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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Note on Unsupported Genealogy Software

What does it mean when a program is unsupported? This question occurred to me when I was looking at the list of reviewed genealogy software on's Rankings for 2014. Some of the programs listed have the notation "unsup." Generally, an unsupported program, such as Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is a program that for whatever reason has been abandoned by its developer. Some of the unsupported programs listed are no longer available. But some are available and still being extensively used.

Genealogy programs, just as any other category of computer programs or applications (apps) must evolve with the hardware technology. As new computer chips are developed, they require updates to existing operating systems and some of the programs also need to be updated to run on the new systems. Just because a program will still run on your current computer and operating system is no guarantee that the next incremental upgrade by Microsoft or Apple or whoever, will not render you program inoperable. Usually, software developers upgrade their program incrementally. If you see a notice from the program that there is a new upgrade, that can mean two things. Minor upgrades and bug fixes are usually indicated by decimal numbers after a whole number. For example, the version of the program might be 7.0, as changes (upgrades) are made, the numbers are added as decimals, i.e. 7.1, 7.2, etc. Very minor bug fixes might have numbers such as 7.1.3, 7.1.5 etc.

When there is a major upgrade to an operating system, the program may require a major revision. These major upgrades usually add new features not previously available or other enhancements. So, a program in version 7.0 may go to version 8.0 and so forth. Some developers take the opportunity of charging an additional fee when there is a major upgrade. Some even require the user to buy the program all over again. For example, in the past, both Apple and Microsoft charged significant fees for upgrading to a major operating system upgrade. As time passed, they both began to reduce the cost of a major upgrade and then finally both began offering the upgrades for free. That may have seemed like good news to some users, but what happens is that major upgrades are usually driven by changes in the hardware, i.e. the chips that operated the computer. You may find out that your computer is out of date when you try to upgrade to a new operating system.

Software developers and the dealers that sell the software are in business to make money. When they see a major upgrade coming from Apple or Microsoft or other operating systems, they may make a business decision not to upgrade their program or programs. At this point the program becomes "unsupported." A good example of this is the Personal Ancestral File program first released back in 1984 as version 1.0. As operating systems changed, so did the program. However, after 2002 when version 5.2 was released, no further upgrades were made to the program. Technically, it was unsupported, but there was another meaning to the term "unsupported."

With Personal Ancestral File, FamilySearch continued to provide "support" in the way of instruction and answering questions about the program. Finally, in 2014, all support to Personal Ancestral File by FamilySearch was terminated. The program became completely unsupported. Now, the programs did not stop working on all the computers in the world. But the users are now in the precarious position of having their data become obsolete and unreadable at some point in time.

This is the case with all programs. Every program currently on your computer will become obsolete at some undetermined time in the future. You can resist and rail against constant upgrades and the cost of those upgrades in time and money but you might as well complain about the weather. If the developer of a program, for whatever reason, stops supporting the product, then the handwriting is on the wall. Move to a different program and save your data.

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