Project Canvas review

Project Canvas is dark horse. Koingo Software market it as an alternative to PowerPoint or Keynote - a presentation tool. Old timers like us weren’t fooled though. Immediately after loading it was clear what Project Canvas is; a HyperCard clone.

HyperCard? It was a tool that old school Mac aficionados remember fondly from the earliest days of Mac OS. A simple programming application that shipped with every Mac, it had a simple set of interface metaphors that made creating your own applications a doddle.

That same metaphor is used in project canvas  - a stack of cards. Just as Keynote or PowerPoint presentations are made from a series of slides, Project Canvas presentations are made from a series of cards. You can add images to cards, play external media files and, crucially add interactive buttons.

It’s this last feature that sets Project Canvas apart from other presentation tools. When activated, buttons can perform a variety of programmatic functions, from setting variables to loading media. They can take users to other cards, use your Mac’s built in speech tools - even execute shell commands. The same actions can be triggered when a card is loaded.

A very low budget application building tool with hidden potential, Project Canvas is a nostalgia trip for fans of HyperCard.

This is where Project Canvas gets interesting. Although it appears quite basic at first, these programmatic functions make it a quite powerful interactive application building tool. It would make a superb introduction to programming for beginners, for example, as using it teaches program flow, variable use and the concepts of programmatic actions and events.

But the software isn’t without it problems too. It is, in some ways, too faithful a clone of HyperCard. That tool last shipped in the 90s - and there’s little functionality here that couldn’t have been achieved then. The the built in picture editing tools are extraordinarily basic, for example. They’re very simple bitmap shape and line tools. The closest comparison we can make is to MacPaint - another program that Apple abandoned a long time ago.

Then there’s the workflow itself. To add a button to a card, you firstly have to draw a card. You then enable a mask over the card, enable an overlay and draw a hotspot where you want the button to be. Finally, you have to match the colour of the hotspot to the button action you wish to trigger. It’s all very counterintuitive in an age where other tools - like Flash, for example - would simply allow you to drag a symbol to the stage and attach actions in a variety of easy to grasp ways.

OUR VERDICT

So - Project Canvas. A bit of a mixed bag, really. On the one hand it triggered a flood of warm, nostalgic feeling for an application we’ve loved and lost. A bit of intelligent exploration reveals some powerful features and potential as a presentation and teaching tool. But, it feels like it needs a serious update. It belongs to an age before networks and dynamic data - and you can tell.

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