All I Want Is You [Helix] (With Apologies to U2)
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
January 13, 2007 — It is taking us a long time to get all of Helix to Mac OS X. The Server and the Mac OS X diagnostics were great first steps preparing us for the larger work that lay ahead. It only made us, and you, more impatient to see the rest of it. Significant parts of what we need to get the OS X Engine & Client into your hands are already up and running. But other — potentially important — things are not.
The transition from CodeWarrior to Xcode has been difficult, and we continue to find places where Xcode simply doesn’t handle code the way CodeWarrior does.
Of course, the majority of what we are working on is the interface elements in Helix — the things you actually see when you are using a Helix collection. We already have the database working — that’s Helix Server — we now need to give you a way to interact with it in Mac OS X.
Here is where the ‘forced march’ to Xcode has really hurt us. Attempting to ‘patch the old code up’ to make it run in Xcode was proving to be nearly impossible, and even if we did manage to make it work, we’d end up with a shaky Mac OS X application, plus your collections would still looks like they were running in System 7. And we would only be patching the code, not moving it forward to Universal Binary form, no less toward platform-independence.
So we made the hard decision to do it right. We scrapped the entire interface code and started from scratch. We used true Mac OS X interface elements not "lookalike" elements that would look right today, but would begin to look dated as soon as Apple ships Mac OS X 10.5. We knew it was going to take longer, but we didn’t fully comprehend how huge that task would be. In our last The Latest Word, we showed you some screen shots so you could see that we were making real progress, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
With or Without You
In order to find out if we could streamline our development and testing process, our last survey asked you which version(s) of Mac OS X we should support.
The results were a bit shocking. As the accompanying chart shows, nearly 90% percent of you are running Mac OS X 10.4. When you add in the Mac OS X 10.3 users, the total is over 98%. Between that and the comments you left, you overwhelmingly told us: ‘if OS X Helix only runs on 10.4 and higher, that’s OK with us.’
So our development is moving forward with Mac OS X 10.4 as the target. If we get lucky and Helix works under 10.3 or 10.2, that’s a bonus. But we won’t be spending any time testing to see if things work in those versions. Staying focused on Mac OS X 10.4 and later will get OS X Helix to you sooner.
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
If you read the selected comments on that survey page, you will see that although most users are encouraging us to move forward, there is a vocal minority that does not. The Helix camp seems to divide roughly into two groups: those who stay up-to-date and those who take the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach. Note that one of those comments is from a person using Helix Express 3.5! We didn’t ask, but we doubt he’s still using it on the Mac Quadra that was current when that version of Helix shipped. The other day we even got a call from someone who just bought a used iMac and was annoyed because Double Helix 3.5 wasn’t behaving in OS 9 as nicely as it did under System 7.1 on his old Performa!
It is an endless source of frustration for us that so many Helix users are willing to spend $1000 or more on a new computer, yet are unwilling to spend the $100 or so needed to keep their Helix up to date. This group is much larger than you may suspect: if just the people who own Helix 5.2/5.3 would upgrade to Helix 6.0 now, we’d have enough money to complete the OS X work and then some. In fact, just half that number would fund development for the better part of 2007. Even more frustrating is watching those users sitting on the sidelines, waiting until we deliver OS X RADE, knowing they can save money later by upgrading now. What they don’t realize is how huge those savings would be — something we will rectify in our next installment of The Latest Word.
All That You Can’t Leave Behind
A few months ago, we ran into a hurdle in the migration process and in order to find out what was best for our customers, we ran another survey. This one was about the Picture field type and how Mac OS X does not seamlessly support the PICT format used by Mac OS Classic. We wanted to find out whether switching to a new format (PDF) for the Picture field would be a problem for you.
The chart to the right summarizes the survey results, with some categories lumped together. More than 99% of our users said this would not be a problem. Given the overwhelming numbers, our course is clear: Helix’s Picture field will use the PDF format in Mac OS X even though it leaves the Mac OS Classic programs unable to see those pictures.
But something else caught our eye: 25% said that they do not use Picture fields at all. The notion that a quarter of our users have never used a field type that has been in Helix since version 1.0 got us thinking: what other features in Helix are not used to the extent that we assume they are?
Even with its dated set of tools, Helix allows you to create all sorts of incredible applications. Yet we know from talking to our customers that many of them only use a small part of the Helix toolset. Few users tap into everything Helix has to offer, so how could they be expected to understand the vast number of different parts that need to work in order for us to ship a solid product?
For example, consider Document Management. It’s very powerful, but we estimate that fewer than 5% of all Helix customers use it. Yet those who really use this feature couldn’t, or wouldn’t use Helix without it. We’d like to enhance Document Management now, but if 95% of you don’t use it, we’d be smarter to put our short-term efforts elsewhere. What we need are hard numbers to help us make these hard decisions.
How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
If you were moving into a new house and the air conditioning wasn't working yet, you wouldn't mind as long as the weather was cool and you were assured that the work would be done before next summer. Our plan is something like that: we're going to let you ‘move in’ to OS X Helix before the whole house is complete. But we need you to tell us which features are essential and which can be delayed a bit.
So we’re conducting another survey (actually a series of surveys) to find out which parts of Helix you use and how much you rely on them. The answers will tell us two things: 1) can we possibly release a ‘preview’ Mac OS X Client & Engine that contain just a subset of the full Helix feature set? and if so, 2) which parts of Helix absolutely must be done before giving you anything at all?
The first survey is a very general survey, covering the features in the very broadest of terms. Subsequent surveys will zero in on specific functions.
Please take a few minutes and take the first part of the survey now.
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