09.08.07: We Interrupt This Silence…
One awful night a little more than five years ago, around four months after The Chip Merchant had put the Helix world on notice that there might not be any more Helix, almost nine months after we were told that we couldn’t be paid for several months of work we’d already done and a few days after we’d each had a major falling out with Brian Turner, Matt called me about an idea Brian had proposed.
“Brian asked if I would manage the day-to-day operations of Helix until The Chip Merchant gets back on track and use whatever income generated to pay back the money he owes me.
“I told him I wouldn’t do it by myself and suggested I would speak to you.”
“Let me get this straight, Matt,” I said. “You want me to tell my wife that I’m going to go and work off the money that someone owes me?”
“Well,” said Matt, “I suppose it’s hard not to look at it that way, but if we don’t do something, there may not be a Helix to go back to when things do get better out in San Diego.”
As the old saying goes, “the rest is history.” Things didn’t get better in San Diego. But the rest of the “chips” fell into place and we made ourselves a bet … that there was nothing like Helix yet and that if we got back to work, there was still a chance that we could bring Helix back to life while it was still a viable concept.
We knew the road ahead was going to be long and rocky. And we certainly were not doing it out of any sense of altruism. It was more out of a sense of self-preservation. Ten years ago, the prospects for Helix were much dimmer than they are today. The world was fleeing the Mac in droves. Helix was fighting an uphill battle for survival because it was so far behind its competition and was beset by seemingly unsolvable bugs that were forcing users to abandon it for any nearby port in the storm. As developers who had been making their living with Helix, the future was bleak. Here was an opportunity to steer the sinking boat safely to dry dock and get it patched up right.
Getting it done right meant getting it to OS X and, hopefully, to other platforms. But making that happen required a commitment to fixing a lot of badly damaged and out-of-date infrastructure. As we’ve lamented time and again, it was a thankless job with little prospect of generating much income, but it had to be done for there to be a future.
The temple of doom lay in wait
Did you ever get the feeling that somebody really wanted you to fail? As difficult as our road ahead appeared, there were unforseeable pitfalls that made it infinitely more perilous.
We knew we needed to overhaul the networking in Helix because Apple was planning to do away with AppleTalk, Helix’s basic networking framework. And before we could begin to make TCP/IP work properly, we had to rewrite substantial parts of Helix’s code to get it to work with the latest version of CodeWarrior at the time.
All during this phase, there was an undercurrent of terror promulgated by the imminent demise of Classic. Then Apple upped the ante by introducing a new generation of machines that wouldn’t boot Classic. If things weren’t tough enough, Apple then decided to switch from PowerPC to Intel chips. And while all this was happening, Helix users were finding that their old machines were deteriorating and finding machines that could still run Classic was becoming a time-consuming task.
From fingertip to wrist, we arrive at this turning point
Many times during this ordeal, I’ve been asked why I bothered, why I didn’t just give up. My answer is always the same: I reach each arm out as far to my side as I can and say, “This journey began over here on the tips of the fingers of my left hand. Now we’re here,” indicating some place between my right shoulder and my right hand. “This is not the time to give up. The time to give up would have been while we were still back over there on my left arm.”
Today, September 8, 2007, we are in the vicinity of my right elbow.
Today, at long last, it is our distinct pleasure to let you know that beta testing on Helix 6.1 has begun.
Today is not the time to give up.
Today we are within shouting distance of a long-sought dream: when this beta cycle ends, and all the missing pieces are back in place, we will have only one product left to bring to OS X, but more important, for Helix users and developers alike, when this beta cycle ends, you will be able to write, deploy and maintain Helix applications that can run in OS X.
So keep your candles burning for Helix. Do your best to keep at least one machine capable of running Classic for as long as you can as we move back into development of RADE.
The race is far from over. The tide is about to turn. Our engineers are already at work on making Helix Universal. Twenty generous colleagues of yours have each provided us with one thousand dollars to help make that happen. Several others have pledged lesser amounts. If you would like to join them and give what you can to keep this thing going, contact Gil right away. And remember the bet … there’s nothing at all quite like Helix.