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Down to the crossroads again

21 November 2002--More than a few times since this little experiment began back in June, we’ve told you about the good wishes we receive from Helix users scattered across this little ball we all call home. These good wishes usually begin with the caller or writer telling us how relieved they are to discover that there still is a Helix and end with their telling us to keep up the good work.

Like a cream-filled cupcake or a jelly donut, what’s in the middle is usually the best part. That’s where the messages always gush about how great Helix is. Of course, when they’re telling all this to us, they’re preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, it never gets old. But that first bite of the cupcake always betrays a deep-seated fear. The relief that we’re still here is almost always accompanied by some comment about how they thought we were already gone.

This is a fear that has plagued Helix throughout its history. Never mind how much software created before and after Helix are long gone and Helix is still here. There’s always that lingering cloud, like a question mark blown from a cigar-smoker’s lips. It punctuates the phrase that always begins with, “How do I know you guys are still going to be here…”

Helix has been to that crossroad more than a few times before. Back in 1986, a number of Helix users almost simultaneously stumbled upon a dialog that said, “Too many tiles, icons and rectangles.” They had dragged the 2,501st object from a palette into a workspace and discovered they were out of options. It took Odesta nearly 18 months before that problem was solved. During that time, Helix was down at the crossroads and practically dead in the water.

In 1991, financial woes and rival factions within the company that owned Helix tore it apart. One product was called Double Helix. The other was called ODMS. The company was forced to close down in February of 1992 and nearly vanished. Helix’s second owner assumed control and seven months later a “new” product appeared called Helix Express that was one part Double Helix and one part ODMS, together in one icon, as they should have always been.

In 1995, the Windows juggernaut nearly decimated the Macintosh universe. People waited in line overnight for the debut of Windows 95 like they were waiting for a Beatles reunion or World Series tickets. Helix suffered heavy casualties because they weren’t even PowerPC native yet. There they were again, down at the crossroads. In spite of finally becoming a PowerPC Native product, the fortunes of Helix dwindled over the next three years.

In 1998, The Chip Merchant stepped in and presided over yet another Helix resurrection. The rest of the Macintosh world began moving towards macOS but market conditions conspired against The Chip Merchant and in 2001, the toppling of the World Trade Center towers seemed to crush any hope for the future. Yet here we are again.

This time, we stand at a different kind of crossroads. It’s more like the Snake River Canyon. We know we can get over it, though there’s a pretty good chance we’re gonna get a little scraped up in the process. If we mess up, we’re going down. If we don’t, there’s macOS and a platform-independent future waiting for us on the other side. And this time, there are no surprises lurking ahead, no demons laying in wait. The economy has already tanked, the country is on the verge of war, people everywhere are frightened and apprehensive about their futures. But this team is ready, and this team is committed, and very shortly we will kick these engines into gear and make the leap. What else is there for us to do? Sure it’s almost crazy, but how do you come this far and give up?


The other day, a beta tester and old friend of Helix called to make a comment about the upcoming release of Helix after testing it for nearly two weeks. “You know,” he began, “this version is going to be really nice…I mean I really love what you’ve done and it’s just a real pleasure to use once you get used to all the changes.”

And then it dawned on me. After all this time, it finally makes sense. The reason why the fear of imminent demise has been the one constant in Helix’s history stems from the ancient adage that says if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. And if that’s true, how long can it really last?

Every new release of Helix has brought new features, improvements to older features or flat-out bug fixes that required the user to make some adjustments. Once you’ve adjusted, you can’t imagine how you ever used the product without the new feature or fix.

If you work inside Helix, we believe you’re going to find it a smoother, more sensible and more logical experience “behind the wheel,” from the dashboard right down to the basic vocabulary of Helix. And we’re going to give ourselves a very small pat on the back here and claim that we’ve made good on another promise to all of you: we asked for your input and we used it.

The terms “Load” and “Dump” are gone. They’ve been replaced with “Import” and “Export.” The terms “Full Mode” and “Custom Mode” are also gone. They’ve been replaced with the more meaningful “Design Mode” and “User Mode.” “Conditional Color” is now called “Conditional Style,” because, in fact, that’s what happens in that dialog. You can change colors, typefaces, line appearances and more. Together, that’s a great deal more than just color. As you look through the menus and dialogs, you’ll find many more subtle yet significant changes in terminology.

Now Helix behaves a lot more like other Macintosh applications. Highlight colors selected in the Appearance Manager now apply to most situations in Helix that call for highlighting. While this job is far from completely finished, we’ve made some great strides in that direction.

Were you ever stymied by the fact that your command/arrow keys only let you move things once click at a time on a template, instead of being able to just hold down the arrow keys and have the items glide across the screen? Ever frustrated by your inability to type-select items in slots on a template or irritated by inconsistencies in the way dialogs looked or behaved? Ever wish there was a Windows menu so you could locate a particular window you had open without having to shuffle all your other windows around to find it? Ever use a PowerQuery to bring up a list and something you expected to see in that list didn’t appear because the record was missing something? Wouldn’t it have been nice to be able to use that PowerQuery to find things that were undefined? Or defined? Ever look at a giant stack of paper you printed only to find that it stopped printing after the 128th page? Ever get annoyed looking in a slot because you had fifteen icons whose names began with “Customer Proje…” and you couldn’t tell one from the other? Ever feel frustrated because you had to keep getting info on something to find out where it was? Now you get more information on anything you find that’s somewhere other than where you’re looking, often saving you an extra step.

The wait is nearly over. If you think we’re trying to juice you up, you’re right. We are. We’re not going to let you down. The new Helix, which will be known as 5.1, will be here soon and will be a free upgrade for 5.X users. Click the Purchase button above, and buy or upgrade to 5.0.2 at our web store today. The 5.0.2 keys you receive will allow you to download and install 5.1 the moment it’s ready. We hope you’ll buy your ticket and climb aboard, because from here on out, we’re on the way to the future. Helix 6 and Helix 7. macOS and beyond. We need YOU now more than ever.

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