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Helix RADE 6.2 Preliminary Release 17: A dispatch from the Sandy shores

RADE14 November 2012 — Unlike the sixteen notices that have come before this one, the recent series of natural calamaties that has clamped down on the east coast of the USA caused this exciting installment of our iconic story to be crafted with a pen, a legal pad and a candle. Hence, a slight delay.

Despite the fact that our small corner of the world has been without power and, consequently, internet for more than two weeks now, the story of Helix goes on, must be told, and continues to get better and better the closer it gets to the end.

With that introduction we bring you Helix RADE 6.2 Preliminary Release 17, which brings back, at long last, not one but two of the things that always made Helix so “Mac-like” in the first place.

More about those wonderful things in a moment, but first: as with each month since the journey to Europa began, we are obliged to inform you of the cost of getting involved, which now means six more Preliminary Releases, more or less, before we are ready to “dispense with the preliminaries,” so to speak.

But this time, having stared down the worst weather to hit our region in over 50 years — made all the worse by government incompetence — and itching and scratching from spending two weeks in the “dark ages,” we’re going to take a slightly different approach to Europa this month. We’re going to explain the cost of not getting involved.

Those of you who are not members of the Europa Pioneer Plan will not be receiving an email today that contains a link to download the latest Helix RADE. You won’t be exploring the new features we’ve added. You won’t be familiarizing yourself with how Helix RADE works in macOS. You won’t be taking advantage of the savings you can still have if you don’t wait until the work is done. And you won’t be struck by moments of delight as you find yourself working productively in RADE in macOS at last.

That being said, there is still time. You can still join the Europa Pioneer Plan and be welcomed with open arms. If you decide to sign up now, the price is still $440.00, which entitles you to every release through May 31, 2013. (Two years worth of progress!) If that’s too large a bite to take all at once, you can also make an initial payment of $240.00, followed by six more monthly payments of $40.00.

Those of you who are members of the Europa Pioneer Plan should have that email already, containing the link to download the new release. The installation process remains the same. If you’re not familiar with the drill yet, you can review the instructions provided in last month’s edition of The Latest Word. And you can read the details about this month’s release on the Preliminary Release 17 Release Notes page.

A look now, a touch later

A while back, we described the journey of getting all of Helix to macOS like this: stretch your arms left and right as far as you can and picture the distance from one fingertip to the same one on the other hand. It is a journey that has a definite beginning and end.

The last time we used this analogy, we said we were on the palm of the other hand, way too late to turn back, or to give up. And now we are inching our way across the knuckles of the fingers of that hand.

We told you most recently that we had three pieces left to complete and were working out the best order in which to get them all done.

A short time back, realizing at last how close we were to finishing this thing, we promised ourselves that the template or the abacus would be functional by year’s end. We believed that between these two pieces of the puzzle lay perhaps the heart and soul of Helix, but the closer we got, the harder it was to decide which was which.

In baseball, they say the tie goes to the runner. But even then it is clearly a subjective decision.

In Helix, we decided that the tie goes to the one with the steepest AppleScript learning curve. Strictly speaking, the template wins, though the abacus is not far behind. But the abacus also has the Abacus Expression Language (AEL). And the overwhelmingly more apparent need, based strictly on anecdotal evidence, is that Helix users who no longer have easy recourse to Classic just need to be able to make some adjustments on their templates.

Last month, we concluded by stating that it was our intention to have the template editor functional by year end, so clearly, we were already leaning heavily in that direction. We also hinted that it might come in stages. Preliminary Release 17 reveals the first stage: the read-only template. Although you can’t edit templates yet, you can now open them and view them in macOS RADE.

There are a few issues left to be resolved in the display, and we’ve cataloged them in R7920 of techdb in case you want to add your own observations to the discussion, but this should give you a pretty good idea of what this new world looks like.

Lest you be discouraged by this, please understand that this is a major step forward. Being able to display the template rectangles is the first step in being able to edit them, and with that (mostly) accomplished, we can go on to the next step. Dragging icons into a template provides an acid test for our new Element Panel but, like the abacus, it also draws attention (again) to the iconic nature of Helix…

Project Cosmos: Icon View takes its first steps into macOS

A casual reading of the brouhaha over Icon View would have you think that viewing a Helix collection or relation window as Icons or a List were simply two different ways of looking at the contents of a collection. That short-sighted analysis misses the point: not only are they different ways of looking at the objects in a collection, but they are also different ways of organizing the content of your applications.

No single way of looking at that content is any more ‘correct’ than any other, and none are indispensable. The whole is, however, truly greater than the sum of its parts, and Icon View is what endeared many users to Helix in the first place.

Once we had the Element Panel up and running, it was clear that what we had learned up to this point would simplify the process of bringing back Icon View. But Icon View had always seemed like a diversion, and in keeping with the principle of not doing anything that would delay the process of getting the icon editors functional in macOS, we intended to defer it until the very end. But it turns out that Icon View is technically very similar to the template and abacus editors, and so the right combination of expertise, opportunity and available funding enabled us to take the plunge.

That “perfect storm” happened in early-October, as we were completing Preliminary Release 16. In doing the index and sequence editors, we learned how to display and drag full-size icons. Our constant drum-beat of requests to hear from Helix users who were willing to financially back the work required to see Icon View restored had generated enough commitments to allow us to spend a full week on it. And our next big project — the template editor — would require much of the same technology: drawing on a Cartesian plane, translating clicks on that plane into selections, etc.

In both finances and time, there wasn’t enough to complete the job, but there was enough to get it to where it is today. Although there are a few irritating bugs to be fixed before Icon View is truly complete, those bugs have simple workarounds and what we have now should satisfy the hunger and thirst of so many of you who have clamored for the return of this Helix capacity for so long.

One example of something that didn’t quite get finished is how you actually switch to Icon View. It’s is a bit tricky just now: there are no menu items for switching view modes, so the change is made through the Inspector (or via AppleScript) and it’s not necessarily obvious how you do it. With Gil knocked offline for the last two weeks, Matt stepped out of the shadows to demonstrate Icon View and the video on the right shows how to deal with this potentially perplexing issue.

As we mentioned above, there are a number of quirks in Icon View at this point. The complete list of known problems is found in techdb as R7919, and we encourage you to review that report and to add any problems you observe. And of course, we still need to encourage you to directly contribute financially to the Icon View work, which you can now do through our web store: you’ll find Project Cosmos in the ‘Other Products’ section of the new products page.

But wait, there’s more! Since we were bringing back Icon View, we also decided to bring back View by Name to complete the Classic Helix display choices. Then we went a step further and added two new options: View by Custom Name and View by Comment. You now have more ways than ever to view your icons in Helix. The complete Release Notes provide additional information on these capabilities.

More nasty bugs eradicated, more fun on the way

As we prepare each monthly release, we have to figure out roughly what we can accomplish in less than four weeks, and draw the line in a spot that gives us at least a week of testing before we release a new build. In the best of all possible months, we also try to build in a few days specifically for bug fixing. And so, along with new features you will find a number of bug fixes. Again, you can consult the Release Notes for the full list.

This release entered final testing on November 8th, and it was actually ready on schedule. But just because we cut off changes on some date doesn’t mean we stop working, and our engineers have not been idle! And the extra week afforded us by the latest round of natural disasters has put a bit of space between then and today, so we actually have a lead on how the next phase is going.

In the week since we wrapped up Preliminary Release 17, our engineers have already got template rectangle selection working, and we are nearly done making them editable via the Inspector. There is still a lot to do, such as adding the ability to move and resize rectangles with the mouse, making it possible to create new rectangles, dragging and dropping icons into them, etc. We’ll take it as far as we can go safely before the next cut-off date and deliver what we can next month.

Depending on how quickly progress is made, we may delay the December release beyond the typical 10th of the month release, if only to be sure to give you as much as possible in the final release for 2012. The long wait to actually make template modifications in macOS RADE will be over, and while you rejoice in that return, we will turn our attention to the two pieces that remain: the abacus and the user editor.

As always, please don’t forget that we still need all the help we can get to finish this job. It won’t be long before we all finally get back to doing what we love to do the most: dreaming up and building new capabilities into Helix.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

* All prices are stated in US Dollars.

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