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CocoaCard - Part 2: Mac software authoring made easy!

28 Jan 2000

This is the last update to our iDeveloper and CocoaCard opinion articles. A number of readers have written in about products that we never heard of before (some of them are new or forthcoming, while others are older) All of them have to do with developing Mac software using easy-to-use tools (most visual) with English-like scripting languages.

We want to thank all the readers who have written in to us about these articles. What it tells us is that a lot of people would love to have easier to use tools for making custom Mac application's. We'll start with the most promising of the applications looked at:


HyperSense is coming to Mac OS X. HyperSense, by Thoughtful Software, is a HyperCard-like application that goes beyond Apple's HyperCard authoring app. HyperSense uses its own SenseTalk language along with 'ready-made' drag & drop components for UI design. The neat thing about HyperSense is that it embodies the "philosophy" described in the CocoaCard idea (see article); ie, to take the HyperCard model and enrich it with the native abilities of Mac OS X without the need to program in Objective C or Java (the primary languages of the YellowBox environment, now known as Cocoa environment). A quote from the web site says:

"The power of MacOS X is already available to anyone -- anyone who can program in Objective C or Java, that is, and who takes the time to learn the intricacies of the extensive and complex programming interfaces! HyperSense's mission is to make that power available and usable by people at a much higher level, to enable them to express their ideas in the form of rich interactive documents and multimedia applications."

HyperSense sounds like a CocoaCard idea with the exception that it doesn't flat out say that its purpose is to leverage existing Apple technologies that exist in Apple applications: namely, QuickTime, QuickTime VR, AppleScript, FileMaker Pro and AppleWorks. I'm not sure if HyperSense would let me produce that fictional cooking class app described in the CocoaCard article.

However, Thoughtful Software is claiming that HyperSense is completely extensible and customizable, from its UI to its tool palettes down to its deepest programming levels. Perhaps then, it would be possible for it to interact with FileMaker and AppleWorks, which I see as two items which collaborate together to form very interesting and facile applications. Some may be surprised and confused to hear that AppleWorks would play a part in applications development. Don't be, AppleWorks provides template structures, AppleScript support and support of multimedia via QuickTime and more, plus a very useful environment in which to work on data.

For example, GC Works, by Synapse Software, is an application for general contractors, builders and architects that combines AppleWorks and Intuit's QuickBooks Pro together in a cohesive whole to form an industry specific solution on the Macintosh and Windows platforms. GC Works is a very 'vertical' application and an example of the types of solutions typically missing on the Macintosh platform due to its smaller market share. This is why the CocoaCard and iDeveloper ideas are important because they address this issue. --Thanks goes to Jon Hooper and Leif Smith.



MetaCard 2.2 was also suggested earlier to us and we noted it in the last article on CocoaCard. MetaCard is a hypermedia/RAD (rapid application development environment) for Mac OS, UNIX,X11 workstations, and Windows that is compatible with HyperCard and SuperCard. It supports color controls and images, tabbed-dialogs, pulldown menus and popup menus, scroll bars, combo boxes and all forms as well as a high performance MetaTalk scripting language. MetaCard is not cheap. A single license is $995. Multi-user licenses for five users are $3,600. It is currently not Mac OS 9 ready but will run under OS 8.5 Benefits of MetaCard include its simple English-like scripting language that allows even middle school age children to learn programming regardless of their mathematical background.

MetaCard is NOT compatible with OS 9. We are not sure why this is. It may be a small item or a larger issue. MetaCard is also a Windows application (unlike HyperSense which was developed for the NeXT/OPENSTEP platform) and a UNIX application. In fact, it runs on 12 different UNIX platforms, including LinuxPPC and MkLinux, in addition to SPARC and Solaris, et. al..

MetaCard Corporation says that a Mac OS X version is planned but it is not clear if they are simply getting the existing app to run under Mac OS X (by carbonizing it) or if there is a fundamental rewrite in the works. --Thanks to David Cramer for this link.


Step Forward

Lastly, a reader sent in info on an application called Step Forward, by Gestalt Software, which is different -- it seems to us -- than the types of apps described above and what the CocoaCard idea was all about.

Step Forward largely sounds like a database program (for accounting and business management functions). In fact, it is more an application that works with existing databases on Windows NT and Mac OS Server. Currently it supports FrontBase, MS SQL Server, OpenBase, Sybase -- all on Windows NT; and it supports FrontBase and OpenBase on Mac OS X Server. They are also planning support for Informix as well. Platform support also includes OpenStep 4.2 Mach.

While this is interesting, and certainly good to see that there are growing database support options under Mac OS XS, and hence leading to Mac OS X, this application is quite different than the CocoaCard idea. Still, we wanted to share it with you. -- Thanks to Jacquis Lewis for this link.


Closing Comments

Discussing the iDeveloper and the CocoaCard Apple application ideas has been a worthwhile endeavor. We've learned much and shared much about visual development tools and scriptable authoring environments. If we have missed some obvious application out there please let us know about it. Perhaps it's worth sharing.

It still remains uncertain what Apple will do with HyperCard development. Will the CocoaCard articles reach Apple's developers? Who knows what they read, but if they read MacSurfer then rest assured they made contact. Will they bring HypeCard to Mac OS X? We hope so.

What excites us most is that the iTools element of these ideas could make them really special. (see article 1 and 2 on iDeveloper and CocoaCard) And this is where Web Objects comes into the equation, making the most out of new applications may mean that Apple integrates some sort of "iTools" into each new app.


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