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“I am a Helix user and I need to run in macOS…”

14 December 2007—Hardly a day goes by when we don’t receive an email or phone call with this plea. While we try to help everyone who asks, it has become quite time-consuming. And so, for everyone out there who is using a product called Double Helix, Helix Express or Helix RADE, who wants to be in macOS and has no idea or interest in any of the other Helix products, the following is for you.

We often take the knowledge we have gathered over many years of Helix use for granted, assuming everyone knows enough to understand what we mean when we use certain terms. Clearly, that assumption is invalid. And even though we have said much of what we’re about to say many times in this forum, we have probably never put it all in the same place. So, in the interest of helping as many of you as possible, we present what we hope will be a concise and clear explanation of how someone who “uses Helix” can make the transition to macOS with the tools we currently — and will soon — have at our disposal.

For those of you who may find the following information beneath their knowledge level, we apologize in advance. There are many Helix users who don’t habitually read The Latest Word. We intend to use this page as a target for answering those requests. If someone should ask you the same question, please send them to this page.

The names and modes of Helix

The tool you use to create a Helix collection is currently called Helix RADE. “RADE” stands for “Rapid Application Development Environment.” This name replaced the name Helix Express in 1998. That name, in turn, replaced the name Double Helix II in 1992. Prior to that, it was called Double Helix and before that, simply Helix. Regardless of which name you use, these all refer the same product.

In 1985, as the first version of Multi-User Helix was about to debut, the original “Helix” acquired a new icon, the User. The primary intent for this icon was to create custom user menus so that two or more Multi-User Helix clients could share information in a Helix collection. Many people who were not interested in sharing their information ignored this new icon, never learning how to use it.

There is, in fact, another very powerful use for this icon, both in “Helix” (Double Helix, Double Helix II, Helix Express, Helix RADE, etc.) and in a different Helix product, one that has also gone by a variety of names since its debut: Helix Runtime, Runtime Helix, Helix Express Runtime Engine, Helix Runtime Engine and now simply Helix Engine.

This use is to “shield” a person who uses the collection on a daily basis from the “programming” part of Helix, where one works with all the internal Helix icons (i.e., Relation, User, Sequence, Field, Abacus, Index, Template, View, Post, Query, Power Query). This allows the collection designer to create a true Mac-like environment, where the user accesses all the functions in the program via pull-down menus. This ability to create custom menus has been one of the biggest selling points of Helix throughout its history.

By thus separating the “programming” part of Helix from the “using” part of Helix, two distinct “modes” of operation were created: Full Mode, where the programming was done, and Custom Mode, where the using was done. A few years ago, we changed those names to Design Mode and User Mode respectively because we felt they were more descriptive of each mode’s function. Still, from the beginning, many Helix users found the existence of these two modes unnecessary, since they could already use as well as program their application without having to create a custom menu.

A temporary problem finds its solution in User Mode

So here we are at the tail end of 2007. Our “single” users — those who have been chugging along for years running Helix RADE either in an old pre-macOS operating system, or in Classic under macOS — are finding that their machines are dying and that the new Macs won’t let them run Classic and thus won’t let them run Helix RADE. They read or hear that RADE will still be a Classic application for the foreseeable future and decide that after all these years of good service from a product they love, it’s time to dump Helix for something else.

Stop! You don’t have to take that drastic step! Helix Engine to the rescue!

The aforementioned Helix Engine, a much-misunderstood part of the Helix product family, was created to provide a more affordable way of running Helix collections and as a way of demonstrating a Helix collection without allowing someone to “see” the programming that went into creating it. Helix developers use the Helix Engine to distribute demo copies of their collections. Helix Engine is like half of Helix RADE… the User Mode half. There is no Design Mode. The ‘catch’ to using it is that your collection must have at least one User menu, created in Helix RADE.

This morning, the seventh beta edition of the macOS version of Helix Engine was distributed to testers. While we still do not know the official release date for this product, we can say with confidence that it is a matter of a few short months at most before it will be released. And so, until we finish the macOS version of Helix RADE, all a Helix RADE user has to do to their collection is create a User menu and they will be able to use Helix Engine to run their collection in macOS, on their new Macs, in 10.4.x or later (and yes, that means Leopard, and yes, that means natively on Intel-based Macs).

And, as we have been saying, to help you, and to help us to help you, all you have to do is upgrade to Helix RADE 6 and you can have use of the Helix Engine for free. If you have already purchased Helix RADE 6, log into your account in our web store and check your Current Keys; you’ll find a new Engine 6.0 serial number and key has been added to your record. This key works with Helix Engine 6.0 Classic now, and it will work with Helix Engine 6.1 macOS for PowerPC when it is released. If you have never used Helix Engine before, download the Classic installer now and familiarize yourself with this friendly tool.

How do I make a User menu?

If you’ve never dragged out a User icon before, the video on the right contains a short demonstration of how it’s done…

If you’re not seeing this video, here’s what it shows: In Design Mode of Helix RADE, drag a User icon out into the workspace. Give it a name (your own name will do just fine). Double click it and the User Editor window opens. Place your mouse pointer in the menu bar and click once; a cursor appears. Type a name for the menu, like My Forms. Notice that a little horizontal white “tab” appears under the menu bar. In the User Editor window, locate a View you have created and drag it from the list of Views into that little tab. Repeat this process for all the Views you need to use. Entry forms, lists and even some extra commands not normally available can be added to the menu. Drag a letter from the little keyboard over to a command on the menu: you just added a command key to that item! Of course, you can create more than one pull-down menu if you like. You can even create hierarchical menus. Make your program look like a real Mac application! There’s plenty of instruction available in The Helix Reference.

When you’ve finished creating the menus, click OK to exit the User Editor. Then, go up to the Set menu and select the second item, called User. This takes you into User Mode, where you can open all your Views without having to open the different relations you’ve created and hunt them down. It’s really quite convenient. And you can modify those menus endlessly, just like you can with the rest of what you create in Helix.

But most important of all, you’ve now taken the step that allows you to continue using Helix, and, of course, to use it with the macOS native Helix Engine.

As you prepare to use your collection in macOS, remember that you can easily move your collection back and forth between Helix RADE in Classic, making your structural changes, and Helix Engine in macOS, seeing how they work. Since there is "backward compatibility" between Helix 6.1 and Helix 6.0.x, there is no need to "convert" or "upgrade" to move from one to the other. You simply have to close the collection in one application and open the collection with the other.

“But I need to be in Design Mode all the time!”

Actually, no, you don’t. Or, if you do, you need to rethink how you approach collection design. We have found that one of the more common reasons that most people who only use Design Mode do so is because they build things that they replicate each year, rather than building those functions in ways that don’t require such replication. Or they have forms that have to have their headings changed frequently. Or any of several other similar reasons.

By learning a little bit more about Helix RADE, these kinds of requirements can easily be handed off to Helix itself, so that you can make the changes you need to make without actually having to go into Design Mode, or at least minimizing the number of times you have to do so. There are numerous resources at your disposal to help you learn how to do these things. One is available in our web store: the Helix Advanced Techniques DVD set. The use of Global Variables, taught so clearly in this set, seems like a black art until you understand how truly easy it is, but it can eliminate almost every need to work in Design Mode. There are also many Helix Developers who, for a fee, can work with you to create a truly user-friendly collection. If your budget is more modest, the Helix Discussion List is frequented by numerous Helix designers who can point you in the right direction. Of course, you can also purchase USUs from us and get instruction directly from our staff. The trick is to learn to design for flexibility!

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