Everything Else

Don’t panic, and above all else…

21 February 2011 — The Helix galaxy expands once again today as we introduce a new component of our Client/Server toolkit, Helix Personal Server. Concurrent with this release, we’re happy to announce that the beta testing cycle for Helix 6.1.8 is complete and is now available for download.

As with the previous seven incremental improvements to Helix 6.1, Helix 6.1.8 contains a number of stability improvements primarily intended for Helix Client/Server operations.

A handful of Server crashes that had been very difficult to pin down have been fixed with this release. There are still a small handful of server crashes that remains unsolved; the price of Helix is eternal vigilance, we suppose. A Server shutdown notification on an unattended Client would also hang up the Server. That, happily, no longer occurs.

A number of smaller problems, significant nonetheless, were also addressed in this release, including some Use From tile data errors, a Keep Value failure involving inert fields, and a data export failure in a rare circumstance round out the small improvement set that is Helix 6.1.8. You can read about them in more detail on the Helix 6.1.8 page. Whether or not you have experienced any of these issues, if you’re using Helix 6.1 or later, we recommend you download 6.1.8 and put it right to work.

And, as always, we would be sorely remiss in our efforts to communicate fully if we failed to point out that if you are still not yet using Helix 6.0 or later and you’re still reading this, please… it’s time to come along for the rest of the trip. Pack up your old Macs and your new ones and let’s go.

Helix 6.1.8 reflects our continuing effort to improve the Client/Server experience for macOS users. Taking things “one small step” further, Helix Personal Server is an inexpensive way for users to get started sharing their Helix collections with themselves. You might well ask why on earth would anyone want to share a Helix collection with themself. Seems odd, right? Not that odd when you consider…

…an apparent mistake and an apparently unrelated phone call

The idea for Helix Personal Server began with a mistake. A Helix user went to our web store to purchase an upgrade for his Helix Server. One of the options you have when upgrading any Helix license is to increase (or decrease) the number of nodes or seats the application supports. This user’s Server was licensed for 5 Clients, and he assumed that number on the order form meant he was about to purchase five (5) upgrades; so he changed it to one (1).

Imagine his dismay when the new Server license would only admit one Client at a time.

When we review orders, we occasionally find one like this and generally assume it to be an error. After all, having a single-user Server did not appear very useful to us… until later that same day when we received a call from another user with an unfortunate and — even more unfortunately — fairly common Helix problem. This Helix user was using RADE to manage a single collection, but he had copies of that collection all over his world. One was on his machine at work. another was on his MacBook Pro, and a third was on a machine in his den at home.

His problem was that keeping all the different copies of his collection in sync was becoming a burden. It requires some clever programming — and a tremendous amount of vigilance — to keep different copies of the same collection “on the same page,” so to speak. Working this way — which we strongly recommend against doing — means you always have to know which copy is the most recent… or is it which one has that fabulous recipe you entered? And while there are several ways to synchronize data between two collections, none of them is as simple or as logical as the one that’s been here all along…

Helix Client/Server. Helix Server allows anybody (with an internet connection and proper authorization) access to a collection from anywhere in the world. Each of this user’s machines has an internet connection, so why not put a single copy of the collection on one of the machines and access it from the others? Wherever he goes, he can connect to his collection, enter and retrieve information, and be assured that the data he is working with is always the most up-to-date.

Three obstacles stood in our way:

  1. Our mindset. It simply never occured to us to use Helix Server this way. Helix Server was designed for workgroups where many people are entering data at the same time. The idea that one person would want to access his or her data from different places, even at different times just hadn’t registered.
  2. Configuring Helix Client/Server to run over the internet is not a trivial undertaking.
  3. Helix Server is significantly more expensive than Helix RADE, and while it may pay for itself many times over in keeping a business in sync, the price is very hard to justify for an individual or family.

Overcoming those obstacles, the solution to an age-old problem was found by taking a new look at an old product.

Helix Personal Server

So what is Helix Personal Server? Well, as noted above, we’ve always assumed that the difference between our single-user and workgroup products was just that: we just never saw that there could be any logical value in using Helix Server alone. But a single-user Helix Server license would make this — and potentially many other — users’ “multiple-collection-coordination-problems” disappear.

Configuring Helix Client/Server used to be a simple plug-and-play experience back in the days of AppleTalk. Today, networking requirements are much more complex and usually involve a router. Many modern applications must send and receive data through a specific channel, known as a “port” on the router. For these applications to work properly, a human must configure the router, to let it know what the application is and which port it needs to use. This is usually done using a web browser. It’s just like surfing the web, but you are using a web page to communicate with a machine. Furthermore, depending upon the type of internet connection you have, you may have to “manage” that connection periodically, especially if you suffer from frequent power outages.

The process is not inherently difficult or incomprehensible; it’s just that the wide variety of hardware makes it impossible to automate. There’s just no easy way to do it. But the good news is that lots of Helix users have found there way through this process, and once you make it work, you usually won’t have to deal with it again.

Business users typically have people they call upon to handle networking issues. Individuals generally don’t. Knowing from experience how uncomfortable some Helix users are when it comes to configuring routers and fiddling with IP Addresses, we knew that if we were going to go ahead with Helix Personal Server, we needed to put resources in place to help with these setups. Now, you can consult our Helix Client/Server Remote Access Configuration Tips page to get the information you need. If you still need help after working through all this, you can, of course, contact our tech support department under our standard support policy.

Finally, the thing that kept us from seeing it in the first place was the price. Helix Server starts out priced at $375.00 per Client with the assumption that you need at least two Clients — that’s $750.00 — and single-access users can buy Helix RADE or Helix Engine for around $200.00. But a Helix Personal Server, set up for just one Client and priced at $149.99, makes good sense.

Helix Server’s extremely efficient architechure means you don’t need to buy a high-powered Mac to run it. If your current Mac runs macOS 10.5 or higher, Helix Server will run in the background and you will hardly know it is there. (Our own techdb runs on a Mac mini, demonstrating that Helix Server can run on the most modest Apple hardware.) And whether you’re using Helix for personal information management or you’re in business for yourself, Helix Personal Server is for you. It gives you almost limitless access to your digital lifeline.

Almost? As you’ve already seen, by designating one of your computers as your Helix Server, all your information, regardless of where it is entered, is safely stored there. You can get at it from anywhere, even if you can’t take your own computer with you. Put a copy of Helix Client and your connect file on a flash drive and take it with you wherever you go. Anytime you are near a Mac with an internet connection, plug it in and have instant access to your data. Great.

But while you can access your Helix Server from anywhere, with Helix Personal Server, it’s strictly one Client at a time, hence the “almost.” What’s the next step? Say you want to share your Helix collection with other users at the same time. To do that, you’ll need to add seats to your license, which then becomes a license for a Helix Workgroup Server. But of course, you can do that anytime. Helix Server grows with you as your needs expand.

It’s available now… and that’s just the beginning

Helix Personal Server. Run your Helix collection in macOS on one machine and connect to it from anywhere. Keep all your data safe and secure in a single location. If you’ve used Helix Server in the past but haven’t tried it in a while, you owe it to yourself to take a fresh look. The various aspects of connecting to a Helix Server have been streamlined and improved over the last few releases. Slow but steady progress is making the process as seamless as possible.

And that progress will continue. We have many more exciting plans for improving not just the Helix Client/Server user experience, but the overall experience of using Helix in macOS, and, of course, for bringing RADE kicking and screaming into macOS, the first fruits of which should begin soon.

We’ll be making announcements shortly about a set of subscription plans that we hope will help fund that development work without breaking any individual banks. For now, we’ll give you advance notice: the first requirement for participation in the macOS RADE subscription plan is that your Helix RADE license must be current. If you haven’t upgraded your RADE license to 6.1.x yet, you need to do that now.

Finally, then, we were about to dispense some advice about this next stretch of the Helix galaxy. Where were we? Ah yes! And above all else… never forget your towel! Stay tuned.

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