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A vision of self-sufficiency in the land of When…
19 October 2007As always, the question we are most often asked begins with the word “When.” The answer, of course, is “When it’s ready.” But just how do we know when when is?
Helix Engine and Helix Client both do the same things: they allow User Mode access to data and they do not allow Design Mode access to structure. The critical difference between them, from an end-user standpoint, is that one works by itself and the other works across a network. Together, they will provide macOS end-user interfaces to Helix collections. But when?
In the alpha testing phase, putting the product in users’ hands is like handing a grocery list and the car keys to your three-year-old. You can be reasonably sure of only one thing: the kid will not be coming home with groceries, and that’s probably the most optimistic projection. This is certainly not when.
In the beta testing phase, putting the product in users’ hands is like handing a grocery list and the car keys to your teen-ager who has a learner’s permit. The kid might come home with the groceries, and possibly with a wrecked car and a ticket, or worse. The risk isn’t as awful as with the ‘alpha child,’ but it’s still too big a risk to take. Again, not when yet …
…all of which naturally begs the question in your minds, ‘How is beta testing going and when will it be over?’ The simple answer, as you may already have read in our macOS progress pages, is that beta testing started off a bit bumpy, but has been quite smooth since then. We have not seen a single report of anything truly significant that we weren’t already aware of, and that’s really good news.
But the more significant response is the one that is in the context of our expectations going into beta. Our expectation has always been that we would release the Helix Engine as soon as it was proven to be solid and then to turn our full attention to getting the Client released. And all through alpha and beta thus far, that has been and continues to be the plan.
But our plan was also to get through this without mortgaging the future for the sake of the present. So, with the good news it seems that inevitably, there is a snowbank lurking somewhere…
Haven’t the dues been paid yet?
Ultimately, for there to be a future for Helix, it has to be self-sustaining. We need to keep this ship afloat until it’s ready to head out to open seas under its own steam. When we rescued Helix five years ago, we knew it was going to take a long time and a lot of effort to get to the place where that could be true. But we devised a plan, laid it out for you, and asked you to join us on what could prove to be a very bumpy journey. And it has.
What we have collectively undergone and suffered through these past five years is the penalty we are all paying for things that were not done the right way years ago, before any of us had much influence on the process. But this work has to be done, and it has to be paid for.
The direness of Helix’s lag behind the rest of the Mac world was such that we’ve had to beg and borrow to catch up. So every time we reached a milestone, we released an update and we asked you to send us more money in exchange for it. Each update we have produced so far has contained enough value to generate a significant part of the money needed to get us to the next update; every projection we made on how much income would be generated from each release was pretty accurate. Where we came up a little short was often in figuring the amount of time it would take us to reach the next milestone, especially with the obstacles that were thrown in our way.
Soon, we can start doing things a little differently
All this time since we started building macOS products, we’ve had to refrain from doing most of the things a software company would do to make money because our need for Classic would only shine a glaring spotlight on our deficiencies and discourage people from using the product.
When we are finally in macOS, when we are out there ‘on the level playing field,’ we should be able to attract new users without having to go through another round of begging our valiant Helix pioneers to keep things rolling.
Those days are coming to an end. Sure, we’ll still have one program that requires Classic, for a while longer, but with the macOS native Helix Client and Engine, there will no longer be any reason we should refrain from doing those things that will help us become self-sustaining, able to provide income on a level that won’t have you thinking about Norman Whitfield and Edward Holland, Jr.
Who are Norman and Edward and why would I think about them?
In 1966, Norman Whitfield and Edward Holland, Jr. wrote The Temptation’s hit, ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.’ It’s opening line keeps ringing in our ears...
I know you want to leave me, but I refuse to let you go.
The story line never seems to change: we’re almost out of money and you want to leave for greener pastures. Some of you want to leave us because, quite simply, you’re running out of options. Machines are dying. Helix can’t run on the new machines and we can’t tell you exactly when the problem will end, only that it is going to get a whole lot better when the macOS versions of Engine and Client are delivered.
Like the on-the-verge-of-being-dumped lover in the song, we don’t want to let you go. The song doesn’t say why she wants to leave, but maybe it’s because she can’t wait for that promised brighter future. But we can see that future and we know how much better off you’ll be if you stay. You won’t have to start over with something else. You’ll be able to keep on using what has worked for you for all this time. You just won’t have to worry about your hardware anymore. And Helix will once again start to grow.
Two years have passed since our first foray into macOS. Owners of Helix Server 6.0.x will get the Helix macOS Client for free. And owners of RADE 6.0.x will get the Helix macOS Engine for free. Many early adopters seem to have forgotten this. When we tell them that they won’t have to pay anything for those products, they ask if there’s some other way they can help us at least to get through this round of testing.
Their experience with Helix OS X Server and Helix Utility and Update Collection has been extremely positive. They know — as we do — how much more interesting things are going to get when more Helix products run in macOS. To show their support, some buy large blocks of USUs, which can be redeemed any time they need upgrades or other services. Some have contributed to the Universal Fund, giving us a financial boost in our effort to create not just a macOS native Helix, but an Intel-native Helix. But it’s going to take more than just getting everything to macOS to make this ship run under its own steam, so today we are going to announce a bunch of steps we’re about to take in that direction, starting with an upgrade to, of all things, Helix RADE.
Helix RADE: Still Classic After All These Years
You heard that right. Helix RADE. Still Classic Helix RADE. Why on earth would anyone want to spend another dime on that? Especially since with ‘backward compatibility,’ you can use the 6.0.x RADE you already have to make all the changes you’ll need in the structure of your collections. Good question. This time, the best answer comes in the context of our hopes for the future.
First, we are compelled to remind you that we have steered as clear as possible of putting any new features in Helix until it’s all running in macOS. We’ve generally taken the position that unless the feature provides an obvious benefit to the end-user and can be implemented without derailing the process of getting to macOS, it has to wait. Here, then, is a look at two new Helix features that have passed that test.
When we were testing Helix’s macOS Server a few years ago, we stumbled across an unexploited ability within Helix that became an instant hit with our beta testers. It was too late in the process to include it in Helix 6.0, so we put it on the back burner, until there was a better time to switch it on. That time has come.
The feature deriving from this ability is actually a Client/Server feature, but you will need RADE 6.1 to activate it. We call it Notify on Change. This feature allows you to set an attribute for each view that makes it update the Why? message (and therefore to beep) when a change is made to the content of that view.
How does it work? Say you have a list of sales that need further action before they can be closed. You could set that list to notify you every time the status of a sale on that list changes. You no longer have to remember to check the list from time to time. You can put that view in the background and go about your business and Helix will notify you when the list is updated.
The second new feature is the Clippings menu. If you’ve used other programs with this sort of feature, you immediately see the usefulness of it. Built on Helix’s copy/paste structure feature, the Helix Clippings menu allows you to create Helix Clippings structural elements and store them in a menu where they are available for instant access. Tired of having to drag out a new ‘true’ and ‘false’ abacus every time you create a new relation? Put them in the clippings menu and they are always one menu selection away! You can also create groups of items, for example keeping template designs in one folder and the changes you need to apply to your Client/Server database in another. We’ve been using the Clippings menu here for about a month and we’re already hooked. We’re going to include a starter set of commonly used, very useful clippings with RADE 6.1, and we are sure that once you try them, you’ll be hooked too.
We think these are very cool functional additions that extend the Helix paradigm and will encourage more users to take advantage of things Helix has to offer that they may never have tried. We’re not going to charge a significant fee for RADE 6.1; it will be a $50 upgrade for anyone with RADE 6.0.x. Users with older versions of Helix RADE will pay more, in keeping with the tiered upgrade policy we have been using for the last few years.
Clippings menu opens the door to the Helix Code Library
Of course, the Clippings menu’s main function is to hold things you create and put there yourself. But it can also hold things you acquire from other sources, such as us! In a previous edition of The Latest Word, we announced the Helix Code Library. The library currently has about 32 powerful Helix solutions, delivered as a set of Clippings with in-line documentation. All you have to do is place them in your Clippings folder and choose the ones you want to add to your existing collections. They are all designed to look and function properly in both Classic and macOS. Prices will start at $5. You can now buy easy-to-add features for your Helix collections directly from us, and in doing so you’ll be helping us on our way to self-sufficiency. And if you are a developer who wants to contribute to the library, contact Gil to see if there’s a gap on the shelf you can fill!
The Helix Learning Center expands
Earlier this week, we got to see the fruit of another labor that has been going on parallel to our developments. We’ve been working with Chuck Hinkle to convert his wonderful Helix training class to DVD Format. Like everything else, it was a bit rocky at first, but now it looks like a winner. The Advanced Training course will be available first, starting at $200 for three DVDs and a CD-ROM of examples used in the training. We’re going to hold off on the Beginner’s Training and start production on that when work resumes on RADE so that when RADE is ready, the training materials will all reflect the new realities of RADE in macOS. But a portion of each Advanced Training set goes right into Helix development, again, helping us become self-sufficient.
Speaking of training, we mentioned recently that we were developing a seminar to help users prepare their collections for macOS. That program is now for real and will take place Thursday, November 29–Saturday, December 1, 2007. We’ll be at a Holiday Inn in Plainview, NY, on the Long Island Expressway easily accessible from all major airports, public transportation and highways. You can register for it now in our web store. The price will be $450.00 for the three days, not including hotel and travel costs. Additional seats are $325.00 each. Contact Gil with any questions you might have. This course is neither a beginner nor advanced Helix seminar. The only assumption we will make in our presentation is that attendees have designed and implemented a Helix Client/Server system or a single-user Helix application that has a working UserMode interface.
The first two and a half days will be devoted to familiarizing you with the various issues related to moving your collections to macOS, what types of adjustments you could be performing now, while you wait for the macOS products, all of the things you will have to learn to make a smooth transition. On the last half of the final day we’ll open your collections using the Helix macOS Engine so you can get a first-hand look at how they’ll behave. You’ll get a late beta version of the macOS to take home with you so you can get started on your own ‘macOS-ification’ projects and see your results as you work.
Universal Helix goes from dream to reality
If you’ve been following our story so far, you know that shortly after we released Helix Server 6.0 in December 2005, Apple dropped the bomb on us that they were switching to Intel chips for new Macs and that we would have to switch to Xcode if we wanted to develop programs that run natively on those Macs. As a result Helix Server 6.1 — and, ultimately, everything that follows — has to be developed in Xcode.
In the May 16, 2007 edition of The Latest Word, we put out a call for people who wanted to see a Universal Helix bad enough that they would simply give us money to make it a reality. And so, thanks to the kindness of a handful of your colleagues, we’ve been able to put an engineer to work on that project.
The first fruits of that work are already in our hands: we have a Helix that runs natively on Intel-based Macs. It still needs more work, and, more importantly, we still need funds to finish the task, but we have made huge strides in that direction, while barely slowing the progress of the macOS native Engine at all. And as we noted on our macOS progress page, now that we can debug problems on Intel-based Macs, our work goes much faster.
And, in keeping with the need to power out to sea under our own steam, and on the advice of numerous users of our macOS Server, we’re not giving this one away. Not everyone who is running or planning to run in macOS will automatically need the Intel version. So they’ll have a choice. But the Intel Server will be a paid upgrade for everyone, prices to be announced shortly. Those of you who are expecting free update to the macOS native Helix Client will still get that, but the free Server update that goes with that will be PowerPC only.
Remember that Helix Server 6.1 will provide support for both Classic and macOS Clients simultaneously, so there’s going to be a lot of testing down that road. Between now and the time we are ready to test the macOS Client, we will begin testing the new Classic 6.1 Client with the new Server.
At some point in our testing, we will cut over to the new Server as our production server. That eventuality will be followed by a public beta in our HelixChat on an upcoming Friday afternoon, as we did when we first changed Helix’s networking from AppleTalk to TCP/IP. Sure, it won’t be as exciting as the eventual public test of the macOS native Helix Client, which is still several weeks behind that, but it is a vital and critical test and we urge you to plan to participate.
So make some room on your calendars over the next few weeks for Fridays at noon, US EDT. We’ll try to give you about a week’s notice when we’re ready.
What the (Near) Future Holds
In the past few weeks, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing our work habit adapt into a new form. We make some adjustments to our collections in RADE (still a Classic application) and then jump back into macOS and watch how they work in Helix Engine. It’s really a nice change, and though it still requires a trip into Classic every now and then, it is quite bearable when you get to spend most of your time in macOS.
As a person who uses Helix RADE to create, modify and maintain applications that are used either by individuals or workgroups, all you have to do to stay sane until RADE is finally in macOS is to treat your Classic-capable Mac like a ’57 Fender Champ Amp or a ’63 Corvette. Keep it in great running condition for as long as you can.
In the meantime, very soon, you will be able to deploy all your applications in a macOS environment. Your users may call you and say, ‘We need you to make some changes in our Helix program.’ ‘No problem,’ you’ll say. They won’t care how you do it. They won’t care that you had to put their collection on a machine running Classic. They only want what every Helix user has always wanted: to see their program doing what they want it to do. And they’ll be seeing it all in macOS.
So, last, but by no means least, the other announcement we’ve held off on for as long as we could. With all this great stuff about to happen, we’re pulling the string on the new price list, which was recently tweaked a bit and will go into effect on November 1, 2007. The changes are not dramatic, but by ordering before the new prices go into effect, you will definitely save some money and, as always, continue to assure that there’s a Helix in your future.
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