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2 Jul 2019 — Our tongues nestle firmly in cheek when we say “It’s lucky for all of you our development skills appear to be better developed than our communication skills” as once again, we have allowed a substantial chunk of time to glide by since our last communiqué.
While we have been the owners of Helix since 2002, we have been deeply and personally involved with its development since its beginnings in the 1980s. Those are deep roots. When we took over the management and development, we set high standards for what we were setting out to do, including the promise to keep you informed without unnecessarily raising your expectations.
One thing that works against those objectives — almost inexplicably yet quite consistently — is making projections. From time to time, we have indulged in this practice against our own better judgement. And each time one of those projections turns out to be wrong, it makes us more uncomfortable with the idea of doing it again. In a few instances, actual releases were months further in the future than we had hoped. Six months ago, we made such a projection for Helix 8, saying “Look for it sometime early in 2019.”
Two trains on track 8
If you didn’t read that last edition of The Latest Word, or don’t remember what we said, here it is in a nutshell: the focus of Helix 8.0 is on moving Helix into the world of 64-bit applications. In order to keep running in the latest versions of macOS, Helix has to become a 64-bit application. Virtually everything we must do to get there is “infrastructure” or “under the hood” work that doesn’t provide new features beyond simply the ability to run on newer versions of macOS.
To that end, we announced that Helix 8 would not be a single release, but a series of releases: the work is to be completed in phases and as each new section of Helix code is converted to 64-bit and is ready for use, we plan to roll out an update providing more 64-bit code until eventually, all of Helix is 64-bit and it can actually run as a 64-bit application. Those of you who helped us get Helix RADE to macOS will remember a process very much like this one.
Stage one of the conversion process was to remove the resource fork, and in January, when we made that prediction, that work was already done. We had already been testing it on our server for a decent amount of time and believed beta testing could begin and would go smoothly and quickly, allowing us to continue moving forward.
We were speaking truthfully.
Unfortunately, beta testing showed us that we had much more work to do. If we haven’t already said it: removing the resource fork from the Helix collection file format is a complicated deal. Not only does Helix itself (RADE, Server, Engine) have to handle a significantly modified structure format, but Helix Utility must also understand those changes, how to detect problems in a collection using the new format, and how to fix those problems, or to intelligently know when to tell you it can’t.
Beta testing revealed that although we were ably handling the straightforward cases, the older, larger, very active and high-transaction Client/Server collections revealed the ‘rough edges’ of this process, sending us back to work to make Helix Utility more intelligent and robust. This required many more hours spent working with every odd case we could find.
And yet, our prediction was wrong, but as always, following our instincts about how Helix should work usually pays off, regardless of how much more time it may take. We work to provide a tool you can confidently and successfully deploy for whatever purpose you desire. The real value of any projection should be a reflection of our confidence. It should never be made in desperation, or even the slightest uncertainty. What if we say it’s ready and it’s not? The very last thing any of us want to do when Helix 8 finally exits the lab is to go into the business of repairing damaged Helix collections, particularly when there is so much other important work to be done.
Test what you know
So here we are, reasonably sure that Helix 8 is ready to go, but we’re going to take one more step before releasing it. If Helix passes the test and we are satisfied there is no compelling reason to wait any longer, Helix 8.0 will ship shortly thereafter.
We know most of you don’t have the countless hours beta testers typically spend testing a new Helix release, but we are asking everyone of you who uses Helix to conduct a test that should take you no more than an hour to complete. It requires your undivided attention. We sincerely hope that you will be able to give us one hour sometime during the next two weeks to join the “Helix 8 Challenge.”
But before we explain, there are a few things we cannot emphasize strongly enough, so expect some repetition. First and most critically, always keep the following in mind: any test you do with Helix 8 requires that you work with a copy of your Helix collection(s). Should your collection turn up a problem, we do not want you to be trapped without a good copy of your collection in Helix 7.
If you haven’t made backups of your collection(s) lately, now is the time to do it. If you’ve been thinking about installing Time Machine or CrashPlan or some other backup system, but keep putting it off, now is the time. You need to know you have good backups before you consider participating.
The second point we need to stress is this: should this test report problems that can not be repaired in your collection — though we really do not believe it will at this point — we will not fix the damage — not yet, anyhow. What we will do is ask you to send us a copy of the collection that shows the damage — in its “good” state, just before the damage was reported — so we can see what it is that is going wrong and fix the root issue, as opposed to cleaning up the mess afterwards.
Consequently, making frequent backups is effectively part of the test. At every stage of the testing process, you want to always start with a copy that is not damaged. If, for example, problems are revealed at step 6, repeating steps 1–5 is most likely a waste of time.
All of this is necessary so that, when the time comes to really update your real collection to Helix 8, the process will go smoothly, without issue.
Everything you need is found in the “Helix 8 Test” disk image that you can download below. In that disk image, you will find a folder containing:
Drag and drop the folder to any location you desire — we suggest dragging it to your Desktop since it will be thrown away when the test is done. (There’s also a handy link to the Applications folder, if you prefer to put all applications in there.) Then open the folder and follow the instructions in the enclosed ‘Read Me’ file,
The ‘Read Me’ file also includes very important links that create an email pre-addressed to a special address (email@example.com) set up specifically to gather your feedback on this test. Use it to tell us how it went. Though we are looking for malfeasants that could compromise our future, we need to hear from you either way, especially if none are found. And if for some reason the email links don’t work for you, leave a message for Gil at +1.800.784.7018 and we will call you back because, more than anything else, we want to hear from as many of you as possible.
When you are done with the requested test, you are encouraged to test Helix RADE 8.0 with (copies of) your collections, to see that they work as expected. This should not be a complex process, as Helix 8 adds no features and includes just a few bug fixes. As we said before, this release is about preparing for the future. There is nothing new to test: you are essentially looking to see that everything works the way you are used to seeing it work.
You’ve made a backup of your collections, right? OK, here’s the link to download the Helix 8 Test disk image, and while it downloads, be sure to read the rest of the news below.
The tiny bit of news that remains
As we have said, even though Helix 8 does not contain new features, it is a new Helix, and the update is not free. Click here to see Helix 8.0 pricing.
We thank you in advance for your support in this effort. And we thank you for all the support you have shown for Helix over the years. It has been our privilege to carry the legacy of this wonderful idea into this exciting new time and we look eagerly forward to carrying on.