Helipad PDF Generator Improvements

25 Apr 2012 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags helipad upgrades

Helipad export menu

Helipad’s PDF generator now supports UTF-8 characters. The previous PDF exporter was a temporary solution that just worked on plain old-fashioned ASCII text, but this upgraded version should perform a lot better.

It’s still aimed at generating simple text documents, but if English isn’t your first language then you should find it generates documents in your language.

Tiktrac: New Graphs and More

18 Feb 2011 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags tiktrac upgrades

Tiktrac’s graphs, which we’ve been using for about 4 years, have been replaced. The new ones should look cleaner and improve page loading times. This update also has several small improvements:

  • Printed reports will look better
  • Sheet names will now always be escaped (“mheine” found unescaped ampersands)
  • Visiting http://youraccount.tiktrac.com/export can be used as a shortcut for exporting your data
  • Similarly, You can now leave the service by visiting “/cancel” from your account’s URL
  • The login page has been tidied up

We’re working to standardise customer support-related URLs like /cancel and /export across our apps.

Helipad Archive

06 Jan 2011 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags helipad upgrades

I’ve just rolled out an update to Helipad that adds an archive feature.

Documents can now be archived, which makes them read-only and invisible to applications that sync with Helipad. If you’ve got hundreds of documents, you can now archive the ones you no-longer care about to improve sync performance.

This adds the following menu items:

  • The File menu now has Archive, Unarchive, and Open Archive
  • Clicking Archive will archive a document, and when a document is archived it can be removed from the archive with Unarchive
  • Clicking Open Archive will show a list of archived documents

The updated menu looks like this:

The File Open menu item has an Archive column with checkboxes that allows quick editing of archived documents:

An archived document looks very similar to a normal document, except it doesn’t have a Save button:

Server Upgrade: Wednesday 24th November

19 Nov 2010 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags servers maintenance

We’ve outgrown the server we use for Helipad, Tiktrac, Deadline, and Ebiwrite, so it’s being upgraded. There may be some downtime on Wednesday 24th November as we move the data over to the new server.

This will massively improve capacity and should improve the stability of our apps.

I’ll use Twitter to post updates about the upgrade in case there is any unexpected downtime.

The downtime should be around 1 hour, starting at 11am GMT.

Helipad Redesign

15 Nov 2010 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags helipad design

Helipad has been redesigned with a brand new interface. The dashboard is gone — all navigation and document management can be performed from the same document screen. There’s a file drawer on the left-hand-side which can be resized. The drawer also has add and delete document icons.

This redesign will allow me to add folder support to the web interface, which was added to the iPhone and Mac apps earlier this year.

Themes Removed

The new design also removes theme support. I originally planned to remove theme support to make the application appear consistent across platforms, but it turned out very few people switched from the default theme. The add-on feature may also be removed in the future because it also isn’t very popular. The same effect can be achieved with browser-based user styles and scripts, which also has security advantages.

New Export Options

Text exports have been added to the Export menu, document preview screen, and the public view for shared documents. The shared document view also now has all export options (PDF, text, HTML).

Preferences Sort Options

The Preferences menu has date and title sort options, which change the order documents appear in the left-hand document list drawer.

Deadline Repeating Events

12 Oct 2010 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags deadline

Deadline’s repeating events were handled in a slightly confusing manner. The old behaviour was to create a new deadline each time the reminder date came around. That was fine, except the behaviour of marking that event as ‘Done’ wasn’t very clear.

I’ve changed it to update the repeating deadline’s date, instead of generating a new one. A reminder will still get created each time the date rolls around. Instead of showing a ‘Done’ button, repeating deadlines will show ‘Stop’ — stop receiving future reminders and hide the deadline. This makes it a little bit clearer than before.

If anything about repeating deadlines still seems confusing, message us on Twitter, @helicoid or comment on this post.

Deadline Edit Form

29 Sep 2010 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags deadline design

Deadline has always been a little bit obtuse about some things, in particular editing deadlines and repeating events. I’ve just added an edit form (pictured above) that has a repeat field, so editing these options should be easier now.

Helipad SSL

05 May 2010 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags announcements helipad security

Helipad is now available over secure connections with SSL. Just visit https://helipadapp.com. It’s worth adding to your bookmarks. All content is optionally served over SSL, including login and public pages. Remember this the next time you’re using public wifi and want to take notes with Helipad!

This is available to all customers for free. Just remember to visit/bookmark the correct URL, and not pad.helicoid.net.

Browser Support

You should see a lock icon in your browser. Most display it in the address bar, but newer versions of Safari show it in the top-right (it’s grey on grey so hard to see).

I’ve tested this in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, IE6, 7, 8. When we initially deployed one of our friends found a problem with Mac OS 10.5 Safari, but this is now fixed.

Helipad Design Refresh

25 Apr 2010 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags announcements helipad design

Helipad now a new look! The changes are focused on improving productivity and making the app feel faster. These design changes are a year in the making — after many false starts I feel like we’ve finally got it right.

The Changes

  • There’s now a drop-down navigation menu
  • The File menu has an Open item which can be used to find a document anywhere within the app
  • The Open menu item has a text search which filters based on titles and tags
  • The Open menu item also has fast sort options (click on the table headers)
  • The Tag Cloud can be viewed on any page from the Search menu
  • The dashboard page loads content using Ajax, which means the app will feel snappier when logging in
  • Font sizes have been increased for tables
  • Popup windows can be closed by pressing the escape key
  • The Preview view now has the same horizontal size as edit, with its own scrollbar


View a video of these new changes in action

Design Decisions

The original design had problems coping with the context-sensitive nature of Helipad — parts of the interface need certain buttons and options that other areas don’t need. Putting the tag cloud somewhere was also a problem — some users like having it open, but it adds too much visual noise for most of us.

Another problem was the tabs and header. Neither used space efficiently, and on some pages the document title was repeated 3 times: once in the browser title, then again in the header, then finally in the editor.

The interesting thing about Helipad is we’ve had the same basic design since 2006 — it scales well to major browsers (including legacy browsers like IE6). It’s also fast and simple. I wanted to keep these positive aspects of the original design.

I really like the design we came up with for Deadline, so I wanted the visual style to reflect this — big fonts, where the user’s content is king. However, this somehow didn’t work in Helipad:

The title bar was slightly opaque, so users could have their own background images like Twitter. When I actually implemented this design the interface became too noisy — what works for Twitter doesn’t actually make sense for a productivity app.

The major design change I kept from this experiment was the drop-down menu. It behaves like Windows and Mac OS menus — there are certain items that are context sensitive (like File > Delete). What’s useful about this is you don’t have to keep navigating back to the dashboard page to browse documents. It also allows us to put extra features like Export to HTML/PDF somewhere easily accessible.

After showing the resulting interface to colleagues and friends, I added refinements like CSS3 drop-shadow to make the menus clearer, and the Open dialog had a lot of changes to support searching and sorting. This is the result:

View a video

What’s Next?

The last few Helipad updates have been maintenance releases to make it easier for me to roll out planned upgrades. Now a more efficient interface is in place I can continue to improve the service more effectively.

I don’t like revealing new features in case implementing them turns out to be impossible, but I’m trying to replicate the folders feature implemented in the Mac and iPhone clients. Folders actually use tags — the clients just recognise folder:folder_name and act accordingly, so it’s possible to emulate this feature by clicking these tags in the web interface.

Blog and Helipad Updates

18 Mar 2010 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags helicoid blog helipad

Helipad has been updated to include multiple tag search. If you visit /document/tags/tag1+tag2+tag3 it will display documents that match all of the tags.

The web interface needs to be updated to support folders, so while we’re doing this we’ll add an interface for multiple tag search as well.

I’ve also updated the Helipad API documentation to include notes on /document/all_ids and searching for documents changed since a date. These methods are used by our Mac and iPhone apps for efficient syncing.


We recently merged the technical Helicoid Insider blog into this blog. I also updated it to use the Jekyll site generator, which makes it lightweight and easy to update. You can get the source code to our blog from my GitHub account: alexyoung/helicoid_blog.