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The train to the future leaves from here today

21 December 2019 — The right and proper way to start your next project is to finish your current one. Draw a line in the timeless sands and move forward. Helix 8.0, which we have been using with varying degrees of love and appreciation for some time, must leave the nest sooner or later. Today, just shy of two years after we released Helix 7.0.4, looks like the day.

If you have been following this chapter of our saga, scant though the details have been, you can understand how we, the “parents,” cannot fail to let this event occur without some serious trepidation. After all, we are not merely letting the kid go, but its life begins with the handicap of not being able to run in Catalina (macOS 10.15).

At each major step in its evolution, Helix has had to make some sacrifices. In spite of these, Helix has survived since the dawn of Macintosh time because it has always remained faithful to a superior concept. Helix will also survive this. The public beta we conducted a few months ago largely confirmed what we already knew about 8.0: if you can get here, it will be a smooth ride. Getting here may be bumpy for some, but nearly all collections can, and should, make the trip.

64 bits

As we have done so many times before, this version of Helix began by battening down the hatches, so to speak, to prepare for a tortuous journey through the deep inner workings of Helix to adapt by means of removal and replacement.

While this is certainly not unfamiliar terrain for us, familiarity has become increasingly contemptuous with each new encounter. We will not waste time reciting chapter and verse; a random click in the list of previous postings to the left of this one will more than likely lead to a story with more than enough detail along similar lines.

Our course must, of needs, navigate streams and fjords that lead to a future where every Macintosh application is 64 bit, but little is really known beyond that. One eye must always be out for how to get where we truly want Helix to go, forcing the other to do what must be done to get it to where Apple wants it so that at the very least, we can continue to function on their equipment.

Since we first described what the trip to 64-bit architecture would entail, there has been a significant amount of apparently confused feedback about the underlying purpose of the journey.

To survive this trip and succeed in our mission, we must debunk any notion anyone might harbor that when “64 bitness” is finally achieved, “Helix” will in some way be faster. Helix speed is influenced three ways: First, as Helix only runs in macOS on a Macintosh computer, the faster the computer, the faster Helix will “run“ all by itself. Second, as we all know, all by itself, Helix actually does nothing. Thus, third, the speed at which things appear to happen in Helix derives mainly from the structure of the individual application that Helix is running. A poorly designed form will always be just that.

So Optimize! A well respected member of the Helix community likes to say, “You always know when you’ve done it right. It doesn’t make you wait.”

That said, however, we do believe that a Helix application will gain a measure of stability when running as a true 64-bit application in the latest macOS and those that will follow.

Be careful with Catalina

Beyond the news that Helix 8.0 is now available, there is other good news, as you will read ahead. But let’s talk a little about the one piece of bad news first: Catalina is no longer on the way. It is here and, as noted above, Helix will not run in it.

Be careful! It is not a trivial process to uninstall a macOS. If you generally allow your machines to update automatically, now might be a good time to temporarily disable that capability.

If you are in the market for a new computer, you might want to make sure it will run Mojave, macOS 10.14, or earlier, back to at least 10.6.

In the best of all possible worlds, as we so often like to say, every software vendor will have their new, fully compatible app ready each time Apple decides to unleash its latest creation on the unsuspecting population. As sorry as we are that this is not the case with Helix, for a change, we appear to be in good and subtantial company.

Also, you are not without options if you are overwhelmed with the desire to be in Catalina, or actually require it for any reason. You can, for instance, run macOS 10.14 (or any older version of macOS) in Parallels Desktop, much as you once ran PowerPC applications on Intel Macs by using Rosetta, for those of you who can remember that far back. Another very good option is VMWare Fusion. Be aware that both of these options will cost you some money, but they both work.

If you prefer a cheaper — if somewhat more tortuous option — then we suggest that you create a small partition on your Macs startup drive and install the older version of macOS there. then, when you want to run Helix, restart the Mac while holding the Option key down to start from the alternative version.

So, there you have our “Catalina conundrum.” At this early stage, it is not yet possible to say when this situation will change. We may already be well underway, but the seas ahead are perilous and, to some degree, often uncertain.But when land is again within our sights, you will be the first to know.

The future is not free

As we have said, even though Helix 8 does not contain new features, it is a new Helix, and the update is not free. Click here to see Helix 8.0 pricing. For years, we have offered free upgrades to the next version of Helix if you owned the current one. Unfortunately, we are not presently in a position to offer that kind of incentive. This is an all hands situation. Helix’s short-term survival depends upon support from those who use and depend upon it.

As such, this release also marks the end of any Pioneer discount you may have received for helping us make a modern Helix RADE possible. Without your help, it could never have happened. But a few years have gone by now, the rules have changed again, and we believe those obligations have been fulfilled.

For those who might not

Earlier, we noted that nearly all Helix collections could upgrade to Helix 8. There is a rather clear implication in that statement that some might not.

In our public testing, there were some users whose collections got hung up at one stage or another in the process we laid out for the test. In every case where these users were willing to let us examine their collections, we were able to identify issues that enabled us to get these collections through the rest of the process and into Helix 8.0.

While we have repeatedly noted that there are no new features in Helix 8, there were substantial structural changes made that potentially affected many aspects of Helix. And there was particular attention paid to a document management issue that had been adversely affecting a group of large-scale Helix Client/Server users.

One reason for the exceedingly lengthy delay in releasing this project has been how difficult it has been to get confirmation from these users that their problems were actually fixed. At the same time that we understand how difficult it is to devote expensive manpower to software testing, we have been reluctant to move forward without such confirmation.

One of these users ended up being purchased by a competitor that made getting rid of the Macintosh one of their principal transitional objectives. When this company reached out to us, their request was for us to do something that would alleviate the problem they were having due to this issue. However, they were unwilling to test the solution we had developed. Going to a new version of Helix was completely unacceptable to them. It was impossible to make them understand that after more than a year of infrastructural modification, the very last thing we would consider doing was to somehow “port” our solution back to a previous version of Helix that would never work in a new macOS.

Finally, there are also some Helix users who maintain that we have either ignored issues that they believe have made Helix unusable for their applications since we have transitioned to the modern OS X and macOS versions of Helix from as far back as the Classic OS, or that we have made that transition without duly considering their advice on how we should have gone about it.

Fourteen years ago this very month, we put our very first OS X Helix product in users’ hands. In order to take that step, there were sacrifices that had to be made. Some things Helix users had taken for granted would disappear and never be part of Helix again. Other aspects of Helix would evolve in ways that would please some and madden others.

We have never doubted the importance of these concerns. What we have done, on the other hand, is made value judgements about them with respect to the future of Helix, and moved forward, sometimes without successfully resolving those issues to everyone’s satisfaction. Where the issues are clear, the decision is more easily made. Where they are not, where we cannot independently verify the existence of a problem or provide a usable workaround, the decision is not as easy, but nonetheless must be made.

The Helix of the future as we have imagined it bears very little superficial similarity to the Helix you are familiar with today, yet it is, in concept more like the Helix of your dreams than you could possibly imagine today.

The web store rides again!

Earlier, we alluded to other good news we had to share. One very happy piece of news is that we have finally resolved a handful of issues that were plaguing the checkout process in our web store.

We thank you for your patience in this area. In a time where most business transactions are conducted between machines, it has been a quaint yet pleasurable experience doing so many live sales by phone, but that method does not adapt well to the scale of selling we would prefer to be doing.

What’s next?

Now that the important structural requirement of eliminating the resource fork in Helix is at last behind us, we will shortly begin testing our new networking, which has been rewritten in 64-bit architecture. As you are reading this, additional infrastructural work is already underway. Some of that will shorten the time it will take us to get our code fully 64-bit. And some of it will modernize our code so that Helix can take fuller advantage of macOS technologies.

As 2019 draws rapidly to a close, we hope you will find some time to download a copy of Helix RADE 8.0 and update a copy of your application and try it out in Demo Mode. We have been using the product ourselves for an embarrassingly long time, without sharing it with anyone, that is, and feel certain that you won’t want to stay in Demo Mode for long.

Finally, once again, thank you for your support of Helix until now and thank you in advance for pulling with us to help get Helix to its next harbor. Please keep it coming. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah and Happy New Year!

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