Everything Else

Recovery Team Expedition 2004: Trail Report from Route 67

2004.04.21 — Yes, Virginia… there still is a Helix. Its heart still beats out here on Route 67, the road leading to Helix 6 and 7.

And speaking of seven, that’s how many weeks have passed since our last report. A lot has happened in that time. Not all of it has been good (the soul of understatement may be living in that phrase). While we’ve been able to stop periodically and eavesdrop on the so-called pulse of the Helix market, we haven’t really had time to stop and reflect much, until now.

We’ve come to a place we’ve been a few times since this trip began, which is not to say that we’ve been going around in circles. It’s more like a rest stop, and on a long trip, much of the same thing happens in these places (apart from the obvious, of course). After reading this report, you’ll know why we’re here, and hopefully you’ll gain an understanding of what brought us here, where we intend to go when we break camp and possibly even get an idea of when these things might happen.

The best maps often belie the terrain…

On the way to Helix 6 and Helix 7, we have now stopped 30 times to "spill" in this forum on the internet. Those of you who have taken the time to email us or call us in between those postings have also been given information as current as it could be without being misleading. Remember: we don’t want to raise expectations unnecessarily.

The exercise this team goes through when we stop to produce a message like this is to involve everyone on some level and make sure that everything we’re saying is something we can support. It can sometimes be easy; most often it is not. The main reason for this is usually that the terrain we need to cover is obscured by the apparent simplicity of the map.

We’ve said--on this web site as well as in conversations with users at user meetings and training sessions and in our discussions with our beta testers--that there’s no technological obstacle standing in the way of Helix 6. Helix will work in macOS. The path from here to there has been neatly laid out for some time. We have made an adjustment to that plan, but not because we tried to do something that was technologically impossible.

When you’re on a long trip and you look at the map to see where you are, you infer from your location on the route how much longer it will take to get there based upon the speed you’re going. All that lies between you and your destination is road, generally. As you go, you listen to the radio to find out if there are any delays that might put prompt arrival beyond your control.

We are, unfortunately, on an entirely different kind of trip. Like early explorers, we are guided by only a compass, the stars, and some hearty companions. There is no map to tell us when we’re going to get there because there are so few known routes. We only know where we are and where we’re going. How we get there depends upon the particular terrain we encounter on the way and what we must do to get through it most effectively.

Some parts of the job are just long. When pressed, one member of the Recovery Team likes to joke, "Well, it takes one woman nine months to deliver a baby, but two women can’t do it any faster!"

Getting Helix to macOS has been a giant home remodeling project. When we decided that we really wanted to live in this house long term, we committed ourselves to doing the work required to make it livable for us both now and in the future. We rebuilt some of the infrastructure. We put in some new plumbing, new circuits. We tore out a lot of antiquated stuff. It’s not really pretty right now but most things work on some level. They just don’t all work together yet. There’s a lot of the same things that have to be done in every room, and each room has some stuff that’s particular to it.

We were trying to get all the rooms finished at once. doing all similar work at the same time. We’d do all of the re-studding, then the plumbing, then the wiring, then all the sheet rock, then all the wallpaper... It’s not impossible. It’s just long.

The focus shifts

Long but by no means impossible, a fact that cannot be overstated. Actually, quite the contrary is true. The more we work, the more wonderful things we have learned about what is possible as we move Helix into macOS. But the more we work, the more we spend and when incoming money is less than outgoing money, we end up here, telling stories around the campfire on the trail. There have been more than a handful of distractions on Route 67 this year, and the strange stories coming from San Diego have only served to heighten the sense of anticipation and desperation felt in the Helix community. We said this was going to be a bumpy ride. We weren’t kidding.

Periodically we assess our progress and take stock of where we need to be according to our plan. It was becoming clear from looking at the terrain we were in that it could take close to another year to get it all done and have everything out all at once. In spite of the lack of an "official" stamp of approval, we now know that Helix RADE works quite nicely in Classic under Panther. Hundreds of Helix users we already know about do this every day (ourselves included) and we suspect that there are lots of other people doing it we don’t know about. And Helix Client runs pretty reliably in Classic under Panther right now. And so does the Helix Engine and so do the Utilities and all that is wonderful to know. But Helix Server does not work well in Classic. And when we really talk with Helix users about the real urgency of getting to macOS, it often comes down to this: we’d like to put this thing on a G5 server. The server machine has always been the key to Helix’s performance in a workgroup.

So about six weeks ago, we shifted our focus to the Helix Server. Making it work under macOS ahead of all the other pieces will enable us to take our first step into Helix 6 sooner rather than later.

Then the rest of the scenario plays out like this: as quickly as possible after Helix 6 Server rolls out, we roll out (in approximate order of appearance), Helix Client, the new Helix Maintenance Manager (and Utilities), the Helix Engine and finally Helix RADE itself, the thing that’s taking the longest to do. In keeping with our short tradition of making technology available as it becomes ready, we think this really makes a lot of sense. It gives you what you’ve been waiting just spreads it out over time a bit.

Which brings us to 5.3. 5.3 hit a speed bump in the road and took a big dive a few weeks ago. They say pride comes before a fall, and we were really banging on our chests about how great Helix 5.3 was. We especially liked to trumpet the part about how we fixed a 2 million dollar mess for 15 thousand dollars, but as of right’s still not fixed. We have put it back in the hands of the engineers and are waiting resolution.

This problem has now set us back about five weeks. We expect it could add another five before it’s really corrected. But such is life on Route 67.

...and is so only when there’s money!

In case you may have missed it, we have this policy about upgrades that is designed to help us move forward expeditiously while providing value for Helix users. It goes like this: Buy the current version and you get a free upgrade to the next one. if you owned Helix 5.0 or 5.0.1 or 5.0.2 when we shipped Helix 5.1, you got it for free! If you bought 5.1, you got 5.2 for free. If you bought 5.2, you’re going to get 5.3 for free. It’s like giving you a way to buy the next version before we ship it.

The buck, however...stops there. The other message that keeps getting obscured is that there won’t be a free upgrade to Helix 6. That having been said, everyone who purchased an upgrade on the Helix 6 path got an additional bonus. Those who bought Helix 5.1 got an advance 20% discount on Helix 6. And the price people paid for their Helix 5.2 upgrades will be deductible from the price of their Helix 6 upgrade. That policy is still in effect and will continue when Helix 5.3 replaces Helix 5.2.1 as the current version. Perhaps we’ll even give it its own web page one day!

Together we have accomplished some real great stuff with Helix in the very short space of two years. But we need your help now more than ever. If you’ve been holding off on purchasing the latest Helix update, we need you to upgrade now. If you already own the latest version of Helix, consider purchasing a block of USUs or an investor’s t-shirt. Both are directly convertible to upgrade dollars when Helix 6 ships.

This is no time to quit. If this were a trek across America, saying we’re "almost there" would belie the terrain. The fact is that we’re climbing Pike’s Peak, staring up at the Rocky Mountains. We’ve covered 80% of the distance, but the next leg looks nasty. We believe there are sunny skies and palm trees beyond what we can see, so we forge ahead, knowing that there’s always the chance that once we’ve found a way through these mountains, we might be confronted by a desert that must be crossed before we can reach the fertile valleys and finally dip our toes in the Pacific ocean...

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