Everything Else

Dialogues in the Rough

2 July 2002--The big question on all of our minds these days is, of course, what will it take to bring Helix back?

We all know, of course, that the answer is money, the subject of some lively off-topic banter on the Helix List this past week. Whether it is in fact the root of all evil is moot for the moment for without it, there can be little good in our collective Helix future.

And that future is so clear to so many of us. A smoothly-functioning aqua-flavored macOS version of Helix, followed by a Windows client, followed by a platform-independent suite of Helix products that can be deployed simultaneously on Macs, other computers of virtually any type and devices such as Palm pilots and things we can’t yet imagine. It’s a green and happy place. Everyone has a little picture of it somewhere in the back of their minds.

Money gets Helix going again. It comes as an infusion, or a buyout, but it eventually gets the development process back on track. As users, we need to imagine why on earth money would ever flow into Helix at this late and fairly desperate stage of the game? For that, someone who has money would have to perceive Helix as having some kind of future, to say nothing of a rosy one.

If you are reading this, you are a Helix user. If you have ever tried unsuccessfully to get help with a Helix problem you had, you should have no trouble appreciating the value of the following concept: professional developers are good for Helix.

If this is true, then it may be said with a reasonable degree of certainty that if professional developers are good for Helix, and what is good for Helix right now is money, perhaps we can make some connection between professional developers and money to make Helix survive and thrive.

Of course, if you happen to be a Helix user and a Helix professional developer, these concepts are surely not lost on you. Yet here you are, possibly holding the key to the survival and future of Helix, waiting for Helix to come back and decrying loudly and longly and daily what the future holds: "Woe is me. I am at the mercy of money. If Helix is doomed, then so am I and I must reinvent myself."

Part of that statement is true. We must reinvent ourselves. It’s a simple observable fact of life. Those who adapt survive. But the first thing we all need to do is not to flee in peril an imagined impending Helix holocaust, but to become preoactive about Helix. In some particular way it is better than all of the alternatives and if allowed to continue to grow, it will be only get even better. By that time there will be a flow of money back into Helix.

When there is no new version to sell, which is most of the time in the life of a software company, most of the income is from upgrades that didn’t happen in the initial wave of release. In a thriving software business, significantly more money comes from new customers, a concept almost totally alien to Helix as we all seem somehow to have lost our ability to visualize a person wanting to use Helix, indeed switching to Helix.

So how do we do it? We need to get business! Probably the single most challenging aspect of being a Helix developer--and those of you who have been around a while can certainly attest to this--is finding new business.

An untrained observer would think that all one has to do is go out and create a killer app for a client and then shop it to everyone in that industry. If only it were that easy.

First of all, once that killer app is up and running, your client suddenly possesses a secret weapon: a competitive edge. Many successful developers are all too familiar with non-compete agreements. The client doesn’t want you to show their application to any of their competitors for some period of time until after you and they stop working together. That can often be years. On top of this, of course, there’s the slightly more complicated issue that no two businesses, even in the same industry, ever work in exactly the same way.

For Helix developers, this problem has historically been complicated by the lack of any coordinated plan to distribute leads to developers. Part of the problem has been unwillingness-this problem goes all the way back to Odesta days. Part of it has been fear of legal problems that arise when a Helix customer becomes dissatisfied with the work of a developer "assigned" by us. Some of you out there may recall what happened when a certain developer who shall remain nameless upset a number of customers to such a degree that Odesta had all its registered developers sign a legal document holding them harmless against any legal action arising from such a developer-client relationship going bad.

Further compounding the difficulty of finding work is the simple fact that other than the Yellow Pages, there really aren’t too many channels in which a developer can advertise his or her services so that they will be seen by someone who needs them. There is no magazine called "I Need A Developer Now!" Most of the more successful developers must rely on referrals.

Finally, of course, there is the dark cloud of uncertainty that hovers over the Macintosh universe and the seemingly endless gloom surrounding Helix itself, a subject that has, in three short weeks, been beaten fairly well to death both by us and by the community at large. So what can be done? How can a Helix professional developer’s relationship with the company be exploited to the advantage of both the developer and Helix?

For starters, let’s assume that there’s truth in the famous adage, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." That journey has a number of familiar landmarks and a well-known destination.

The destination is, of course, successful developers and a successful Helix company behind them. Few can argue with the principle: more successful Helix developers means a more successful Helix, and vice versa.

The landmarks, while debatable, are equally clear: better support for developers of both custom and vertical solutions, improved communication between the company and its developer/soldiers in the field, a strong training curriculum for developers, some form of certification that will satisfy as many of them as possible, and meaningful benefits for those who participate in the process. Those benefits should include, but by no means be limited to: significant product discounts for developers and their clients, and a very high level of technical support.

Now, here’s the real news flash. While the response to the resumption of day-to-day operations has been very good, there are two real strange phenomena going on in the background. One is that amidst all the activity, we are getting email and phone calls from people who are buying Helix for the first time. Not a lot, to be sure, but it does happen. And they have come every week.

The other is that many of the upgrades we’re seeing are coming from companies and indivudual users who have no real connection to what’s happening here on this web site or out on the Helix List. They call the 800 number on their software and eventually get routed here. When they get here, they behave somewhat like fish out of water:

"Is this really Helix?" they ask.
"Yes," we reply.

Often they are glad they reached the right people. Many of the callers "dropped out" back in the Helix Express (or even Double Helix) days and are running into compatibility issues with their newer Macs. Sometimes they know about 5.0.2 and they’ve been thinking about upgrading.

"We’d like to upgrade to Helix 5.0.2," they say. "We were thinking of getting some new computers and we want to make sure it runs in OS 9."

These phone calls flow like honey. These people aren’t interested in the uncertain future of Helix. And isn’t everything uncertain after all?

But there’s another potential upgrader whose calls begin the same way and then take a sharp turn. Their script has been running about like this:

"We just got new machines with macOS and we’re starting to get all the software we like going again. Does Helix work in macOS?"
"No, not at this time."
"When will it?"
"We don’t know."
"Will it?"
"We hope so."
"Well, okay. We haven’t gotten the new equipment yet. We still have lots of machines that run OS9. One of our employees downloaded the demo and it ran great on the iMacs in 9.1 and he tried it in Classic Mode on his G4 and it ran there, too."
"It’s been known to work in macOS under Classic Mode, but it has never been given the 'official' seal of approval."
"OK, well can I get 5.0.2?"
One hasn’t ended in "No" yet.

So here’s where it gets interesting. Now that we have the secure ordering working again from the web site, a lot of the upgrades are made with no human intervention. But the ones who email and the ones who call get asked a question: "May I ask what you’re doing with Helix?"

Three dialogs may now occur. They’re either doing it themselves, or they’re thinking of doing it themselves or they are looking to see if they can get some help because they already tried it themselves and made a mess of it. For the most part, they don’t think they need a developer. They have been using Helix in a vacuum - caused mainly by the lack of communication from the company - and they just don’t realize how much more can be done. They may need education or maybe they need professional services. Among this community’s developers are people with vast knowledge and extraordinary talents who do beautiful work that brings order to the working and private lives of people all over the planet. They are the rare birds that define life on earth: diversity. The exception is the rule in the Helix world.

"No problem. My brother and I own this furniture business and he does all the Helix stuff. He’s done it for years."
"Does he ever run into trouble or need help?"

And now, at last, here’s the strangest thing of all. This person would then be asked the virtually unthinkable:

"Would he be interested in speaking with a professional?"

So we’ve taken the first step. We’re in the process of making Helix Technologies a "developer/reseller friendly" enterprise because we know and believe it is one of the key things within our power to accomplish that will help Helix to survive over the long haul. By itself, it is worthless. But a community of Helix users cannot survive without a subculture of Helix professionals to help advance the state of the art and support the real users in the field.

Now we’re going to figure out how to bring you into the process. The thing that keeps hitting us, as usual, is the obvious: Who the heck are your clients anyway? Lets talk with them. Let’s let them know we’re behind you working with them and behind both of you working together. We’ll work out the mechanics. In the meantime, if you consider yourself a "developer for hire," click this link and preregister yourself, along with the customer numbers of your clients. And let us know what you think.

Gil Numeroff

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