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AppEngine - Web Hypercard, finally

Google's AppEngine is being compared to Amazon's EC2/S3. But Google deserves credit here for coming up with a pretty differently-positioned product. There may be overlap for many users of course, but it's really operating at a whole different level of the stack.

Folks that want/need more control over the environment, ability to manually manage their own machine instances, run code other than python, etc. will stay with EC2. EC2 is a step above RackSpace.

But rather than thinking of AppEngine as a step above EC2, instead I think of it somewhere around Myspace. Or "Ning 1.0", as Zoho points out.

In the beginning was GeoCities... No, even further back, in the beginning was Hypercard. Hypercard was a pre-web application for Macs that let you design a "stack" of pages - a website on a floppy, really. Popular stacks got traded far and wide. Hypercard stacks existed for every imaginable purpose - "Time Table of History", games, crossword puzzles, the Bible, etc.

The thing about Hypercard was that it wasn't just static text and images like base html. It had a scripting language, a database, and the Apple UI built-in, so you could create mini applications.

It feels like the web has been trying to claw its way back to the simple utility of Hypercard ever since Mosaic. GeoCities was the first massive-uptake anyone-can-build-here website haven. But it was all static html.

Sure, you can paste javascript widgets onto your page, and have content driven by external sites. But to make the website a first-class object - on functional partity with a "real" website - it needs to be backed by a database and programmability. But setting up mysql, renting machine space, configuring linux, programming all the boilerplate, not to mention the scalability issues if your site gets popular -- this is all a big hurdle.

So to hide all those details behind a platform that's easy to get started with, and lower the bar to entry to writing public application websites... Well that's a big deal. Hat's off to Google for bringing this to market.

I'm not alone...somewhat similar thoughts from Nate Westheimer...

Comments (8)


Hypercard! Oh, I loved Hypercard. If all my programming experiences had been like Hypercard I would be an actual programmer now.

Wow. Stacks. I was the copy editor for Hayden's "Cool Mac Stacks" in 1992. Yikes.

I think your Hypercard analogy is right on. It's the completeness of Google's solution and it's emphasis on ease of use that I think are its most important characteristics.

I was trying to make a similar point by saying "Google App Engine is LAMP 2.0", but I like your analogy better. (With mine, it's hard not to get bogged down in a "LAMP is open-source, but App Engine is proprietary" discussion...)

More discussion here: http://offermann.us/2008/04/09/google-app-engine-is-lamp-20/


Hypercard still lives - in the form of www.runrev.com. By the time I got my first Mac, Hypercard had been End-Of-Lifed. Revolution is a modern, cross-platform version. And the best technology I've discovered in the last 5 years.

It is unfortunate that there is this impedance mismatch with Javascript and Python. For, besides that, Yes the Hypercard analogy makes a lot of sense. And will make even more sense when/if Google Gears is added to the cocktail.

Jaxter and http://www.appjet.com, both providing Javascript at the client and server sides, are cool too but they unfortunately don't provide the richness and scalability that Google promises.

OTOH I personally prefer Ruby, and, who knowns, thanks to HotRuby and Co, one day Ruby 2.0 will run in the browser. I can't wait for my dream come true: "Ruby On Google Rails".


I used to develop HyperCard stacks for a living. Made some incredibly complex applications that I have yet to duplicate.

I had not looked at AppEngine until I saw your post comparing it to HyperCard...

Un oh... there goes the weekend! :-)

- CJ


At Macworld SF '08 tucked in one of the smaller booths was a company that ported HyperTalk and supporting tools to Web2.0 format, tilestack.com still waiting for them to open the beta/release.

I released an alternate App Engine host at AppDrop.com - I hope this makes the lock-in crowd take another look. It should be simple enough to make my port into a viable hosting solution. Your Hypercard analogy is perfect btw.

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