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The Feature/Future Game

Helix Server Helix RADE Helix Client Helix Utility Helix Client 5 March 2014 — Are you ready to play?

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been sweating out the convergence of elements that will ultimately become known as Helix 6.2.3. But we have also been shifting our focus toward the future. And so now, we are inviting you to play the much-heralded, long-awaited second edition of The Feature Game. This game has been played only once before, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

If you’ve been sweating through the development of Helix for macOS along with us — and if you’re reading this, you probably have — then you may recall that way back at the beginning of that adventure, we stipulated that we would clamp a tight lid down on feature requests until the products were running natively in macOS.

Of course, there are many new features that Helix “got” simply by virtue of having made the trip to macOS, and although we all know that ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,’ we stuck pretty much to our guns. Making Helix AppleScriptable was a notable exception, but it was a vital step to cutting the “Classic cord.” and in spite of the “iconic backlash” from some Helix purists, AppleScript in Helix is already paying dividends well beyond what we had originally envisioned.

And now, by virtue of the completion of the trip to macOS, and of having seen so many Helix collections successfully adapt to this new environment, we have arrived at a joyous moment in the history of Helix: we can once again contemplate new features, knowing we have laid a solid foundation for Helix’s future.

The next essential step in the evolution of Helix for the 21st Century is putting together a blueprint. A vital step in this process is in soliciting your input, this game being your first step in helping us understand which features you want to see added to Helix.

Over the years, we have become the guardians of requests for features people want to see in Helix. At the start of this process, those requests were like a giant pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces. By telling us which pieces you consider most vital, you give us direction in shaping the future of Helix.

Preparation, organization and presentation

Twenty years ago, Helix was in the middle of an exhilarating evolution of features and capabilities. Its potential as a tool was virtually limitless. Its future was bright… but then it was plunged into a dark period that dragged on, with occasional glimpses of light, for a decade or more.

Yet all through that dark time, and all through our recent period of recovery, the list of feature requests continued to grow, encompassing every hope and dream anyone has ever expressed about Helix. Our broad familiarity with its content has guided much of our decision making over the years. It has constantly reminded us of our original intention, which was to see that evolution resume.

The feature requests we are presenting to you in The Feature Game come from several sources, among them…

  1. The original ‘feature game’ that was played in 1995 came from a list of feature requests that had been compiled by Steve Keller at Odesta, and later with Helix Technologies. Steve sent that list out via email, which was a fairly new way of communicating at the time. Steve gave each person 100 dollars to spend on whichever features they most wanted. Seeing where Helix users spent their virtual money would tell them where the industry was heading. This is the idea we are bringing back for another go around.
  2. Over the years, we have inherited various boxes (some physical, some virtual) full of old documents from the early days of Helix. From those we extracted ideas that were set aside because the need wasn’t readily apparent, or the technology wasn’t up to the task, or for some other reason.
  3. During our stewardship, we have continued to gather feature requests, through our web site, through email and phone conversations, and now via techdb.

From these varied sources, we have culled, sorted, refined, organized and distilled ideas into the game you will play today. Where necessary, we have done our best to recast original ideas in ways that make more sense in today's world.

When it was clear that we were finally at the new frontier, we began to really tear into the content, reducing each request to a clearly written headline and one or two supporting sentences.

These requests have been divided into 21 distinct categories, resulting in a list of ideas that runs the gamut from wrapping a command rectangle around an irregularly-shaped image to connecting to your Helix server from a smartphone or tablet to virtually anything you can imagine in between.

How to play/how to help

First: this is not really a “game” so much as a mental exercise. Doing it properly will require perhaps an hour or more of your time, some patience and some concentration. Like an Olympic ski run, it is a somewhat imposing and treacherous course, but we have groomed it nicely for you to minimize potential trauma.

We suggest that you begin by looking over the course. Click on a category name to view its content. If you want to print the entire list — or just be mesmerized by it sheer size and scope — the ‘Expand All’ link in the left column opens them all at once (and then turns into a ‘Collapse All’ button so you can hide them again!). Since you cannot save your work in progress, we strongly urge you to print the entire thing out (it’s 17 pages) and really look it over, work on it offline and then come back and enter your votes.

Everything found in the game ‘lives’ in techdb. In the game, each of these has been distilled down to a headline and brief paragraph, intended to convey the essence of the request. For some of them, this may tell you all you need to know. For others, more detail and discussion can be found by clicking the “R” number shown at the end of the headline: a pop up window will show you the techdb summary and discussion. If you want further explanation, or are simply curious, you can also log into techdb, where you can add to the discussion and help us (and others) better understand the request.

We anticipate that many of you might feel overwhelmed not just by the amount of material, but also by the breadth of subject matter covered. To that end, we invite you to join us each of the next four Fridays at noon in HelixChat to discuss anything in the game for which you need clarification.

For this edition of the game, we’ve upped the ante: you are being given 10,000 units of whichever currency you prefer — in virtual money, that is — to spend on the features you most want to see in the next Helix upgrade.

Here is how to play the game:

  1. To the right of each request is a field where you can enter the amount you wish to spend on that item. To spend some of your money on an item, just type a number into the box and press tab to move on to the next. If an item is of no interest to you, leave its field empty, or enter zero. A floating box in the lower right corner of the window calculates your running total.
  2. You cannot submit your response until that number is exactly equal to 10,000. That is the only really unbreakable rule of the game; you can’t take any home with you. You must spend it all.
  3. If, after a comprehensive examination of the content, you find that a feature you desire is not on the list, enter it in the comments box. (255 character maximum.)
  4. The game concludes at midnight on March 31st, 2014.

As you play, please keep the following considerations in mind:

  1. You can spend as much or as little as you wish on each item. Do not feel compelled to ‘load up’ on the one feature you really want, thinking that is necessary to offset somebody else’s loading up of some other request. Our scoring system is more complex than simply seeing where the most dollars are spent.
  2. Vote according to how important a feature would be to you, not why you think Helix would benefit from the feature, unless they are one and the same. Vote as if you are spending your own real money on this.
  3. Vote without consideration of how long it might take or how much it might cost to make a feature happen. This is our future; let’s figure out what we want it to be first.

While we are making no commitment that the feature requests that get the most votes will automatically become features, it is also fair to say that many of the things you vote for in this round of The Feature Game will become part of Helix.

So let’s play!

Over the years since we began this journey, we have insisted on using Helix not simply to build precisely the system we needed, but to test it, debug it and improve it as we went along.

That insistence has kept the flame of Helix burning brightly all through its journey from Classic to macOS. While many new applications have come along since 1984, including many with capabilities Helix does not yet possess, the Helix concept of database application design remains unique and light years ahead of its competition.

With your help, we are about to define and refine the next iteration of Helix software. We want to thank you all in advance for your participation.

 Click here to see the results of the 2014 Feature Game! 

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