Everything Else

What Price (Helix) Morality?

24 June 2002--Dennis Hand of Frog Publications was gracious enough to allow me to address his off-list question from the bully pulpit on the Helix website. What he asked was a question that’s apparently on a lot of minds:

> Gil:
> In light of [the current situation] would you, as a developer, feel
> morally comfortable recomending that a customer more forward with a
> Helix project of a major rework of their company database at a cost
> of $5-10K using Helix?
> Dennis Hand
> VP Operations, Frog Publications

Tough question. What’s "morally comfortable" for one person is not necessarily so for another. The best answer I can give, which I will qualify below, is that if you and the client go into the project with your eyes open, then there should be no moral discomfort.

In these types of issues, I often refer to the "UltraPaint" example. UltraPaint was created by Deneba in 1990. Deneba is the company that created Canvas. They never released another version of UltraPaint and to the best of my knowledge, they stopped supporting it years ago. Yet, like many truly well-written programs, it continues to work perfectly and I use it under OS 9.1 almost daily to create the buttons and other screen backgrounds I use in Helix. It’s essentially a color version of MacPaint that’s (IMHO) infinitely more powerful and flexible than the MacPaint offspring that found its way into AppleWorks.

Let’s assume the worst for a moment; i.e., The Chip Merchant never gets any more money and has to abandon development on Helix. This is, in fact, what has already happened. There is no money for development right now and there is no development going on right now. Brian and Glen have promised to make source code for Helix available to all Helix users should The Chip Merchant ever fail. At that point any number of users could step in and rescue it. Or if TCM was forced into bankruptcy, the software would go to the highest bidder at an eventual auction.

The fact that a company ceases to exist has no effect on its products in use except as it concerns the future. If TCM and Helix Technologies both disappeared today, and nobody stepped in to pick up the baton, your software would continue to operate as though nothing had happened. Your clients, if you are a developer, would not be immediately affected. They, and you, would however, be stuck in OS 9.x forever if you decided to stay with Helix. You could continue to develop in Helix and add new functionality or even rewrite the entire thing and it would work just fine until you could no longer purchase supplies for the printers and other peripherals you use that would no longer be supported.

$5-10K is a big nut for a small company, but for many, it’s a small price to pay compared to starting over in another language. The cost of doing that would probably exceed that budget before a line of code was written. First, the company would have to find a new developer (unless, of course, you would do the work). They might also have to invest in an upgrade to macOS and they might be required to purchase new machines as well. After all, if they’re going to "move forward," why would they stay with OS 9.x and their ancient machines that just barely ran OS 9.x?

From my "personal files," a case in point: In April, a client of mine in NYC met with their accountant and decided it was time to integrate full accounting capabilities into their Helix system. They wanted a "closed loop" instead of exporting information to Quick Books and MYOB as they had been doing. It ended up costing them about $7,500 over a one-month period to develop and debug. Since I don’t do FileMaker or Access nearly as well as I do Helix, they would have had to find a new developer and if they were going to go that route, they were going to junk their Macs and move to PCs. After looking at a few estimates, they were convinced they were better off staying with Helix, and this was in full knowledge of the situation in San Diego!

They weren’t all that interested in moving up to macOS to begin with and their feeling about Helix was that it has survived three owners so far and has adapted to every Apple OS and Helix upgrade since they began with it in 1985. They believe, as I do, that the current stalemate can’t go on forever; eventually, TCM will either bring development back on line or sell it and someone else will pick up where they left off.

The related issue of whether or not it’s already too late for Helix to get to macOS should be examined closely in the light of the PowerPC story. By the time Helix became PowerPC native, it’s competition had already been there for a few years. Helix was much later to that game than they already are to macOS. macOS made its formal debut a little over a year ago and until Adobe Photoshop shipped a few weeks ago, relatively few Mac users, even Apple, took the movement to macOS as anything resembling "under way." The boat has, however, finally left port, once again without Helix on board...

...which brings me to another important question, one I believe if put to every Helix user and developer out there, the vast majority would answer in the affirmative:

If you either had the funds yourself, or were in a position to advise someone who did, would you invest those funds (or recommend the investment) in bringing Helix to macOS?

I know I would. It’s only money, after all...

Gil Numeroff

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