10 June 2002--Helix, this wonderful technology we all know and love, has survived a series of calamities. The Macintosh media’s historic journalistic disdain for Helix due to its “iconoclastic” nature pales beside some of the problems created by or foisted upon the companies that have owned it.
In 1992, Odesta Corporation was caught by surprise when the sons of one of the company’s wealthy benefactors discovered that their father had spent most of their trust funds over nearly a decade to build and grow Helix. Nearly 20 million dollars were invested and the company had next to nothing to show for itself on the balance sheet. Within a month, it was broken into two entities and the Macintosh end of the business was purchased by a publicly held company called Albara Corporation.
Albara tried to make Helix grow but seemed to give up after about a year and a half. While Albara did merge Helix and ODMS into Helix Express, and while they did release four versions of the product, between 1995 and 1998, the company and its fortunes shrunk dramatically.
The Chip Merchant (TCM) came along to rescue Helix in 1998. At that time, [their website] was used to broadcast a lot of “rah-rah” type statements. These statements were not designed to raise false expectations. However, efforts were carefully calculated to do whatever they could to restore some hope to the Helix user community. This group had been battered over the years and its ranks had diminished from a height of nearly 30,000 users to a number so small as to seem insignificant.
In particular, three promises were made. First, all the known defects would be identified, catalogued and crushed. Second, the product would be made to operate under TCP/IP, effectively enabling its use over the internet with the same rich interface it had when deployed over LocalTalk or Ethernet. Finally, it would become “platform-independent.” This last task would be the most daunting because so much of what it was “under the hood” would have to be completely re-written.
The Chip Merchant accomplished their first goal and shipped version 4.5.3 within its first year of operation. A few defects remained unresolved, but the major problems were fixed and 4.5.5 was a solid step forward for Helix.
The next iteration (5.0.x) was a double-edged sword. Significant improvements were made to the way Helix handled memory. Custom caches and the correction of numerous so-called “memory leaks” made Helix faster and more solid than ever. But the TCP/IP implementation was questionable. It would work very well in some configurations and not at all in others. Regardless of where the fault lay, it wasn’t the way a new Helix feature was ordinarily implemented. It just didn’t “plug-and-play” the way it was supposed to.
The assault on the third goal began in October, 2000. Where old code had to be revised, new features were added in order to provide not just compatibility, but modernization as well. Among the most significant changes were implementation of Navigation Services and the use of QuickTime to display the still image contents of internal and external documents.
In January 2001 Helix Technologies had a booth at Macworld Expo and it was there they saw that the Mac market was far from dead. More than 95,000 people attended that show. macOS was there, but many companies had not yet delivered Carbonized versions of their products and management decided to work toward delivering [an update that would include] important features that Helix users could put to use immediately. Then in May, the Helix Technologies management and engineering team attended Apple’s World Wide Developers' Conference (WWDC) conference. macOS was now the center of the universe. Management and engineering determined that a Carbonized version of Helix had to be released as soon as possible, and that nothing should delay it. The [initially planned] release was shelved and its features were folded into “Helix 5.5” as the Carbonization effort began in earnest.
Shortly thereafter Helix Technologies announced there would be a macOS version before year’s end. At the pace development was moving at that time, the goal was a realistic one. But declining memory prices and the events of [September 11, 2001], along with financial troubles that were brewing for many months before that ultimately undid the company. Running the Helix business was becoming an overwhelmingly difficult task to be managed by people who were, for the most part, not “Helix people.”
As 2002 dawned, Helix developers and users had their darkest fears realized. Helix went on “hiatus.” Time was up. Money was not there and there was no way to continue. In reality, that point had come quite a bit earlier than New Year’s, but it took until then for management to truly swallow this bitter pill and realize there was no way to forestall the bad news any longer. Regrettably, all the excitement and anticipation that had been generated from [their] web site may have contributed to making the news even harder to digest.
For Matt Strange of Autograph Systems, and Gil Numeroff of Synergy Business Solutions, who had sweated out every one of these tragedies as Helix Technologies’ two “outside” employees, January was especially difficult. The future was uncertain and they were both nearly burnt out from helping keep the ship afloat. A combined nearly three decades of effort seemed like it might have been for nothing. Five months passed, and management in San Diego was silent, as few people failed to notice. A kind of communicational paralysis set in. And while time has hardly healed this wound, a very small glimmer of light appeared at the end of the tunnel.
On May 3rd, Matt publicly resigned his position at Helix Technologies. Gil had “moved on” already. We both wrote off our back pay as “gone forever.” But on Friday, May 31st, TCM contacted Matt with a proposition: realizing they would never get the development end of things running again if they also had to focus their efforts on operations, and knowing how far operations management has fallen (did any of you have problems getting phone calls returned? Or even answered?), they took up a suggestion that Matt and Gil had offered them a few months before: to turn the day-to-day sales and support operations over to Autograph and Synergy for the foreseeable future. Matt immediately contacted Gil to discuss this new twist.
Even though this had been their proposal a few months prior, Matt and Gil had to do a bit of soul searching before accepting this responsibility. Their families had suffered quite a bit in the past year due to their blind allegiance to and belief in this technology. And the difficulties they had in having an impact on decisions made in San Diego only exacerbated things. Less than two months earlier, both of them had formally ended (permanently, it was thought) their relationships with Helix Technologies.
However, being assured that they would be given the freedom to do what they believe should to be done, Matt and Gil accepted the challenge. On June 10, 2002, Helix Technologies turned the management of day-to-day sales and support operations over to Autograph Systems (Matthew Strange) and Synergy Business Solutions (Gil Numeroff) for the foreseeable future. Going forward, Matt and Gil make only the following three promises:
We thank you for your support as we work through the rest of this difficult period. You may contact us by email or by phone as follows: