Everything Else

Tales of unsung heros, summer snowbanks and low-hanging fruit

26 June 2008 — Back on May 19th, we all took a deep breath and then took the plunge: "Helix Server for Intel 6.1 is scheduled to ship on June 30, 2008," we exclaimed.

Call it superstition, or just the fear of reliably repeatable dumb luck, and you understand our general reluctance to set dates. Obviously, if you never say when something is going to happen until you know it for sure, you can never miss a date. We hate missing dates. We also happen to love the concept of "repeatable," except when it's bad luck, and we've seen enough of that to last a lifetime. We breathed a great sigh of relief at the conclusion of the recent Apple WWDC when no new boulders were tossed in our path.

But back when we made that commitment, we knew we still had some snowbanks on the horizon, of the type that have historically impeded our progress to a greater degree than we could comfortably bear. You remember them: machines that wouldn't boot in Classic, the move to Intel chips, the need to make our networking work solidly under TCP/IP, Leopard. These are just a few of the larger ones. The path from 2002 is strewn with these awful things for which the only way around is through.

13 hours as the clock flies

When you're faced with one of these things, the first step in the protocol is always the same: find a repeatable case. Without that, virtually nothing short of a genuine miracle will solve the problem. While some of our "glove saves" may have seemed miraculous, every single snowbank we've vanquished has been done with the help of a repeatable case found by a real live person.

A popular joke has it that women are like apples; the finest ones are at the tops of the trees, yet many men settle for those closer to the bottom because they either lack the desire to work harder or they prefer the shorter path to gratification. Men, on the other hand, are like wine. Women have to stomp on them and mash them until they evolve into something worth having with dinner.

The repeatable case is the highest apple on the tree. Until you find it, the rest of the tree is just populated with low-hanging fruit. In the time between our first discovery of these snowbanks and now, a good part of that harvest has been picked clean. Helix in macOS looks and feels better and better all the time as we await the appearance of that elusive "highest apple."

In the last 48 hours, one of the two users who had banged into the bigger snowbank handed it to us. The hotlines in cyberspace went to work and late last night, the big sucker was finally plowed out of our way. From halfway around the world, 13 hours by clock, came the solution.

Helix is currently being beta tested in thirty-five locations across the globe in a wide variety of application-types by a dedicated group of people without whom, none of this would be possible. As frustrating as it may seem to users waiting for the next shoe to drop, these people are the ones sparing you from the really discouraging visions. They are the true heros that keep Helix moving forward and if we haven't acknowledged their contribution enough, this is one more log on that fire.

So...there will be no delay. Another promised shipping date will be met. Helix Server for Intel 6.1.1 will ship on Monday, along with Helix Server for PowerPC 6.1.1 and Preview Release 4 of Helix Engine 6.1 and Preview Release 2 of Helix Client 6.1, in three flavors: Classic, PowerPC and Intel.

A brief glimpse into the evolution of RADE

Part of the delicate balance in what we're doing is the need to support macOS 10.4 and 10.5 and Classic in this particular stage in Helix's evolution. And even though RADE remains Classic-only, RADE is central to the optimal functioning of all the other products in macOS.

When we first went to work on moving Helix to macOS, we laid out what would be included and went to work them. As each function was completed, we made it available to you in the Classic iterations. Support for QuickTime, TCP/IP networking and other things we already take for granted were to be part of macOS. And the macOS "Preview Releases" have enabled us to extend that model so that people can actually begin using Helix collections in macOS while we continue to restore missing functionality to Helix Client and Helix Engine.

That process has continued, of course, and will almost certainly be the model we follow into RADE for macOS. We will begin by offering a macOS RADE with some limitations, and gradually complete its feature set so that by the time we're done, we can all finally kiss Classic goodbye.

Occasionally, some adjustment required for macOS leads us to make further improvements to Classic RADE. To be sure, some of these fall neatly into the category of the aforementioned "low-hanging fruit," but they add up to improve the experience of using RADE, and once you start using your collections with either Engine or Client in macOS, you may find yourself wanting to make adjustments.

Typically, a user working in RADE toils away in Design Mode and then flips over into User Mode to "see how it looks." In fact, as we work with RADE today, we find ourselves more often just quitting from User Mode and reopening the collection in Helix Engine for macOS to see how it looks. We already know how things will behave in Classic; we're more interested in seeing how they'll function in macOS. And day by day they look better and better. More and more, RADE is being used--here at least--as a tool to design collections that run in macOS.

All this is to say (in the tiniest voice possible so as not to upset those who get annoyed every time we do this) that RADE 6.1.2 is currently available and contains a few more functions that will improve the experience of updating your Helix collections to run in macOS. If you have already purchased Helix RADE 6.1, it is a free upgrade. If you haven't, we hope you will. And if you're reading this and you still haven't upgraded to Helix RADE 6.0 and you're inclination is to stay with Helix, please upgrade today. RADE 6.0 and RADE 6.1 are the same price, so you might as well go for the significantly improved 6.1.

We said there were other snowbanks, so roll up your sleeves

Early in this process, we knew one of our biggest problems moving to macOS would be printing. Before we could touch printing, we had to modernize Helix's text handling. That was a massive job and in some respects, there is still work that remains to be done in that area, but it is at a solid enough functional level to be successfully used. Printing itself initially seemed like it was going to be a massive project, but we actually got it up and running pretty quickly. Yet as we nudged closer and closer to general functionality, it seemed to lag furiously far behind.

While we didn't really have the resources we needed to hit printing with "the big hammer," we started making inquiries to get an idea of the scope of the problem. Through a combination of new information and dumb luck, we were able to improve printing to a point where it is actually quite good, provided you're willing to put in the work.

macOS printing is different than in previous OS incarnations. Consequently, the logic goes, when Helix prints in the macOS context, it will also be different. There are certain realities that are unassailable. For instance, if you've been chugging away in some ancient version of Helix and you're still running ImageWriter printers and you're waiting for everything to be perfect before you take the plunge and buy new machines and upgrade and spend all that're in for a rude awakening. You won't be using ImageWriters anymore. Or AppleTalk. The longer you've waited to get current, the bigger the psychological adjustment you're going to have to make. Whatever you were doing with those machines will have to be rethought in the context of a different kind of printing. You will have to do some work.

How forms are designed in macOS impacts definitively on the way they print. In its present form, you can maximize the quality of Helix output by first making sure that you're outputting at a resolution that is an integral factor of your printer's resolution. Let's translate that with an example. Your screen resolution is 72dpi, but your inkject printer is printing at 300dpi or 600dpi. Dividing 300 by 4 gives you 75, which is an integral factor of 300, unlike 72, which is not. The problem is to reconcile between 72 (what you see) and 75 (a "neat" part of what your printer is trying to give you). As it happens, 72 is 96% of 75! So go into Page Setup and set the page to print at 96%.

Second, fonts are a critical element in that process and some work better than others. If a font you've used successfully for a long time doesn't appear in the menus of your macOS programs, it's also likely to be an issue in Helix.

Because fonts barely resemble what they were or did back when you used to use "Font/DA Mover" to install them in either your collections or in your copy of RADE, a lot of funny stuff will happen with fonts in your collections. We've give you some tools to let you know what those fonts were and how they're being substituted, but running an old Helix collection through the 6.x Update Collection is absolutely not guaranteed to substitute problem fonts with the ones you'd pick yourself.

The more font problems you correct, the better your printing will look. But it doesn't stop there. In macOS, boxes and lines do different things on screen and on paper than they used to do. And you will lose any fancy font work you ever applied to a check box, radio button or popup. If you're one those people who made popups using "London 18," you will be a bit disappointed by the look of Lucida Grande in its place. With a few clicks in RADE, however, you'll be able to make it look better if it looks bad. You will quickly learn what works best and swear by it. In a matter of months, people who discuss Helix in online forums will be able to offer you a multitude of useful (but competing) suggestions for making things work and look good.

While many Helix users are able to send pdfs instead of hard copies, the printing industry is still very much alive and users who are justifiably concerned about Helix's ability to print should download Previews and see it for themselves on their own printers. If you haven't yet purchased your newer equipment, burn a copy of your collection onto a hard drive and bring it to an Apple Store and do it there. (Just make sure to delete your collection later!)

The bottom line: 3 important considerations as you upgrade…

1. Unlike in almost all previous versions of Helix, Update Collection will not automatically make your forms look pretty in macOS. In some small way, every form could be affected by the upgrade to Helix 6.x. But your forms will work. Your data will be secure. Your collection will still do what it did before. You, however, may have to invest some time in your collections.

2. The things you'll have to address will be largely cosmetic in nature; everything else is going to work! Having to do some template work shouldn't really be such a bad experience. You've probably been meaning to do it for years. For most people, the only issue is time.

3. These problems don't happen to everyone. You may light things up in macOS and everything will look and work just fine for you.

In the meantime…

Less than a week is all that separates us from the next stage in the evolution of Helix. As always, as finish lines draw near, we tend to run on fumes. If you've already upgraded and you're looking for ways to help this thing get done, there's always USUs! Thanks for all your support and having the courage to stick with this undesired crusade. For everyone involved, it has gone long past the point of being personal, as much as we try not to think of it in those terms. Smokey Robinson wrote, "Determination is fading fast, inspiration is a thing of the past."* At times, things get lower than that around here. But the hero who holds the highest apple always lifts us up.

*"Since I Lost My Baby," The Temptations, 1965, by Smokey Robinson and Pete Moore.

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