Everything Else

The other Helix "wish list"

Does this trip still make sense?

31 December 2006 — After one full week of operation back in June, 2002, we concluded that "Helix is alive in the homes and offices of thousands of people and companies in America and around the world. Judging by some of the commentary [from] the first full day of activity, and in the days that followed … more of us want to see Helix live than die."

Navigating Helix to macOS has been a harrowing ride. The odds against our success have been and continue to be long. In June 2002, we had no inkling of what ‘doing development’ might actually mean. We had no notion of how we would replace Helix’s inferior networking tools with something that would allow users to connect and work together virtually without limit. We had no idea that Apple was going to pull the plug on the PowerPC, that our CodeWarrior development environment would soon be obsolete, or even how long Classic would last. We were blissfully unaware of what lay ahead.

However, what we did understand was what needed to be done, and we had the best information we could get as to the best ways to accomplish our objectives. At every turn, we opted for doing the things that would give Helix a chance to survive into the future. We spurned the quick-fix and made long term decisions, knowing full well that there were no guarantees that we would make it. It was simply the right way to do it.

Faith in what you know is right, and understanding and acceptance of the risk of failure is ultimately what makes striving for success worthwhile. As with the TCP/IP project, we always knew we would make it, but we faced a constant struggle to secure the finances that would allow us to cross the finish line. This time it is no different — finances remain the chief barrier to our success — but the passage of time has taken its toll upon the faithful.

If we haven’t said so before: building software is in many respects like bringing a baby into the world. The key difference is that it doesn’t take nine months; with software it takes as long as it has to take, and adding another mother won’t make it go any faster. Given all that has happened in the last 12 months, the forthcoming ‘fraternal twins’ — Helix macOS Client and Helix macOS Engine — have faced a much harsher ‘birthing process’ than their vaunted elder siblings — Helix macOS Server, Helix Utility OS X and Update Collection OS X — all of whom have turned one year old just last week.

While we haven’t had the time to sit down and update our business plan in a while, we’ve moved quite a distance in the direction of what we set out to achieve. Seeing the physical results of your work begin to take fruit magnifies the satisfaction that the faith was well-placed and a few long-promised snapshots of the little tykes should brighten your New Year’s as well. (Click to see a full-size images.)

As you can clearly see, there will be a Helix macOS Client and a Helix macOS Engine sometime soon. Maybe not soon enough, but the writing is on the wall. We are alpha testing and that generally leads to beta testing and the cycle goes on.

So many good ideas have died for less

No Virginia, there was no Helix macOS Client or Helix macOS Engine this year for Christmas. And we don’t announce release dates until we know what those dates will be. But we will confirm that we did not achieve our goal of getting both those products into your hands in 2006, which ends today. Missing that deadline by no means spells the end of Helix, but we’re not getting any younger and things are moving pretty fast out there today. Sometimes it seems as if every day we delay puts us two days further behind.

Once upon a time, human life was primarily about survival, and virtually anybody could comprehend all of the big ideas — fire, the wheel, etc. — that were out there. A few centuries later there were so many ideas that people had to start keeping track of them in books. Even then, for a while, there weren’t too many books for everyone who knew how to read to read them all if they felt like it. But it didn’t take too long before there were so many books that it became important — remembering that you only have so much time — to read only the good ones.

It was only a few years ago when you just couldn’t hear enough good music, see enough great movies. Today we are glutted with entertainment, and you couldn’t take it all in even if you tried. Seems like almost everyone on the planet is walking around with an iPod with a few thousand tunes on it and almost no one is listening to the same stuff!

Mom and Dad always advised you not to try and become a singer or an actor because the odds were so long against your succeeding. Yet here we are, on the eve of 2007, and there is so much music and so many movies because there are so many musicians and actors. Yet somehow they survive. How do they do it? Marketing analysts call it narrowcasting. Even small pools today are loaded with fish. [That, and they probably have day jobs.]

Musicians in particular are surviving — with the rare exceptions of superstars — on a different scale these days. All across the land they come to play in small venues that used to be things like movie theatres or bars. It’s live narrowcasting and it works. But it has the long-range effect of making each act a cult.

This fate applied to our endeavors has yielded, for better or for worse, the cult of Helix. Imagine our new CD, if you will. For starters, as you’ve just seen, it’s going to have some cool popups and buttons and check boxes as well as a generally new way of seeing your collection in Helix. This is all still possible. As is a Helix with scrolling subforms, expandable and contractible lists, and a wonderful new macOS template to create it all.

The path back to the party is clear …

The astute Helix observer will, of course, recognize those last few items from the often-rumored Helix feature wish list, which is to The Helix Recovery Team what the Sirens were to Odysseus. The temptation to forsake our charted course for short-term gratification is a hard one to resist. And as much as we want to shape Helix into a better and more powerful tool, we keep steering ourselves clear of that rocky shore because we know that taking that detour now means certain death.

Being right in the middle of this maelstrom for several years now, our unique perspective has given rise to a different set of wishes for Helix. Three wishes, in fact.

First, we see an awful lot of — for lack of a better description — ‘bad Helix.’ The bar is set pretty low when it comes to the basic knowledge required to use this tool. That’s a harsh judgement for sure, but it’s really just the logical result of the early years of marketing Helix as a tool for people who shouldn’t have to know anything to create a database application. Many of these users blame Helix for the problems they have with it, just like the weekend handyman who hurls his hammer across the room because it hit his thumb.

The other day a user called to ask if Helix 6 had better reporting than the older version they were using. They were thinking about moving to FileMaker because their A/R in Helix didn’t have an aging schedule. Did Helix 6 have an aging schedule? Does the new Helix have customer lists that are sorted by state instead of just alphabetical? We’d really like those!

These users not only didn’t know that you actually use Helix to create these things, they didn’t even want to know how to create them! As Matt likes to say, we’re like a building supply company. We can supply you with all the tools you need, but what you build with them is between you and your contractor (aka: developer). If your house doesn’t have enough closet space and it’s more closet space you want, we stand ready to provide as much assistance as you need.

So our first wish is to see the state of the art of Helix elevated to a level befitting its capabilities. We’re not talking about artsy interface. Artsy is great when it’s functional. We’re talking about a much deeper general appreciation of what Helix is and how best to use it. That can surely come from better training. We know that until our macOS products are in people’s hands, people will continue to be reluctant to spend money on training, but putting together an expanded Helix training program has to start somewhere, so look to 2007 to see it happen.

Second, more than a few Helix users, despite our nearly burying them under more information than they could have ever imagined from a Helix purveyor, are still confused about what our different products do. Where once, we heard about how little information was available, we may have clearly swung that balance too far.

If anything is clear to us, a lot of people who read our site read it perhaps too casually. There’s probably a lot more information here than one can even read casually. Communication is a two-way street and we are not perfect. But some of the things we hear in response to things we actually say are quite astounding. A client recently called to order an upgrade. They said they didn’t need the Server, only the Client. And does it run in macOS? And so many users don’t know what “Classic” means that any discussion of how Helix does run is immediately over their heads.

Our second wish is clearly to have this situation resolved. It might come from a skillful combination of our providing more succinct information and our users reading our web site more carefully; it will surely come when we no longer have to operate in Classic. Neither wish can come true soon enough.

Finally, there’s no simpler way of saying it: our third wish is to have enough money to just hire the people we need to get all these projects done as quickly as possible, and finish RADE, PiHC and properly market them all. We’re simply tired of asking for money.

… there’s just that darned money thing

Until everything is in macOS, there’s nothing terribly more spectacular we can really do to entice you to reach into your pockets. We have given you several ways to help us help you: You can still purchase USUs now and apply them to your upgrade later. Or you can buy your Helix 6.0 upgrade now, even if you’re not going to install it, just to save yourself money on the eventual release price increase on the one you are going to install. We know that when the Engine and the Client are ready, a substantial number of holdouts will lose their compelling reason not to upgrade and that revenue will help us get to the next goal. We are down, but by no means out.

So for now, it’s back to the fundamentals. First and foremost, as always, is getting the products into your hands. As noted above, we’re going to start working on a training event for 2007. Those of you who read the Helix List may have already seen some discussion of this. We’re also going to do something we’ve talked about for some time. Over the next few months we’re going to roll out the Helix Code Library. It will consist of prebuilt Helix code you can easily drop into your collections to provide functionality in a wide variety of areas. They will range in price from $5 to $50.

And they will take us a small step toward the realization of our three wishes: They will help raise the state of the art. They will help make users better informed. And they will give us one more tool to get what we need to fund the rest of the trip.

Helix macOS Client and Helix macOS Engine will be in your hands in 2007. Hang in there and have a very safe, healthy and Happy New Year!

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