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Helix 7 is Here

20 December 2016 — Way back in July 2004, we announced on this page that Pinocchio had become a real boy.

The actual announcement was about our taking over the ownership of the Helix product family, something we did with great trepidation on one hand, but on the other, solid confidence that we could do what needed to be done, if not necessarily as quickly as we might have liked, but most assuredly done properly to assure the future.

A scant decade later, on 5 March 2014, when we had finally succeeded in making our whole product family run in OS X, as it was known at the time, and support the then-current hardware and system software, we reintroduced “The Feature Game,” as a way of fine-tuning our ultimate point of departure from support for Classic Helix.

From that survey, and in the time it took us disentangle the information from its quite preponderous emotional content, we devised a specification for our way forward. A significant part of that process was determining ‘what must come before what’ and then grouping the desired enhancements together to see that their inter-dependencies were managed most efficiently.

Decisions were made, and a list began to take shape. Conception led to alpha and alpha to beta, where the project assumed the code name Callisto, following our pattern of using the names of moons of Jupiter to designate development projects.

Much of what we wanted to accomplish involved taking very bold steps that would probably require more time and money that we had at our disposal. But as that has pretty much always been the case on this journey, we dug in, as we have since 2004, operating under the general principal that the only way around is through, and now we have arrived at the beginning of the next chapter in the Helix story. After nearly two-and-a-half years in development and testing, Callisto becomes Helix 7 and that moon shines for the final time.

Helix 7 introduces new features, enhances old ones, and eradicates as many past nemeses as possible. No matter what you read on this page today, this announcement will vastly understate the effort that went into this next stage in the evolution of Helix and the scope of what is contained in this release.

Playing for time

When we began our journey out of the land of Classic, many of our attempts to move forward were thwarted by Apple’s attempts to do the same thing. After all, the transition from Motorola to PowerPC to Intel CPUs was no trivial matter and it left a lot of Apple supporters scratching their collective heads in dismay.

Third-party software development cycles nearly always overlap those of hardware manufacturing and system software. As has happened before, Callisto’s release was held up when macOS Sierra shipped earlier this year, putting us in situation where we might have been forced to expect users to upgrade their Helix but not their macOS.

Back to the proverbial drawing board we went, looking for a solution to a problem that had gnawed away at our sanity through El Capitan and Yosemite before it: our ongoing troubles with Apple’s nutty font panel. Where we had reluctantly learned to live with our inability to assign colors to fonts, we were suddenly faced with the inability to assign fonts at all. We had gone to great lengths to convert our text management methodology from the ancient ASCII to Unicode, yet were still coming up with awful crashes and other misbehaviors when trying to get the font panel to work.

Then one day (as the old saying goes), we were looking at some of Apple’s own applications (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) and discovered that even they are hedging on the font panel, providing menu alternatives very similar to what Helix had in its Classic days. If it was good enough for Apple, we supposed, perhaps we should reconsider our own efforts to use their (in our humble opinion) misguided attempt at font management.

That gamble paid off. Once again, Helix users have the ability to assign fonts, sizes, styles and colors without fear of crashing or encountering odd errors.

The only thing we lost in the process was that ever-dwindling resource, that one thing you can never fully recover: time.

So what’s new? A more modern and secure environment

A relatively small handful of the changes in this version of Helix cleared the way for numerous improvements in the Helix experience. In learning how to use this latest incarnation of Helix to its fullest capabilities, it helps to keep the following fundamental differences in mind.

The first thing you need to know about Helix 7 is that there is no part of it that supports PowerPC anymore, not to mention Classic. If you are still using an old system, it’s no longer on us. If it’s because you’re still running ThunderScan on an old ImageWriter, congratulations! You won. Now it’s time to get a new machine and come back to the future. Helix 7 requires macOS 10.6 or later, and there’s no looking back.

If you are already using Helix RADE in some flavor of post-Classic macOS, you will find Helix 7 a dramatic extension into new capabilities. If you have yet to find your comfort level in the new working environment, many of our new features and enhancements should further ease the transition from what you are used to using.

The second major change in Helix 7 is its adoption of the Unicode standard for character encoding. ASCII is dead.

The third major difference between this version of Helix and all previous versions is that if your collection needs to grow beyond the 4 GB barrier of Helix 6, now it can grow up to 64 GB. Helix Utility now performs the task of expanding the file structure of existing collections that may be getting too close to that old limit for comfort.

The next extremely important new feature of the new Helix is that data communications in Helix networks can now be encrypted, making communications in local and wide-area networks safe and secure.

Finally, the gyrations one had to endure to update collections these past few years are gone: collection updating is now as simple as opening a collection in Helix RADE, Helix Engine or Helix Server. Helix even offers to make a backup of the collection.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. No proper reading of this message would be complete without following it with a long, careful and thorough journey through the Release Notes, which cover every new and improved feature, change in behavior and bug fix found in Helix 7.0. There’s also a series of technotes covering the major new features in detail, so you can quickly come up to speed and begin advancing your collection designs. Most important is the ‘Before Your Update’ Technote, which is essential reading before any collection is updated to Helix 7.

But not just yet.

What’s improved? The designer’s overall comfort level

The user experience, especially in Helix RADE Design Mode, is the focus of much of what has improved in Helix 7.

Some changes are very big. For example, every icon is now time stamped with the date and time both created and modified. For the designer, this information will eliminate any future guesswork about when a particular piece of Helix was put in play. You can now switch between Icon and List views in Collection and Relation windows using a menu or keyboard command, without concern for whether any icon or group of icons is selected. And in the List views, the column headings can now be clicked to change the order in which icons are displayed.

Some changes are smaller, yet are valuable improvements. Take, for example, the simple task of editing a user menu. In Helix 7 any item with a custom name displays that name so the designer can see an accurate preview of what the user will see.

The behavior of the Element Panel has been enhanced, particularly in terms of the information it provides, but also for the fact that it now retains its position when something is dragged from it, instead of returning to the top.

Basic contextual menu support has been added for data input, and the built-in macOS Spelling Checker is now used.

Data and label rectangles may now be rotated through a full 360º. Think angular column headers and vertical barcodes.

Rectangles on templates can now be resized, using your mouse, from all corners as well as from the edges.

The information provided in dialogs has been extensively re-evaluated and improved.

Dragging and dropping text into a field is now officially supported.

A “Fit to Page” property allows the designer to control page scaling on a view by view basis.

A designer may include a “Quit” command or a “Close Collection” command in a Sequence, and a network Client can be logged out automatically after a predetermined period of inactivity.

If you were a person who liked buttons to be in different colors, don’t be surprised to see them appear that way again. In fact, color use has been enhanced both on screen and in print and template preview mode.

And as they say in the movies, there is so much more. Another section of the Release Notes that you should pay particular attention to concerns Helix specification changes. Should you discover that something you built in Helix now appears to work differently, the answer might be found there. Some of the changes were necessitated by macOS requirements. Others were the result of better understanding and agreement on how things should work most efficiently.

What’s fixed?

The “Bugs Fixed” section of the Release Notes details somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 things that have been discovered since the release of Helix 6.2.4 that are now corrected. Many of these things are so obscure that most of you had never encountered them. Now you never will.

Nonetheless, some of the items described have existed for a long time in Helix. Good examples provide by our dedicated core of beta testers enabled us to corral some of these ancient critters at last. We are eternally grateful for the good work of this group.

And, if that is not enough TLW for one sitting, what’s next?

What’s next is for those of you who have advanced purchased your upgrade to Helix 7 to download it and start enjoying all the great stuff we’ve packed into it. For those who still haven’t, prices are set to go up on January 1st. So if you need to make this purchase during calendar year 2016, it will be a win-win situation for all of us.

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