No code but plenty of apps
One of my seminal early experiences with computers was an encounter with Apple’s HyperCard, a piece of software at the time mistaken for a database or slideshow programme, but in fact a powerful (and apparently drug-inspired) authoring environment that has posthumously been dubbed the original ‘no-code’ application.
HyperCard did have code but its native language, HyperTalk, is more or less a subset of English, meaning that users need only understand logic, not spend an age learning complex syntax. In any case, it was possible to use it to build basic applications without writing a word of code.
For me, this was a revelation. Despite having been able to write snippets of code since childhood, I never did develop a developer’s temperament. In other words, where some see a challenge, I find only tedium. HyperCard seemed the perfect answer: here was a card-based system for creating interactive applications.
Later, in art school, I encountered other, similar software, such as Macromedia Director, but in the end it was all done for. Largely, though not exclusively, used for futzing around with what was then called ‘multimedia’, the whole area was overtaken by the Web.
Interesting as these technologies were, today low-code and no-code have a much more central role – and one that is only going to grow, given the shortage of developers, which analysts IDC expect will increase from 1.4 million in 2021 to 4 million in 2025
Derya Sousa, chief operating officer of Dublin-based no-code platform developers Kianda Technologies, said that the need for ultra-rapid application development was clear: businesses may rely on off-the-shelf software for generic activities, but certain tasks, such as customer or staff on-boarding for instance, often require custom applications.
“By 2023, 60% of applications developed within enterprises will be developed using no-code, low-code methodologies. Less than 0.5% of the world’s population can actually code [and] in addition, we need solutions to develop faster and to be more scalable and adaptable,” she said.
Of course, easing and speeding development has long been a significant goal in computing, as a 1991 video from Steve Jobs’s NeXT Computer shows, pitting developers on NeXT and Sun systems against one another, with NeXT’s drag-and-drop interface and object orientation winning an easy victory. Likewise, few will need to be reminded of how much business software was developed in Visual Basic or VBA, though some may shudder when thinking about how much of it is still in use today.
In fact, the very thing that put an end to golden age tools like HyperCard and Director is what drives today’s no-code and low-code: connectivity. Modern no-code platforms are not isolated islands, and can connect not only with end users across the internet but core business applications such as SAP and SharePoint.
The power of programming probably shouldn’t be put in the hands of just anyone, but its expansion beyond the core is more than welcome.