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Helix 7.0.3: The Lines Are Drawn

26 September 2017 — The number three in the third slot of a version number often begs the question, “Is the third time the charm?” And as any reader of this page should expect, we are about to make precisely that case with our announcement of the immediate availability of Helix 7.0.3.

Helix 7.0.3 contains over 60 product improvements, some major structural overhauls to the way Helix does things and the solution to some problems that dampened the enthusiasm with which we introduced Helix 7.0.2 a little less than five months ago. We are so pleased with the results of our labors that we would really love to dispense with any further verbiage and ask everyone to just plunge directly into the user experience pool and revel in the look and feel of 7.0.3, but it is very important that you wait just a moment, especially those of you who have been patiently waiting for this day.

As a courtesy to those users, whose enthusiasm we completely understand, the first thing you need to know about Helix 7.0.3 is that it requires that your collections be updated. You can not move a collection back and forth between Helix 7.0.3 and previous releases of Helix. You may cross the line, but you may not go back.

Generally speaking, this should never be the least bit traumatic

If it’s been a while since you have actually updated one of your Helix collections, you may not realize that another big line has been drawn and crossed: there is no longer a program called Update Collection.

Update Collection has actually been gone quite a while, but it slipped away so quietly that you may not recall that this program performed two critical functions: a) it updated collections to run in a newer version of Helix and b) it was used to evaluate and (hopefully) correct structural problems in your collections.

Since Helix began working in macOS, we have integrated structural diagnosis and repair into the applications that run collections, those being Helix RADE, Helix Server and Helix Engine.

And not only that, but now, when you launch a new version of Helix, you are not merely urged to make a backup before updating a collection, but are now provided the option of making one for you.

This has effectively elevated the state of the art of collection management for Helix users. It enables us to provide a much better level of technical support than Helix users have ever known because now, all collections are checked regularly. No Helix user should ever have to tell us, “No, I never checked my collection and I don’t have a backup.”

And we have also been able to take advantage of macOS’s ability to provide detailed crash logs, which dramatically improves the precision needed to properly diagnose and correct the bugs that inevitably arise and are the primary cause of these ‘third slot’ releases.

That said, if you must leave the room right now to go and play, you are free to do so. Forewarned is forearmed. You can always come back and read the rest later if you so desire, but we urge you to hang around a little longer and learn more about Helix 7.0.3 than you might discover on your own.

Which user are you?

Another line that has been drawn repeatedly and often crossed is the one that separates Helix users into groups. All software makers attempt to define their user bases in groups with various categories in common. And the history of Helix has always been peppered with debate about who uses it and why.

Helix users have always been difficult to characterize in a way that brings them into clear focus. In fact, most Helix users tend to have very little in common with each other. Many of them don’t even realize that the ‘Helix’ they use every day is a completely different thing than the one used by someone else in another place. In other words, they think Helix is the collection they are using.

By our own count, Helix is used in more than 50 different industries and in hundreds of unique personal applications. There are users who only use Helix Client, because Helix is what is used in their office. There are people who use Helix RADE to design and modify Helix collections, for both business and personal reasons, for themselves and for others.

There are people who use Helix to perform statistical analyses or to generate invoices or sales reports or tickets to events or medical histories or printed and digital catalogs or to produce legal documents or even to manage the development and production of large-scale industrial components. The list goes on and on.

Whichever one of these groups you may be in, something we have done in the past five months will very likely improve your Helix user experience.

Dualities, DNA and improvements you can see and feel

We have often spoken of the dual nature of Helix. We do so primarily because in the world of genetics, a helix is the structural foundation of DNA. Helix’s creaters envisioned a design tool that used a few objects that worked together in incredibly simple and amazingly complex ways to create everything a software designer needs, just as the four components of DNA combine in endless ways to create everything we see in life.

A helix is like a twisted ladder. A ladder is composed of two long lines with shorter rungs attached between them. Those lines periodically untwist to allow each one to recombine with others to create new features, and then twist back together. In Helix RADE, a similar duality is reflected in its two modes of operation: Design Mode and User Mode.

As you can read in the Helix 7.0.3 Release Notes, improvements in both Design Mode and User Mode combine to provide a richer user experience in several ways.

It is almost unfair to single out any particular changes for discussion on this page, as it could obscure the overall picture of how these changes work together to improve Helix operation and performance. But here are a handful of things you may want to look for when you get inside.

For all users, Helix now supports Full Keyboard Access, which means users can now execute controls (checkboxes, radio buttons and popups) and even trigger buttons without having to reach for a mouse.

List processing has been dramatically improved. In applications where Helix Client is being used to access a remotely located collection, lists begin to draw instantly. In fact, see it for yourself: download the new Helix Client, connect to techdb, open HelixChat and let us know what you think. And if you have time, please join us Friday, Sept 29 at 12:00 (-0400 GMT) in HelixChat for an online release party.

The way sequences are processed has been rethought and enhanced to provide a smoother experience, without requiring collection modifications.

Several issues that have irritated document management users have finally been successfully resolved in 7.0.3, especially where these functions are run from within a sequence.

The process of exporting both data and documents from Helix has also been improved. A new feature in this area provides more specific control of how each is handled when a file with the same name is found.

And in what may be the most ‘accidental’ performance improvement of all, we found a way to disable App Nap for Helix Server without requiring a trip to the Finder. (Although we have provided instructions for this since macOS 10.9 was released, we continued to receive support calls from users who were unaware of this and were discouraged by what was mistakenly thought to be a Helix Server performance issue.)

Helix 7.0.3 Reading Material…

As has been the case since we began managing Helix development more than 15 years ago, there are way too many things that are new, improved or repaired in 7.0.3 to fully detail in a single issue of The Latest Word, so we present herewith a short directory to take you to the things you should read after you finish reading this. Almost everything you need to know can be found on these pages:

And finally, why diets do not work, and what does

As long as we are in the problem-solving business, let's tackle one that hits almost everyone whether or not they use Helix, because the problem and its solution very clearly parallels what makes Helix 7.0.3 so good: dieting to lose weight.

Diets do not work. There are the two reasons why.

First, if an overweight person works diligently at watching what they consume and preserving and improving their physical condition, a diet might take off some of their weight. But the diet can not address the problem of what put that weight on in the first place.

Diets do not work because they end. At some point, our overweight person decides they are no longer overweight, or their weight no longer concerns them and they declare an end to the process. At that moment, a change in behaviour occurs, and often that change is backwards, back to the habit or group of habits that led them down the primrose path to obesity.

Turn the process inside out and you have the solution: Dedication is what works. Don't diet; change your habit to one that produces the results you seek. And then work and never stop improving. Cross that line and never go back.

That is what we have tried to do with Helix. We know only too well that one of the great dichotomies of Helix use is that people are attracted to it because of the great flexibility it provides in managing information. Yet people are notoriously resistent to change, and as such they are often loathe to modify their Helix applications once they get them up and running. New and more efficient ways of doing things are never discovered because ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ blocks the path to true innovation.

Please, if you are still a holdout, remember that the future is always ahead. While we have strived over the years to preserve the good things about Helix, we are always doing it with an eye out that front window, being as sure as we possibly can to steer Helix in the right direction, the one that makes Helix the tool of choice for so many people who like to do it their own way and, most importantly, want to be able to continue doing that for as long as they can.

Update a copy of one of your collections today and take it for a spin. We think you will be as happy as we are with what you see.

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