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A Mythic Day Is Now Upon Us

31 March 2016 — In the beginning—that is, when time began for Helix—today was an almost mythical day. There were neither internet nor smart phones, and among people who knew about Helix, few knew what made today the special day it always was. And those few who did know usually did not know each other, so the likelihood of their discussing or communicating in any way about what today was, about the amazing thing that was about to happen, or doing it with anyone who did not know what today was — which was, and still is, strictly forbidden — was very unlikely.

On this day, if you were one of those few who knew, a truck would arrive at your home or office and a person would hand you one of those old puffy envelopes containing floppy disks with labels that appeared to have been very hastily printed on ImageWriters.

You knew the package was from the company that made Helix, but the disk label occasionally carried an unusual name, an important marker for a major milestone, the beginning of a new phase. That unusual name was a code name for the beta software that was inside. Today that code name is Callisto, and at long last, the herald of Helix 7 is here.

The shield

Most software users are shielded from the beta process. In Star Trek: TNG, Lt. Reginald Barclay, a U.S.S. Enterprise engineering crew member, was not in any way relieved to hear Geordi LaForge assure him that “the numbers over the decades and centuries are irrefutable: the transporter really is the safest way to travel.” Barclay is paralyzed by his fear of transporter error, much the way any sensible person would be if they tried to use Helix or any other software product before it was ready.

Before beta can begin, software goes through a phase known as alpha, where only people with lead-lined stomachs are allowed near the stuff; a much smaller group (i.e., us). At some point this group deems Callisto testable. The software development process has always been this way. In the case of Helix, however, we diverged from this process for the two years it took to move RADE to macOS, resulting in a very long ride in the back seat for the process of developing and debugging new features.

A little over a decade ago, Helix’s march to macOS finally began, and while the move from Classic to macOS itself has certainly changed Helix in many ways, the guiding principle behind the years of that development was “no new features until we are safely across that bridge.”

And here we are…

In preparing today’s announcement, we stopped to reflect on whether or not the name Callisto has ever been officially introduced. It hasn’t (and hopefully, it will not be in use for very long). It follows our natural progression through the moons of Jupiter. The characteristics of Callisto seemed appropriate for this project at the beginning, only to become even more so over time.

When we shipped Helix RADE 6.2.4 nearly two years ago, it was like the last piece of a puzzle had fallen perfectly into place. We felt excited and relieved, but nowhere near how excited and relieved we will feel when we finally put Helix 7 into your hands. Getting Helix into macOS was an arduous and seemingly interminable process, but it had to be undertaken so we could finally begin delivering the new features users have been asking for to extend Helix’s usefulness. The process of getting to this day may still be the same, but the delivery methods have evolved dramatically. So today, as beta begins for Helix 7, no express packages will be coming to the door. No envelopes will be tendered. One day before this announcement was posted, an email notice went out informing Helix beta testers around the world that the first beta of Helix 7 is officially ready to be tested.

If you are a Helix beta tester in good standing and have not received an email from us by the time you’ve read this, please contact us right away. Perhaps your email address has changed, or the email was wrongly relegated to your junk mail folder. We hope you will be available to help us make this beta period a short one. If you are not a beta tester, we hope the fact that beta has begun becomes your clarion call to get serious with Helix RADE 6.2.4, which we know many of you purchased but never installed. Or to stop putting off that upgrade — or Helix 7.0 pre-purchase — that you know you want. We know that you are deeply concerned that we will be here for you when you need us. Remember that we need your support to assure Helix moves on to its next step; we need to be sure we can count on you to be there for us as well.

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