IntelligentPad: component-based drag-and-drop software creator

IntelligentPad was a drag-and-drop software creator based on the concept of reusable components. Pads could be reused on other pads. There was no programming language so software could be created by anybody, including those without programming experience. It was generally referred to as IP, and often “iPad” which resulted in some users reminiscing on Twitter after the launch of Apple’s iPad device.


IntelligentPad was proposed in 1987 by Professor Yuzuru Tanaka 田中譲 of Knowledge Media Laboratory, Faculty of Engineering, Hokkaido University, and implemented using Smalltalk-80 in 1989. All software resources on a computer are represented in the form of Pads. Pads are standardised so that they can be connected to each other and by combining general pads such as text pads, graph pads, and image pads, a program (called a composite pad) is created.

With it being a tool for Rapid Application Development there are some similarities with Jean-Marie Hullot’s Interface Builder (1986), Bill Atkinson’s HyperCard (1987), Denison Bollay’s Action! (video) (1988), Fujitsu’s TownsGEAR (1990), Microsoft’s Visual Basic (1991), Borland’s Delphi (1995), and also Apple Research Labs’ Squeak (1996, which also happened to be created using Smalltalk-80).

IntelligentPad could be used to build a variety of software from a working calculators and digital clocks (as shown in the documentation/tutorials), through to fully blown applications to a database of nuclear reactors. Examples quoted in early-1999 included a Kyoto culture database “THE MIYAKO” (pdf, p.13) and IntelligentPad’s own “Piazza” project. But, both were still under development at that time.


Desktop software

Implementations of the IntelligentPad standard were available for multiple platforms, and all could mutually exchange pads. Hitachi were most active, creating versions for Mac (as both Shareware and limited demo), HP workstations and a version for Windows with Fujitsu. To add to that Fujitsu created a version for Solaris workstations. Elsewhere K-Plex released a commercial version under the name PlexWare (Japanese).

From 1993 the standard was overseen by the IntelligentPad Consortium, a non-profit organisation aiming to promote and standardise IntelligentPad. The consortium is made up of 36 corporate members and individual members, including Fujitsu, Hitachi Software Engineering, Fuji Xerox, NTT, and NEC. The same year a live-demo was presented in Kobe at the first TED conference held outside of North America (pdf). The proliferation of the world wide web at this point meant the beginning of some adjustments to the concept.


The “Piazza” project

Given that the core concept meant Pads were freely redistributable components, a problem arose that software made using IntelligentPad was difficult to sell. The software was free, Pads were free, and there was no distribution or billing system available.

So, the IntelligentPad Consortium proposed a virtual space for content distribution called Piazza, which was presented at the NicoGRAPH conference of art and science in 1998. Users would gain the ability to place their own applications and image data in the Piazza space in the form of pads, and have other users download them. The proposal was complicated by Japan’s copyright laws, which caused the need for a middle-man clearing house to be involved issuing copyright registrations, as well as distributors who would encrypt the content. It makes the single point of contact for modern App Stores appear to be the ultimate in luxury!

In March 1999 this was all just an idea, with no working prototype available. Piazza version 1.0 was released in November 1999.


Reinventing the internet

Further proposals included an “internet sandbox” that used the Piazza to connect elementary schools over long distances, enabling them to exchange content and communicate with each other, and the development of a search engine for content distributed on Piazza. To me this sounds a little like reinventing the internet.


My interest in IntelligentPad begun when I found Japanese version 2.0.1J in my archive of Macintosh Magazine Media on a Japanese MacUser magazine CD-ROM from 1996. With that knowledge I headed over to DiscMaster and found English version 2.0.1 on a 1996 CD-ROM sold by German Apple reseller GRAVIS that contained their catalogue, software and updates. One world!

You can download those Macintosh files at and try it in a classic Macintosh emulator such as the Infinite Mac web-based emulators (System 7, KanjiTalk 7) and do make sure to copy the files to the emulated hard drive before expanding and running IntelligentPad. Documentation is included and there are Tutorials to create a variety of things from a simple calculator, to a more advanced digital clock, and even a full software application in the form of an interactive map with database browser.

For Windows, IntelligentPad version 4 released in 2000 still works on Windows 8 in XP Mode. There’s also a Java version of IntelligentPad. Both can be downloaded from the Consortium website though I am yet to try those specific versions myself.



In 1995 the concept was reimagined as IntelligentBox, which added an extra dimension as it was capable of displaying and manipulating 3D models. An internet-ready version used the phrase Web Pebble (“Webble”) instead of Pad or Box, and yet another version used the phrase “Meme Media” to refer to reusable components comprised of parts of web pages.

IntelligentPad today

By now you might think IntelligentPad is long forgotten, but I’m here to blow your mind. The IntelligentPad Museum/Palace website is still being updated. The last time I checked there had been an update in April 2023.

Further reading

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Comments: @gingerbeardman