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Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Comments on genealogical software reviews

I have often been tempted to review genealogy software. At one point in my life, when I owned a computer store and a software development company, I probably examined a half a dozen new programs a week because I essentially had an unlimited access to new software. It got to the point where I could decide whether I liked a program or not within a matter of minutes. Because this evaluation process went on for years, I probably looked at/learned hundreds, if not thousands of programs. There is a limit, however, time, money and advanced age take their toll. I still maintain quite a variety of programs, but even if I like a program, if I don't end up using it frequently, I will not pay to upgrade it and when I move to a new computer, the old, un-upgraded programs disappear.

When I look at a new genealogy program, I immediately go to the website and read about the features. If there is still something about the program that catches my interest, I may go to the extent of downloading a demo version, if one is available. If not, I look at what other reviewers are saying about the program. In the case of genealogy software, I do most of my evaluation at genealogy conferences. I will often sit at a booth wading through interruptions until I have all of my questions answered about a program. When I download a program, I will try it out with a sample data set, usually a copy of one of my large genealogy files.  I use the same process with all types of programs, but my emphasis here is genealogy programs. I will work with the program and see whether I like it or not and what, if any, obvious problems it might have. If the program still seems to fulfill some need, I will buy a copy of the program. Now, I am back to the issue of use. Do I end up using the program or not? If I use the program enough to justify upgrading it, I will continue to buy upgrades. If I find a program has moved off my list of useful and used programs, then I will simply let it disappear. In some very rare cases, I find a new use for an old program and then I either have to buy the latest version or pay for the upgrade if an upgrade is available.

How much help is a software review? As you can see from the process I go through with programs, reviews only enter the process at the very lowest level of consideration of a program. I resort to reviews only if no demo version of the program is available and the features of the program still hold my interest. Do I trust software reviews? Not really. Here is a good example from a recent experience. I was considering the upgrade to Apple's OS X 10.7.1 Lion. This is a particularly important consideration because the potential for catastrophic consequences. I found some particularly disturbing reviews on the website. They were very negative and had some specific examples of problems with the new OS. There is no way to download a demo copy of a new operating system and I really wasn't at all interested in the new "features" of the program. My main interest is maintaining compatibility.

So what did I do with all the negative reviews? I decided to test the reviews to see if they were accurate. I also got an opinion from one of my sons who is on the computer even more than I am. I downloaded the new OS to my laptop. One of the problems that had been a factor in the reviews was that Adobe Photoshop did not work with the new system. This was a deal killer for me. I would not be able to use the new operating system as long as this type of problem existed. As soon as I downloaded the OS I found the reviewer was correct. Photoshop did not work. But there was an immediate solution. I just happened to know that Photoshop had an upgrade, because, as I mentioned above, I continue upgrade the programs I use all the time and I had just recently downloaded an upgrade from Adobe on my desktop computer. As soon as I downloaded the upgrade, Photoshop worked perfectly. The reviewers had struck out in my book and I immediately upgraded my other computer. Since I have had Lion on my computers for about two or three weeks, I have had nothing but minor problems that I haven't had the time to figure out yet. Nothing at all serious.

So, should I have believed the reviewers or not? Sometimes that is all I have to go on but in those cases, I have frequently struck out with programs. I have downloaded a number of genealogy programs that had glowing reviews and found serious flaws within minutes of the download. This occurs because of a vast difference in the point of view of some reviewers and my own needs and experience. In the case of the reviewers of OS X 10.7.1, I think the reviewers may have had the problems they described, but I did not. This was likely, as in the case of Photoshop, that I kept my programs upgraded so that I could maintain compatibility. (Wait a minute, I already said that).

Should I get into the software review business? Decidedly not. I really do think that most of the more popular genealogy database programs are all really great. I don't want to seem to be favoring one over another. I value all of the software companies for their contribution to genealogy. I have found a few programs that did not perform as advertised. But the genealogy market is small and communicates well. Most (read all) of those programs do not last long.

Let's suppose I took a program like RootsMagic or Legacy Family Tree or Family Tree Maker and told you what I think of the program. What good would that do you? Would it change your mind to know that I have all three of those programs and use all three regularly? Would it change your mind it I told you about all the other programs I have and use regularly? I do appreciate those bloggers out there that give software reviews. Keep it up. I will continue to read them. But I have no plans to take sides or make software enemies any time in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Hi James,

    I sure hope I didn't misguide you on Photoshop. My upgrade to Lion went off without a hitch--Photoshop CS5 and all. I probably should have commented that I have Photoshop CS5 and not Photoshop CS5 Extended. --GJ