At a Glance
HyperCard? That's dead, isn't it? Oh, sure, it was great back in the 1980s. So versatile it defies ready definition, HyperCard lets ordinary people create their own software without having to conform to the strict rules of a formal programming language. But the last time Apple updated it (1998), Macs were made out of vacuum tubes and corncobs. AppleScript Studio and RealBasic, while they're nowhere near as easy to learn and use, have stepped into HyperCard's role: the nonthreatening way to write software. But nonprogrammers everywhere can now rejoice: Revolution 2.1, a HyperCard-compatible development environment, has come along with enough power to wake the dead.
On the surface, Revolution works much like the HyperCard we knew and loved. Your program is a set of blank cards. Just draw buttons, text fields, and other interface doodads; then assign simple actions to some of those elements with Revolution's Transcript language. You'll wind up with a card "stack" that's a working, running piece of software.
Revolution can even import your old HyperCard and SuperCard stacks, and the program goes far beyond those applications. When you think of a HyperCard stack, you certainly don't think of a traditional-looking OS X application featuring menus, multiple windows, drawers, and sheets. You certainly don't imagine a stack that accesses SQL databases; speaks XML, HTML, and RTF fluently; supports HTTP, FTP, and TCP sockets; and takes full advantage of the system shell.
All that sounds more like AppleScript Studio and RealBasic territory, but it's well within the purview of Revolution Express, the basic edition of the program. Take one step up to Revolution Studio, and you get the king of write-once, run-everywhere. With just a few mouse-clicks, you can make the same stack run on OS X, OS 9 and earlier, Windows, Linux, and several flavors of Unix. Even RealBasic, which supports Windows, can't create solutions for every desktop in a large and diverse office. And with a final leap to Revolution Enterprise, you get all of the above, direct support for Oracle databases, and enhanced developer support from the program's publisher, Runtime Revolution.
All in all, no other software-development environment packs this much power and flexibility into such a simple package. You'll have to learn the Transcript language to make the most of Revolution, but the system is heroically well documented.
Naturally, there are drawbacks. The stand-alone apps you build in Revolution run more slowly than comparable RealBasic or AppleScript Studio projects, and they take up a lot more space. Also, Transcript is a proprietary language, so, unlike BASIC or AppleScript, you can't use it to program in another environment.
And while Revolution is considerably more powerful than HyperCard, it lacks the flexibility of a conventional software-development environment.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Revolution 2.1 is a real accomplishment: once again, we have a development environment for both newbie programmers and experienced consultants who need to get working apps quickly into the hands of clients. Just don't imagine that you'll be able to build the ambitious programs you can turn out with RealBasic and Xcode. Viva la Revolution!