It was an incredibly simple concept: write a plain text file which includes information and link the file to related files simply by including the related file names in <> brackets. Running the program with these files, the user could jump instantly from one file to the next. There was an associated editor, Transtext, which can make the same jumps and has very powerful macro capabilities. There was and still is nothing like this on the market in terms of this speed and simplicity - navigating thousands of linked files in Hygen on a 286 computer with 2 meg of RAM was not simply fast, it was instantaneous.
More impressive than this was the philosophy of this technology woven through the help files and instruction manual - how to set up a large hypertext system to encourage thinking. Even more impressive were the group of utility programs used to automate the construction and maintenance of large scale hypertext systems. The author of these products, Neil Larson, leapfrogged all other programs with the simple implementation of his vision of information, knowledge and wisdom and the programs to accomplish this in an automated manner. I owe the ability to create this site to him.
Unfortunately, the programs were DOS, a little quirky to master, poorly marketed, and then HTML arrived - using the same basic concepts, but prettier, more complicated, and now the standard. The Maxthink line of products have not been ported to fully embrace HTML, which is a great loss. It was quite a bit of work to translate my Hygen system to HTML, and now I can't go back. It was a great step backwards in terms of speed and ease of site maintenance. For certain tasks, HTML remains a crippled and inadequate imitation of Maxthink hypertext.
Neil Larson has a Maxthink web site , which is also quirky (sometimes off line - keep trying if you can't connect) and doesn't do justice to the lessons I learned working with his simpler system. He has resisted current trends, and for clear reasons. The site shows a nice technique for combining narrative audio with simple graphics - low tech, but effective and fast.
It's a bittersweet tale, isn't it? Such a condensation of brilliance, and for all practical purposes, wiped out of existence by the Microsoft bulldozer. I still can hardly believe that such a useful and massively powerful program wound up getting such little distribution. I still use the 1994 (last version of...) Hygen in my office - nothing better has come out since for what it does.
Ah! but a ray of light shines in 2001! Maxthink lives! The Windows version of Maxthink, new and improved is at http://www.maxthink.net. Check it out!