Written by Philip Roy
Saturday, 15 November 2008 10:26
I'm not entirely sure what happened to HyperStudio to see it almost disappear from our computers entirely...and frankly, I don't care. What I care about more is that HyperStudio, after far too long a hiatus, is back and absolutely better than ever. I've had the opportunity to use a prerelease version over recent months. This isn't simply a new version of a much beloved application. It's one that realises times have changed and one that takes full advantage of so many of the recent technologies available to computer users.
HyperStudio is an application I first experienced on a Mac in the mid-to-late '90s and used in teaching to great success. Times have changed and I'm no longer teaching, but working in the tertiary education sector. However if there was one thing I kept thinking as I tried out HyperStudio 5, it was how much of a change the new version would mean to those using it, to the creativity of the kids who will interact with it and how much I wish I was back teaching!
I need to point out at this stage that the version being released now is being dubbed an "Advanced Release". Some of you might think this means "beta", but I think it's wrong to even think that. This really is a well-formed product, which they continue to refine and reshape. Even as I type this, I'm having discussions with Roger Wagner (him with his name over the software!) over some of my comments you'll see below.
So this version should be seen as a work near completion. The plan (because so many people are chomping at the bit for this) is to get this release out to the awaiting masses, and then a finished 5.0 release will be available "in some number of months" as a free update.
Trying to list the changes in HyperStudio 5 is daunting, as it seems strange to suggest it's just the new version of the application. In fact, it almost might be worth suggesting that HyperStudio 5 is a new application that pays faithful homage to what we knew before. Some of the things we knew from before are back....but the most overwhelming sense is that version 5 of HyperStudio brings it into a new age (trying not to be too emotive here...but heck...new millennium) and with it, a tremendous acknowledgement that times and operating systems are different.
Keep in mind that we're now looking at an application that runs on Mac OS X...an operating system that didn't even exist when the last version of HyperStudio was released. To say that this application takes advantage of OS X is an understatement. It uses so many aspects of our Macs that I'm still finding new features that astound me. And better still, it feels so up-to-date....far more than many other Mac applications out there....taking advantage of things that have recently enhanced our Mac world, such as podcasting, the iPhone, MobileMe, as well as multimedia favourites such as access to our iLife libraries and more.
But perhaps, let's start by explaining just what HyperStudio is and what you can do with it.
HyperStudio gives you the ability to create rich, interactive, multimedia presentations. If you imagine each screen of a presentation as one "card" (a bit like a slide of a PowerPoint presentation), then when you create a number of these, you end up with one "stack" of cards. This stack is your presentation....or project file or multimedia application. And these can be distributed freely in a number of ways which don't require others to have a copy of HyperStudio on their computer. HyperStudio stacks are also cross-platform, so they can be shared and viewed by PC, Mac and (depending on the approach you take for distribution) linux users also.
At this point, anyone who used or knows HyperCard will be thinking they've heard some of this before...and they're not wrong. HyperStudio uses exactly the same analogy and was often compared to Hypercard. In fact, in many respects it was (and is) what HyperCard could and should have become.
Installation of HyperStudio 5 is easy and straight forward from a disk image. I would suggest installing both HyperStudio 5 and the HyperStudio Player by default. The disk image also contains a web plug-in installer, reference guide and tutorial PDF. The web plug-in gives a hint to some of the functionality that HyperStudio offers...the ability to publish your stacks on the Internet. All someone has to do is install this plugin in to their browser also and they will be able to interact with the stack. The alternative is to provide users with the stack and the free player (available for both Mac and PC) meaning that you have a variety of ways (more to be discussed later) to distribute a run-only version of your stack.
When you first open HyperStudio you arrive at the Home Stack. Don't be put off by the 'busy-ness' of the stack. Unlike other applications that tend to start with a blank slate, HS is trying to help by explaining a little bit about what you can do with the application. If in the future you'd prefer another option at start-up, you can easily set this in preferences.
If like me, you've used HyperStudio in the past, many things will seem familiar to you...including the fact that Addy is back! Addy is an iconic dog/HyperStudio assistant, who offers advice in using HS who I understand also existed in real life. My reaction to Addy has unfortunately been quite similar to my response to Mr Paper Clip in Microsoft Office, so I tend to switch Addy off quite quickly. But keep in mind the wide range of users that this application is targeted for. For some...particularly a younger audience....Addy is very useful indeed.
You experience quite a bit of deja vu with the new version of HyperStudio. After all this time I'm torn between expecting a radically different application and stumbling across some old and familiar scenes, such as the appearance of Addy.
Another one of these familiar things is the tutorial for the program, which I encourage you to work through. After all this time, I was quite surprised to find that tutorial is the one that used to exist on France. I even commented on this to Roger Wagner, as I really feel that the tutorial makes the application feel slightly dated.
Ten years ago the tutorial was adequate, but now I feel it doesn't give a good impression or understanding of all the capabilities of HyperStudio. Since writing this review and showing a draft to the developers, I've been told that a brand new tutorial is in the works. How's that for listening to your client base!?
Understanding the true potential of HyperStudio is something that might take some time. But even now...even years later and working in the tertiary sector, HyperStudio was the first thing that popped into my head the other day when it was suggested I provide some greater detail on a software application I'm trying to get built. Imagine using HyperStudio as a rapid prototyping tool with complete control over design and interaction, and that's just one of the many possibilities that is open to you with this app.
Because you can distribute the player, stacks are not only able to played by anyone, you can also "package" all your items into one stack so that anyone can play the stack without having anything installed. This "Stack to Go" option is also useful if you don't want people having access to the raw multimedia files you use to develop a stack.
The fact that you can also have stacks that link to other stacks means that there is the potential there for a group to work collaboratively on developing a complex and inter-joined project...with each working on individual stacks at their own computers and joining them all up later. This is exactly how we developed a CD at the Intermediate School I worked at, with the combined efforts ultimately being distributed to primary schools in our city.
So let's look at the specifics of how you develop a HyperStudio stack. One of the first things you might like to do is set some basic preferences for the application. As you can see in the image below, you have the option to switch on auto-save, determine what is shown on startup and affect some basic functionality such as how images are treated upon drag and drop.
Next...and here's where it gets a bit exciting, take a look at the "Restrictions" area in the Preferences section. Not only is this a superb idea...the ability to globally set what (for example) students can and can't do, but here is one of the most obvious screens that show things have changed in HyperStudio. Here we see the options to add YouTube clips to stacks, to use a web camera, the .Mac (MobileMe) system or more. It's such a simple screen of options to look at, but it shows that times most certainly have changed.
One of the other nice features of HyperStudio has been the ability to develop stacks based on previous stack templates. Below you can see in the new version that there are a variety of designs and stacks that have been created and are available to use as the basis of a new HyperStudio project.
Other options are also available in this new version, such as version checking, but I also like the image below that shows a number of preset card sizes, including an iPhone sized card. Great stuff! Soon you'll be making stacks that people can view on their iPhone!
Once you've set many of these preferences, the idea is to develop a series of cards (think 'screens') that a user will move between. There are a multitude of options as to how you might want them to move from one card to the next, including what sort of interactivity that you might add in to a card, such as a button to click or a movie to play. Even options for arriving, leaving and clicking on a card can be set (as in the image below), so you can easily programme actions to occur at the triggering of these events.
Other nice new features for card-to-card transitions include the ability to determine the type of transition that plays. From memory, there were options like this previously, but not as varied as in this new version.
Probably one the simplest, yet advanced things to understand about HyperStudio is that it has a grounding in Object-Oriented Programming. You might ask "what programming?" but the reality is that each time you add a button to a page and set what you want it to do, that's object-orientated programming. HyperStudio 5 brings in a superb new feature to help with this concept.
Take a look at the image below. Here you can see a button (the left part of the image) that I have added to a card and (on the right of the image) an options pane that floats near the button giving me a multitude of options that I can select...getting the button to play music, move to another stack, launch a program or more. You've always had the option to do activities like this with HyperStudio, but a nice touch in the new version is the small circle (highlighted in red) at the top right of the options panel. Clicking on this forces the option panel to link itself to the object it relates to. You can see that happening in the middle of the image (again highlighted in red) where we can clearly see that this option panel relates to this object...this button. It's such a simple additional feature to HyperStudio, but I love how it emphasises the object-orientated approach....far more easily than something such as eZedia MX.
Of course, it would be wrong of me not to point out at this stage that you have so many other options related to the look of your button. It can look like virtually anything and best of all, can also be invisible or molded to take the form of an existing shape on a card. In the past, these options have provided so much flexibility to the final design of cards and stacks.
HyperStudio offers a lot of control to the user in terms of how objects act and interact. Even such things as the appearance of the cursors to be visible in the application can be determined.
One of the new changes and one that most Mac multimedia applications should have as a "must" is integration with iTunes and iPhoto. You can easily browse to add a song from iTunes or an image from iTunes, with the DRM issues of iTunes songs being handled nicely with a message saying the song might not play for others.
HS 5 also has an inbuilt library that is accessible in a separate window. This has images, sounds, animations, movies and more for you to use (with some featured in the tutorial). Graphics can have opacity and actions applied, be hidden or locked etc. Effects can also be applied, such as an emboss effect, texturizer, gradients and brightness/contrast. Borders and drawing tools are available, including selection tools (square, circular and lasso), paintbrush, spray can, paint bucket, line, pencil, colour picker and text tools. Animations can be added to cards with options including determining the motion path an animation takes, speed and more.
As well as playing video, the new version of HyperStudio allows for live video to be included. HS 5 will easily pick up if you have a web camera attached to use. At the same time, even YouTube videos can be embedded on to a card.
HyperStudio continues to feature NBA's (New Button Actions) that effectively, are additional actions that don't fit within the standard options of moving to a card or playing a sound. So instead, you can choose "New Button Actions" as an action and then select from a variety of more complex activities. I've always found NBA's a bit challenging because I don't consider them "New"...I almost wish they were called "Advanced Button Actions". This would recognise that there are more actions that can fit into options palette...and that these things are a little complex. Either way, they open up far more opportunities to do amazing things with your stacks that I can describe here.
HyperStudio 5 has an amazing variety of ways to make your stacks available to others, including as podcasts....although I hasten to add that some of these features are still a work in progress. As you can see from the image below, new export options include exporting to the iPod, iPhone and more.
Stacks that are exported to things such as iPods or the iPhone are exported as movies, and do lose their interactivity and therefore some functionality. But HyperStudio is still an ideal tool for building up a self-running multimedia presentation to play on these devices. It would be superb in the future if the makers of HyperStudio are somehow able to harness the sprite and interactive technologies embedded within QuickTime to make these exported stacks truly interactive, but that might be quite a challenge indeed.
Other options when exporting include the ability to lock stacks, if you wish, so that you can ensure your work isn't used by others. The other nice feature is to export your stack as an image sequence.
Of course, there is a flip-side to such a superb new version of HyperStudio after all these years. You might want (as I did) to dust of your old HyperStudio stacks and take a look at them. But the ability to play older stacks isn't guaranteed. For example, HyperLogo, a scripting language that could be used within previous versions is not present. Also, stacks need to have been made in HyperStudio version 3.3 or higher to open...although a legacy player can be downloaded from /support_hs.html if you have older stacks to play.
That said, I was really amazed to open the interactive CD I developed with kids in 1998 (believed to be a New Zealand first at the time) and watch some of the stacks. Many played with trivial issues, although we had scripted a "Quit" button using HyperLogo so that caused an import error at first. I should also point out for those not familiar with HyperStudio, that it won't play HyperCard stacks...but never did.
HyperStudio 5 for Windows is expected to be completed in the first half of 2009, but until then, Software MacKiev is offering HyperStudio 4.5.1 (which has been updated for compatibility with Windows Vista and XP) without changing features or functionality. HyperStudio 4.5.1 licenses include a free upgrade to HyperStudio 5 for Windows when it ships.
HyperStudio isn't the cheapest of products out there, but the fact is that you're paying for quality in terms of the new version. You're also paying for some superb new features..staggeringly superb new features. HyperStudio is a product that has possibilities for school kids all the way up to those who left school quite some time ago.
I'm a big fan of customising HyperStudio stacks that I create. From imported graphics to invisible buttons and more...to the point that the stacks I developed in the past had no "HyperStudio look" to them...making HyperStudio a fast-paced, easy to use, multimedia 'engine' or base (if you like) to virtually any interactive application. The fact that you can then export and distribute your work in so many ways, is staggering.
Two nights ago I spent time searching the web for HyperStudio stacks for download (obviously from previous versions). I was amazed at the variety of stacks available...from university-provided stacks to primary school projects...they were all out there....and they're going to be out there again too. Absolutely!
It's a shame that schools here in New Zealand have just over a month to go before closing for the summer holidays. I have no doubt that schools will jump at the opportunity to use HyperStudio in the coming academic year.
I'm so pleased that HyperStudio is back. I've struggled to finish this review because I've kept stopping and playing with the new application so much. At the same time, despite writing one of the longest reviews for a while, I still feel like I've done HyperStudio an injustice...it's so hard to describe the versatility, as well as the multimedia and educational opportunities that will be available to you. Make sure you download the demo of the application when it becomes available.
HyperStudio....I don't care why you've been gone so long. You've changed so much for the better. Don't you dare go away again!
New Features (from the MacKiev website)...
Plus some features I may have left out, but Roger Wagner proudly sent through in an email and caught my eye....
Philip Roy is the publisher of NZMac.com, supporting the New Zealand Mac Community.