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The Point of No Return

31 August 2016 — When we last spoke, Helix 7.0 (Callisto) was about to begin beta testing, that final phase before a product ships. We hoped for about 3 months’ but as everybody knows, every beta cycle takes longer than expected. That said, 5 months isn’t too bad in the annals of beta testing and, happily, ours is about to turn a major corner, onto that sunny street where pre-release software can be safely used in production.

In the case of Helix, this is the point in the beta testing process where our attention focuses on Helix Client/Server. We’ve beaten on RADE sufficiently, it seems to be holding up well, and we’re ready to move on. In fact, our techdb is now running in the very latest, very hottest-right-off-the-presses Helix Server 7.0, a version so far along we have the audacity to call it “Final Candidate 1.” We like it well enough that today we are asking you, on very short notice, to join us for this Friday, September 2nd, at noon Eastern US time (1600 GMT) as we offer a Sneak Preview of HelixChat. (If you don’t know what HelixChat is, click this link to learn more.)

To join us, you need the latest Helix Client 7.0 beta, the use of which implies that you have read and understood the following very important information. Helix 7.0 is a major feature upgrade and along with that comes a bit of seismic upheaval.

“You killed my father…”

Way back in 2007, we warned everybody that the computer world was moving toward making the Enter and Return keys functionally identical. Helix (and the Mac OS) have always treated them as separate keys, while PCs treated them as being the same. At the time we didn’t need to merge their function, but the writing on the wall was clear that we would someday. That day came when we updated to the ‘wxWidgets 3’ code library and found the support for distinguishing between them gone. Suddenly the future had arrived and since most of you told us nearly 10 years ago that it would be OK to make this change, we decided that now was the time.

Joining us on Friday takes you to the literal point of No Return. The Return key now functions the same as the Enter key. If you want to enter an actual new line character (a linefeed) you now hold the Shift key down while pressing the Return key. Undoubtedly you have encountered this behavior in other programs, so the transition should not be too difficult.

We agonized over this abrupt change, so much so that we dug deep and found that with a bit of work we can still detect which key is being pressed — at least in the versions of macOS currently shipping. And so we are able to make the transition a bit smoother by presenting the dialog shown at the right when you press the unmodified return key.

It does take a while to get used to the new behavior, so this dialog will be a welcome interruption for many of you. But as soon as you ‘get it,’ you can click the “Do not show this dialog again” checkbox and be done with it.

How to join

OK, now that you’re prepared for the change, how do you get to see it for yourself? Start by clicking here to download Helix Client 7.0b12. Once you’ve got that, launch it, choose New Connection from the ‘File’ menu’s ‘Connect To…’ menu, enter in the hostname field, and click “Connect.”

In short order you should be presented with the standard Helix authentication dialog, where you can connect as ‘guest’ (no password) and start your experience with Helix 7.0. If you get stuck somewhere along the way, refer to those web pages we noted above about how to use techdb and HelixChat.

The fine line

There is a fine line between preserving a product’s look-and-feel and making it appear dated or anachronistic. Some of the things that made Helix so advanced in the first place later became some of the major reasons it had such a hard time keeping up. At a very early age, Helix did the things Apple had not yet figured out how to do, and when Apple finally did get around to making those elements a part of their operating system, Helix looked ‘the same, but different.’

So when we first brought Helix to macOS (formerly OS X), you may recall that we warned you there would be difficult moments, as we adapted to the new world and adopted its culture as our own. But we committed to fitting in as much as possible, abandoning the home-grown model as our way of getting along with others. At first, we did this just to survive. But survival alone is not enough. Helix needs to thrive, and to do so, it needs to do what it has always enabled its users to do: adapt to changing requirements.

Soon, Apple is expected to release a new version of macOS (10.12 aka ‘Sierra’) that may once again wreak havoc with our infrastructure. In the meantime though, we are focused on the present and if there are issues around the corner, well… that is a story for another edition of The Latest Word.

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