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xTalk Interviews

 Alain Farmer on xCards
 Scott Raney on xCards
 Tom Pittman on xCards
 Jeanne A. E. DeVoto on xCards
 Jacqueline Landman Gay on xCards
 Heather Nagey on xCards
 Dan Gelder on xCards
 Scott Knaster on xCards
 Tyler Vano on xCards
 Doug Simons on xCards

Jeanne A. E. DeVoto on xCards

Current Occupation: Freelance writer/programmer

Occupation when you last worked on your HyperCard clone

Technical writer/documentation developer

That's a slight change in job range, why?

I wrote a little bit of code for Revolution, but most of the code I wrote was what went into the documentation system.

How did you get into that job?

Like many people, I got into technical writing more or less by default. I knew how to program and how to use computers, but I wasn't a hotshot programmer, and I was good at explaining things. If you can program but don't have a great deal of experience with it, and you can write, technical writing is a natural path to take.

Did you have a HyperCard-related job before you started working on HyperCard?

At one time, I worked with a writer in Apple's Instructional Design (documentation) department, creating an Apple Guide tutorial for HyperCard 2.3, which gave 'em an excuse to put my name in the HyperCard "About" box. ;-) (I was never on the HyperCard team, though. So this is a sort of "half-yes, half-no" answer.)

Did you work on HyperCard before you started working on Revolution?

Oh, yes. Since 1987.

Did you work with Revolution before working on it?

I had looked at MetaCard (the product that Revolution was based on) briefly. But its user interface scared me off. At the time, I was working on web software, so I wasn't really looking urgently for a cross-platform application development system - if I had been, I would have persisted (and gotten a head start!)

How was working on Revolution?

A lot of fun! Working in a small group is always interesting, not only because you get to know people better but because there's a lot of cross-fertilization and you get to hear about and influence things outside your particular area. The clean-ness of the language was always very important for me and while there were some technical considerations that made it impossible to keep everything as readable and English-like as I would have ideally wanted, I was able to make some suggestions that I think improved things.

One interesting aspect was that, since the company is in Scotland and I live in Oregon, the work was done at a distance. It was almost a year before I met anyone else on the team face-to-face.

What was your first job, ever?

Do part-time or childhood jobs count? ;-) My first full-time job was as a systems technical writer with Daisy Systems, a company that made CAD/CAE systems.

When, how and by whom did you get introduced to Revolution?

Kevin Miller, the CEO of Runtime Revolution (well, it wasn't "Runtime Revolution" yet, but...) had been talking to Richard Gaskin about documentation for their new product, and Richard suggested he might want to talk to me about doing the main docs. (Richard wrote the excellent original tutorials for Revolution.)

What impressed you most about Revolution?

Mostly that it was, at last, a HyperCard-like system that was up to date - built-in color, built-in QuickTime control, Internet access, arrays, and all the other things that we were hoping for from HyperCard 3.0. Also that the language additions were, with only a few exceptions, well-thought-out and fit well into xTalk - constructs like repeat for each line thisAddress in myList or put URL "http://blahblahblah" into field "My Page" have the same kind of clarity about them as the original HyperTalk language.

What do you consider your main contribution to Revolution?

The Language Dictionary, which is still being used in more or less the same form. While I wrote a fairly large amount of example material, "How To"s, and troubleshooting Q&As, I regretted not having more introductory material following on the great tutorials Richard Gaskin wrote, particularly in the earlier versions. But I always thought the dictionary was the most important piece - because it's possible to figure out most things you see on the screen, but if a term isn't in the language reference, it might as well not exist. So it got the highest priority in the writing.

Please describe Revolution in one sentence

Cross-platform development for pros, novices, and anyone in between

(This isn't quite the same way I'd describe HyperCard. The cross-platform nature of Revolution is an obvious difference. Also, HyperCard 2.4 was not quite professional-grade although many pros used it for prototyping, for creating tools, for custom software, and other purposes - it had gotten more capable in every version, and if development had been allowed to continue, of course this would be different. More subtly, the market has changed since the mid-90s. The rise of scripting languages meant that xTalk "can get some respect" when compared to Perl, Javascript, or Python - there's no longer the assumption that anything that's not C or C++ is a toy unsuitable for "real programmers". Because of this, the target audience for Revolution tends more toward pros and less toward novice programmers than HyperCard. This obviously has both good and bad aspects to it.)

Is there any particularly clever solution you applied to Revolution you'd like to describe in excruciating detail?

I'm sure there were some, but I can't think of any at the moment. ;-)

If you could add one more feature to Revolution, what would it be?

Real tables (that is, tables that are objects in their own right, not fields with scripted tailfins). There are other features that would be very useful, but this one is a constant grate on the user because the "table fields" are almost-but-not-quite useful.

When, how and by whom did you get introduced to HyperCard?

Sometime in late 1987, a friend from college emailed me with steadily increasing enthusiasm, ending up with a positive demand that I must immediately try HyperCard.

What impressed you most about HyperCard?

At the time, the readability of the language. Now, when I look back, the cleanness and understandability of the initial user experience. Granted, HyperCard 1.0 was much simpler in functionality than any of the "clones", but I still think all of them can look back and learn from the simplicity and inviting nature of HyperCard. It didn't invite you by presenting an overwhelming set of features but by offering a few possibilities to explore.

What do you consider your main contribution to HyperCard?

"HyperTalk 2.2: The Book". (Although it would have been more of a contribution if HyperCard 3.0 had been released. When 3.0 was being developed, one of the engineers told me they were using "The Book" as the spec for HyperTalk, because it was the most complete treatment. I was kind of stunned by that.)

Please describe HyperCard in one sentence

Programming for the rest of us.

If you could have added one feature to HyperCard, what would it have been?

(Apart from color - we all wanted that)

Internet connectivity. (Although this is backward-looking - it's important today, but in the timeframe when HC was in active development? Not as much.)

Do you think there's a new HyperCard today?

Not exactly. All of the clones concentrate on certain aspects of HyperCard that their creators found most important: professional power in an xTalk, easy interface building, appeal to novices, appeal to "do it yourselfers" (not necessarily the same group as novices!), etc. So there is a broad spectrum, but no single product that's targeted exactly the same way HyperCard was, although you can pick any aspect and point to a clone that maximizes that aspect.

Do you think there's still a need for a new HyperCard?

I'm not sure whether we need a product that appeals to exactly the same audience HyperCard targeted - but I do think it would be great to have a HyperCard-like product "in the box" on OS X and perhaps on Windows and some of the Linux distros as well. How many programmers got their start with HyperCard - who perhaps wouldn't have thought to buy a separate program, but just started playing around with it when they found it on their desktop? And how many who didn't pursue serious programming but who nevertheless had their minds expanded and created some useful things? Having XCode free is very nice, but XCode isn't a substitute for HyperCard-in-the-box, no matter how nice Interface Builder is.

What do you think the clones got right?

SuperCard has always paid a lot of attention to elegance of interface. (Admittedly, it's easier to accomplish this if you stick to the Mac.) The open-source clones have source transparency going for them, always a plus from the viewpoint of nervous users who were burned by Apple's dropping HyperCard.

What single thing do you think Revolution did better than all its competitors?

The cross-platformhood of Revolution unquestionably stands out. (Of course this is also true of MetaCard, since the two use the same underlying engine.)

Did you ever get to meet any of the competing developers?

I don't think so. I've worked with Richard Gaskin, of course, who worked on the SuperCard documentation. And come to think of it, I think I may have met Alain Farmer at a HyperCard get-together at Macworld a few years ago.

Do you think HyperCard clones are/were a good thing? Why?

Definitely. The more the better. Cross-fertilization always produces more ideas, and the existence of multiple clones lets different people or teams try out different ideas and see whether they actually work in practice. Also, the more clones, the more likely that programmers will find an xTalk solution that works for them, and so the more popular the xTalk languages will become - at least that's still my hope.

Jeanne, thank you for taking the time to answer, and thanks for the HyperTalk QuickRef :-)

Created: 2006-11-05 @000 Last change: 2006-11-14 @803 | Home | Admin | Edit
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