In the past, I have resisted the urge to do software reviews of the various programs in the sense of criticizing their various functions. This was done, in part, out a desire to maintain good relationships with all of the developers. I am more than willing to evaluate programs directly and in confidence but I feel that public criticism of the various genealogy programs is counter-productive to the development of the genealogical community as a whole. Now, online database programs, such as Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org and others are open season. Failings in their programs affect more than voluntary purchasers. They should have a much higher standard of support and should be more cognizant of the failings of their programs. Why the distinction?
I have spent years of my life debugging programs. It is not hard for me to find a programming issue in the first few minutes of my use of any program. That is what I do. For me, this is like saying I can take a lawsuit to court. It is something that is so routine that I don't have to think much about the process. I simply think it is not fair to attack a program in public. So why do I attack the big online database programs? Supposedly, they have the resources and the programming support to make their programs work. They have millions of people everyday using their programs and relying on the fact that they work. It is mainly an issue of scale. Many of the individual database programs are the product of one or more programmers working alone and without the vast resources of the big genealogy companies. Why make enemies of the programmers? Now, I do realize that some of the programs on the list are the products of large companies, but I am not going to pick apart those programs and leave the rest alone. It is easier for me not to try to make those types of distinctions on the desktop software level.
Enough on that issue. Here is the list I published.
- Heredis.com OS X and Windows
- Rootsmagic.com Windows
- Ancestral Quest Windows
- Celebrating Family History Windows
- Family Tree Maker OS X and Windows
- Family Tree Builder Windows
- Reunion OS X only
- Legacy Family Tree Windows
Most of us, when we go out to buy a new product, such as a car or a computer, spend some considerable time evaluating what is available and comparing features. In the end, our decisions sometimes come down to trivial things such as the color of a car or the look of a computer case or the price of the product. The same is true of software. We use what we are familiar with. I constantly hear complaints every time there is a program update that the users have to learn everything all over again. That fact alone keeps people using a program such as Personal Ancestral File long after it is officially dead. That fact also keeps most users from jumping from one program to another. Once you know how to use any particular program, inertia sets in and you are stuck using that program. Why do you think Windows 8.1 now looks a lot like Windows 98? Why do you think that the average car today looks almost exactly like every other car today?
If I were going to sit here in Mesa (soon to be Provo) and tell you what to buy in the way of a genealogy program and choose one of these programs as my "favorite" I would be doing you and the companies involved in furthering the work of genealogy a disservice. But I will tell the world what I like about genealogy programs in general and I will keep picking away at the major online database companies both in public and in private. They are grown ups, they can take the heat.
I will tell you two factors, independent of the utility of the programs listed above, that will make or break any of these programs in the future. The first is that the program exchanges data with a large online genealogical database program. The second is whether or not the developers of the program participate in the genealogical community and come to the conferences. If any of the programs' developers ignore either of those two factors, their programs will not prosper and will ultimately be marginalized.