Of course, hypertext didn't start with the microcomputer; one of the earliest document-oriented forms (as opposed to card- or frame-oriented like HyperCard or KMS, as well as other concepts) was the 1967 Hypertext Editing System, running on a partition on an IBM System/360 Model 50, contemporary with the baroque but much celebrated oN-Line System which formed the basis for the 1968 Mother of All Demos. However, the microcomputer was where it started to gain steam, with early text-only implementations like the DOS-based 1983 PhotoQuery, which became TIES in 1984. TIES' key innovation was advancing the convention that the text itself contained the links embedded within it, rather than navigating using external numbered menus, codes, icons or other gadgets. (TIES later evolved into HyperTIES, which in 1988 introduced early implementations of imagemaps and style sheets using its own "HTML" [HyperTIES Markup Language] for screen design, also based on SGML. HyperTIES was credited as the first instance where hyperlinks are blue.)
This was a natural fit for GUIs, and hypertext/hypermedia flourished on the early Macintosh. Naturally everyone remembers HyperCard and its various clones, the archetype (but not the prototype) of card-based hypermedia, but one of the earliest hypertext systems on any desktop computer was OWL Guide for the Mac, dating to 1986.a 1987 UNC-ACS paper (PDF) as to "break away from the constraint of paper and rethink from scratch how best to display documents on screens. In particular it was desired to take advantage of the high bandwidth of communication between user and computer offered by a graphics workstation. As a result, the user should be able to interact closely with a document and tailor it to what he wanted to read." Not originally intended as an explicit implementation of hypertext, it nevertheless implemented it, as Brown felt "the needs of the application have led Guide into including increasingly, more hypertext features." The 1983 prototype ran on Three Rivers PERQ workstations under PNX, International Computers Limited (ICL)'s port of UNIX System III, and was used as an online help system.
As part of the Kent Software Tools collection with release on request to the wider Common Base Community, Guide became well-known to other PERQ users and ICL in general. When ICL announced their Dalkeith facility in Scotland was moving to Kidsgrove in 1983, most of the staff chose to accept golden handshakes instead, and five of them formed Office Workstations Limited (OWL) in Edinburgh in 1984.
OWL's first project was to port Guide to other platforms, starting with the Mac, by shrinking it down and adapting it to the "house style" of the new system. This is the version we'll look at in a moment and the easiest version to obtain, though the later Microsoft Windows port arguably had greater contemporary traction (because HyperCard).
Back at the University, Guide was subsequently ported to SunOS 4 (both X11 and SunView), and later Solaris, HP-UX and IRIX, and was thus renamed UNIX Guide (PDF). UNIX Guide proceeded along its own separate evolution path to become KST Guide, but its source code was never publicly available — at some point it too became a paid product — and the editor-less Guide Reader binaries which were publicly released as part of the old UK HENSA archive don't seem to have been mirrored anywhere. Sadly, Dr Brown himself died of cancer in 2007, though his later Exeter contact information persists. (If you have these files or better yet know where their source code might be found, please post in the comments. Several local SunOS 4 and IRIX systems here at Floodgap can't wait to try it.)
At the time it was comparatively unusual to implement hypertext as a continuously scrolling document, and while Guide doesn't appear to be the first such implementation, it was probably the most advanced one of that type up to that point. This screenshot from a later version of UNIX Guide shows the three types of interactive elements (which it calls buttons) that Guide supported.OverbiteWX or OverbiteNX): earlier articles, although the stated DJIA is approximately period-correct).
OWL Guide for the Mac neatly fits on a single floppy disk, so it runs nicely in Mini vMac. It is not available for sale from any MACINTOSH vendor but in the GARDEN of Mac retroenthusiast sites you can easily find it by searching for OWL Guide. This is the original version 1.0. It runs just dandy in System 6 but I'm using System 7.1 in these screenshots.
The other two types of interactive controls are a bit less exotic. What we would nowadays call a tooltip is a note button in Guide, and functions more or less the same way. You could of course use a replacement button for this purpose, but the note would probably be less disruptive visually.
What's not identical with the HTML anchor element, however, is that the text we've connected to is actually replacement text, as Show Symbols makes clear:
OWL Guide was capable of producing some sophisticated interfaces for the time. The Guide Commands file implements an animated mockup of the Mac menu bar which you can click on for help on any option:
Still, even more noteworthy about Guide is that Professor Brown believed strongly in users creating as well as consuming. ("A fundamental principle of Guide is that the author is the reader and the reader is the author," he declared, emphasis his. "The reader (i.e. end-user) can therefore freely edit the document, thus acting as author, and the only way an author can see a document is to see it as the reader does.") How does one author with a system like this?
First off, markup is less sophisticated than you might think. Document text is in one global font and style (yes, even superscript and subscript are global) with separate fixed styles for the controls, though the nature of the Mac at that time made this less of a liability because bitmaps could stand in for arbitrary text with little functional difference. The control "style sheet" can be set from Display, Set Options.
Our first phrase, however, has at least two totally valid translations, as any speaker of Spanish is well aware. Replacement buttons do not allow other controls to nest within them, so we'll need a composite control; since we have multiple valid choices to become the final translation, the logical control to use here is an inquiry.
Alternatively, we could construct it "forwards" using the generic button control as a wrapper for the inquiry instead. Unlike specialized replacement buttons, general buttons are also containers like inquiries, but unlike inquiries, general buttons are navigable.
Going back to our main document, we now make Help with Guide... into a reference,
Unfortunately, the act of creating a reference point changes the destination document. That means we need to include our own modified copy of Guide Help if there wasn't already a reference point at the document element we wanted.
That said, although I'm trying not to be too hard on a version 1.0 of a very innovative tool, that wasn't actually the most annoying thing about creating documents with it and editing in particular leaves a lot to be desired. Among other petty annoyances the arrow keys don't work and it's hard to select text that's part of a wrapped control without triggering it (Edit, Freeze toggles this behaviour, but it's not immediately obvious to a new user what this option does). The worst part, however, is that you can't edit controls once they're finalized and there is only one level of undo. While experimenting with Guide I had to keep a couple different versions of the document around or I ended up doing a lot of rekeying to get back to a previous state. Yes, you could probably edit the text directly in the file itself with a hex editor but I doubt the late Professor Brown would have found this to be an acceptable workaround.
Like UNIX Guide, OWL Guide had its own (presumably distributable) reader application. Conveniently, the Mac version's was a desk accessory called MiniGuide, included as an installable suitcase. System 7.1 naturally runs it directly. It supports all of the features of standard Mac Guide except of course for editing and showing the internal structure of documents, and at only 49K easily fits with anything.OWL introduced Guide 2.0, which directly competed with Apple's HyperCard (a very different motif) and debuted a Microsoft Windows 2.0 port, shown here. Solbourne Computer) to become the new Panasonic Office Workstations Ltd division, and the now separate American subsidiary continued development of "just plain Guide" independently. While the Mac version eventually stalled out when Apple started bundling the better-known HyperCard with Macs for free, OWL International continued on PCs with Guide 3.0 in 1990 and support for the new Windows 3.0, shown here. Guide 3.0 introduced a new SGML-based format called HML, or Hypertext Markup Language, jettisoning the earlier binary format.
OWL International subsequently renamed itself to InfoAccess, but although InfoAccess first introduced an HTML-native product called HTML Transit also in 1995, they continued to sell and develop Guide until 1999 when the company was bought by IntraNet Solutions and the old product line was discontinued. This is a 1998 screenshot of what was probably the last version of Guide (Reader), on Windows 95. By then Guide documents were more like "regular" web pages than the bidirectional nature of the original Guide and could even have links to Internet resources.changed its name to Stellent in 2001 and was bought out by Oracle in 2006; Panasonic OWL, for its part, was absorbed into its parent corporation and shut down in 2005.
As innovative as Guide was, OWL itself wasn't very forward-thinking, though of course hindsight is always 20-20. In a famous 2011 TED talk by OWL founder Ian Ritchie, while demonstrating Guide 3 at a trade show in 1990 he first met Tim Berners-Lee, then a relatively obscure researcher at CERN, who was developing a new networkable hypertext system.