers, however, first drew the network’s backbone and then hung boxes off of it. It’s a critical difference, and he feels it hindered him.

“If I thought more globally, I would have envisioned (HyperCard) in that way,” he said. “You don’t transfer someone’s website to your hard drive to look at it. You browse it piecemeal…. It’s much more powerful than a stack of cards on your hard drive.

“With a 100-year perspective, the real value of the personal computer is not spreadsheets, word processors or even desktop publishing,” he added. “It’s the Web.”