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Have we seen our darkest hour?

2 January 2019 — Around eighty years ago, an actor named Frank Morgan uttered the words “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” in a critical scene in “The Wizard of Oz.”

The characters on the journey to Oz would learn that the wizard they travelled so far to speak to was only a man, and the answers to their questions were inside of them. Each one learns that their own way can be the only best way for them.

What, you are naturally asking, does any of this have to do with Helix? The answer to that question will naturally depend upon your perspective.

Read this and/or read on

It is never lost on us how disconcerting it must be for QSA not to publish a new edition of The Latest Word over a long stretch. In 2018, we expanded that stretch way beyond the point where a group such as ourselves could claim to be communicative without at least blushing while saying it.

That leaves us needing to close a yearlong information gap, albeit without running on too long, as we are also sensitive to the fact that there are TLW readers who would prefer a more telegraphed, ‘executive summary’ edition.

So, for the latter group, here it is:

  • The road diverges yet again
  • Helix is important enough for you to come with us down the fork we take
  • If you encounter the annoying dialog seen at right, you can click OK and forget about it for now.

For the rest of you, if you'd like to know what happened to Helix in 2018 and about our hopes for 2019, please read on.

A resource fork in the road

For some time now, the clock has been ticking on a fundamental aspect of the underlying structure of Helix and every collection created with it.

In the latter part of 2017, we learned that Apple is preparing to pull the plug on 32-bit applications like ours. The 64-bit future had arrived, and we needed to dig in, once again, on another infrastructure project to keep Helix moving forward.

This was certainly not the first time in Helix history where a decision by Apple has forced us to recreate something that was already working just fine. But for now, Helix runs just fine in spite of the aforementioned annoying dialog, and there is no need to worry about it — until we tell you to, that is.

The roads diverged long ago

We have known since back in 2005 — a mere thirteen years ago — before we undertook to bring Helix into macOS, that moments like this would come. Because of the sheer amount of catching up that was in front of us, we chose to forestall making fundamental changes that were not immediately required. Consequently, it always appears that we are behind the curve, playing catchup with macOS. We are playing catchup, but that’s the way it will always be as long as Apple continues eliminating core APIs that worked without trouble before.

It’s easy to say that if we had only decided back in 2005 to start over and rewrite Helix from scratch, we would not be in this situation. But is that true?

Let’s just think about it for a second. This may be a little bit simplistic, but stay with us. Had we done just that, a mere two years into that process in 2007 Apple announced the iPhone. And then two short years later in 2009, the iPad. Even if we had accomplished a great deal by then, there’s a very good chance that that work might have been for naught.

This is to say nothing of how little any of us really knew in 2005 what impact the iOS devices would have in our little corner of the world, where Helix is used to manage information.

Even though Helix 7.0.4, which was released just one year ago, runs in the latest version of macOS — 10.14 aka: Mojave — virtually all of our work in 2018 was spent on so-called infrastructure projects. And this one is one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching since we made Helix Intel-native. In fact, even though the next version of Helix will appear largely the same as Helix 7.0.4, the changes are so fundamental that it will be a new version of Helix.

The good news is that we have been running pre-beta versions of the next version on our own Server now for a few months, and largely without incident. But the bad news is that we are still not ready to put it in your hands. There are still some stones lurking in the road. Look for it sometime early in 2019.

The big decision of what to do next has been taken out of our hands. We have no choice but to devote the months ahead to making Helix a 64-bit application. When Apple releases the next major macOS update, the one where they tell us 32-bit apps will not function, we want Helix to be ready.

It’s almost like it was once upon a time

Helix users, whether they “build it themselves” or pay someone else to do it, are people who want things done their own way. They don’t want anyone dictating to them how things should be, especially how their information is managed or presented. Helix users do not fit into easily-definable categories and are basically very happy to be that way.

These people come from every point on the ideological spectrum, yet they are bound together by their common use of Helix, which allows them to put sophisticated data management tools to work doing pretty much whatever they can imagine.

As one of the original information management tools, Helix came into a world where your first decision was whether or not to buy a computer. If you had already taken that step, and you were happy using the “apps” of that time, known variously as MacWrite and Multiplan, and eventually Word and Excel, that was how you worked. Having to keep typing your name or your customer or vendor information over and over again was just a part of being “computerized”.

But the next 35 years saw an explosion of information technology, and during that time, people who might be thought of as Helix users, as we have just defined them here, along with millions of computer users around the world, stepped off the docks and plunged into the process of building information management systems that integrated workflow with knowledge. These databased systems exploded around the world and drove hardware makers to make machines that could manage the virtual tons of information being generated and disseminated.

Throughout its history, while Helix has been far ahead of nearly any other tool you could use from a conceptual standpoint, it has lagged behind so many of them in platform and device independence, limiting the options of even those who love it best.

Today, there are actually more applications that do not run on computers than do. They run on devices, they appear to us on screens and while they are convenient and easy to use, they have some drawbacks. Your information appears in forms over which you rarely have more than cosmetic control. It resides in remote databases that are out of your control altogether. And it has been turned against you, often in the guise of somehow improving your life.

So here we are, so many years later, and we’re heading rapidly back to the days where you used separate applications to perform related functions and must manually and repetitively enter information that should only be entered once. Instead of integration, we have dissociation. Data magically appear in places where we do not necessarily want it to be, in forms that rob it of its ability to confer the meanings we intend. When you strip away all the technological underpinnings — email, social media, internet and devices — the only real difference is that now your information is no longer under your control.

Before computers, we worried about strangers learning where we live. Now, everything we do is watched, recorded and analyzed and we live in a world where we are decreasingly exposed to the wealth of knowledge that could be at our fingertips and instead are shown mostly what someone else thinks we want to see. That man behind the curtain is now firmly entrenched. He shows us things we might want to buy, groups we might want to join, opinion we ought to share.

And that is why using Helix is more important than ever. In the world today, it may be the last refuge of control we have. So please, stay with us. We will do whatever it takes to make it worth your while.

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