Everything Else

One look back and two extreme looks ahead

29 May 2003--A year ago this coming weekend, the decision was made to turn the day-to-day operations of Helix over to the group you now know as The Helix Recovery Team. We may have opened for business on June 10th, but we were galvanized into action as the Memorial Day weekend began.

For those of you who have kept up with things from that time, you will recall these promises we made at the time:

1. 2. 3.

That we will help you get what
you need in the way of product,
upgrade, services and support.
That we will provide you with
information, even if that
information is simply to tell
you that there’s nothing
new yet.
That we will make a conscious effort NOT to raise your expectations unless they believe there is a solid basis upon which to do so.

[And for those of you just joining the crusade, we suggest you scroll to the bottom of this page and start reading from the last item way down there and work your way up.]

We admit we’ve been a little lame on promise #2 of late, what with only five posts in as many months. But that’s because we need to uphold promise #3. This is a promise #3 announcement.

Back when we were "finishing" Helix 5.1 at the end of October, we kept coming up with more and more "stuff" we wanted to include in the package. But as the holidays drew nearer, the overwhelming sense of things on the Team was to get what was done out there already, and save the rest for Helix 6.

As work began on Helix 6, we finished those things we’d been hoping to include in 5.1 and began work on Helix 6’s planned features as well as the ongoing "5.1 job" of improving on the implementation of existing features that fell short of the mark in one area or another.

This was going on against a backdrop of having to get Helix to build under a more modern set of tools (Code Warrior 8.3). If we couldn’t build Helix 5.1 in a 21st Century version of Code Warrior, there would be no future for Helix.

Indeed, the first step on the road to Helix 6 took several months and was, in many respects, among the most perilous steps we had taken to that point. Any time you take a piece of software that works, rip it apart to put it back together with a new set of building blocks and tools, you are--whether you like it or not--asking for trouble. Yet this was the kind of trouble the custodians of the code had carefully avoided since the debut of Windows 95, when the work should probably have begun.

We are barraged almost daily with the request to answer the question, "When will Helix 6 be ready?" We invariably answer that the only thing standing between where we are and being done is money. Sales of Helix were good in late December and through most of January and we believed we were off to a running start. The way things were going, we believed it would be possible to deliver a Helix 6 sometime in 2003. Then came February.

More than a few times between February and early May, sales of Helix upgrades slowed to a point where we had to curtail operations for lack of money. We didn’t know whether we were witnessing a side effect of the war in Iraq or whether we had truly reached the bottom of the Helix well. We pressed on as much as we could, sometimes working without pay in the belief that money would come. And it did...and for that, we all owe at least a tip of our hats to those who spent $100 of their hard-earned money on our Recovery Team T-shirts.

Yet the question kept coming: When will Helix 6 ship? Then, in early April, we received an email that kind of pushed us over the edge a bit. In part, it said:

"Dear Staff Member,

Sometimes 'thank you' is not enough. I think I am one of the original users. I have been using Helix since when it was started by Odesta. I simply cannot express the impact your product has [had on] my professional life. I don’t like to upgrade, and so I have only purchased Helix, Double Helix and Helix Express.

I would like to contact the big boss and thank him or her. Over the years I have not spent very much on product, but I would like to see the company do well because it has helped me to do well."

When this poor misguided soul was informed that his upgrade would help us get to Helix 6, he replied that in the part of Texas where he comes from, the sale of one upgrade would be considered about as effective as a "[expletive] in a windstorm." We replied that as noxious as that part of the windstorm might be, it would still pay for a few hours of programming time. Fortunately, this story had a happy ending: he upgraded, and bought a T-shirt!

And that brings us once again to the bottom line of this campaign to get to Helix 6: this Team is an engine that runs on money, but it is a very fuel efficient engine. Last year, this engine did a $125,000 job for about a fifth of that figure when we produced Helix 5.1. This time, we’ve undertaken a $2 million job and we’re sputtering along on fumes.

At the rate we use money and knowing the amount of work that remains to be done on Helix 6, we can safely say that if we had a $2 mllion bank roll, we’d be done with this job in November. We’d hire everyone we need and put them to work full time getting the job done.

But the reality is that we never have more than a few hundred extra dollars sitting around and we do this work as much with our hearts as with our heads and we work as diligently, carefully and as intelligently as possible to make our limited resources work. While it may take us a while, we can get this job done for about $175,000 to $250,000.00. But it’s got to come from somewhere.

In mid-March, we began to revive an internal discussion we were having about releasing an interim product before getting to Helix 6. For discussion purposes, we started calling it Helix 5.2.

On one hand, we had improved Helix to a new level and added features and functionality that had been on user and in-house wish lists for years. Some of the things we did were things that some users claimed were even more important to them than getting to macOS. How could we just sit on those features until we finished Helix 6, especially with economic conditions being what they were?

On the other hand, we had this very strange vein of criticism we were receiving, mostly via email, from people who had upgraded from some version of 5.x to Helix 5.1. They all basically said the same thing: "If you guys needed money to finish this job, why didn’t you charge us for Helix 5.1? We would have been happy to pay something for it!"

And of course, there was "the other hand" (and isn’t there always another hand?). When we released Helix 5.1, we said that that was the end of that product line and that the next thing we released would be Helix 6.

Ultimately, we chose not to let pride go before the fall. We pulled our tails back between our legs and decided to go for it: release another version of Helix to give users what we’ve already got and charge everyone for it (except, of course, those who just purchased Helix 5.1) in the hope that it will help us raise funds we so desperately need to move toward Helix 6 and beyond.

Of course unless we could get this version of Helix to behave like Helix, the whole issue would be moot. But we’ve now been through two beta versions of Helix 5.2 and we’re announcing its imminent arrival. You can read about it on our new Helix 5.2 5.3 page (click the "Products" button on any page to get there). There’s a link on the 5.2 page that takes you to the pricing we’ve established for this release. And you can purchase your upgrade in advance if you like at The Helix Store.

You don’t have to upgrade to Helix 5.2 5.3 unless you see functionality you need. And you don’t have to upgrade to Helix 5.2 to help us out, but it will help. There are some other ways you can help. For example:

  • You could buy your 5.1.1 upgrade now, get a great product at a price that’s about to change and get 5.2 for free when it ships
  • You can offer to underwrite part of the development. If you’re interested in spending $10,000 or more towards the future of Helix, you could be rewarded handsomely for your participation (but you’ll have to call to find out how).

Buying an upgrade to 5.2 will give you something very tangible for your money, and it will help us all get to Helix 6. As you’ll see when you look at the 5.2 upgrade prices, we’ve introduced a tiered schedule; those who upgrade from 5.1 will pay less than those who upgrade from 5.0, 5.0.1 or 5.0.2, and they, in turn, will pay less than those who upgrade from 4.5.5 or earlier versions.

But whichever version you are upgrading from, you’ll all benefit later by upgrading now because any money you spend on this upgrade will in some way also be credited toward your Helix 6 upgrade fee when the time comes. Either way, the future depends on the present. A year from now, one of the following stories could very well tell the future for Helix:

R.I.P. Helix

2004.06.10--When you’re different, really different, from everyone else, you tend to get picked on a lot. For nearly 20 years, Macintosh industry insiders have sounded the premature death knell for Helix at almost any opportunity, often citing the "iconoclastic" nature of the product itself as the reason it couldn’t succeed.

In the spring of 2003, Helix Technologies was recovering from a disastrous period in its history. The mood of the company and its user base was upbeat and progress was being made toward its goal of releasing first a macOS product and then a product that would run in Mac OS, Linux and Windows.

In an attempt to secure funding to finish its macOS version, Helix Technologies last year gambled on releasing an interim version, called 5.2, that contained much of the functionality that would later be included in Helix 6. But a sputtering economy and a user base fearful of waiting any longer for a macOS product looked the other way and Helix died.

Industry analysts belive it would have been simple to raise the money to finish the macOS project. "Even after nearly 20 years, Helix was still way ahead of its time," said one industry insider, who declined to be identified himself for fear of being labelled an iconoclast. "The sad thing," he said, "is that there were so many users still using Helix 4.5.5 that even if only half of them had upgraded to 5.2, it would have generated enough revenue for the company to finish Helix 6."

Unfortunately, there seemed to have been a mindset on the part of many users that someone else should bear the burden of bringing Helix into the future.

Helix thrives in macOS
Linux, Windows coming

2004.06.10--For nearly 20 years, people in the Macintosh industry looked at Helix with a cautious eye and asked, "How do we know you’ll still be there a year from now?" But now, 20 years later, Helix is not only here, but well on the way to working in Linux and Windows as well as on the Macintosh.

After suffering a major setback in 2001, a grass-roots effort picked Helix up and breathed new life into it. Users rallied to support the effort and generated the funds necessary to bring Helix to macOS in version 6, which shipped earlier this year.

When funding became scarce in early spring of 2003, the company decided to package a number of the features it had been working on for Helix 6 in a release called Helix 5.2. A company spokesperson at the time said, "We needed money to get the big job finished, and between the economy and the war in Iraq, things had pretty much come to a standstill. A clear majority of users who [were entitled to and] had received free upgrades to 5.1 said they would have been happy to pay for that upgrade and now, having features a lot of them wanted, we decided to take our best shot."

Apparently, it paid off. Not only did the users gravitate to the new and enhanced functionality offered by 5.2. Some members of the user community came forward with their own money to help make it all happen. To those users, the investment in Helix was substantially less than what it would have cost them to start over with a new development environment and provided them with the security of being able to stay with Helix, a tool that had served them well since the day they started using it.

It should be clear to anyone still reading what the best solution is. Helix needs you now.

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