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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Why does Personal Ancestral File (PAF) refuse to die?

Warning: The following post is only partially in English. Beware of acronyms and technical descriptions.

I received the following comment about Personal Ancestral File (PAF)"
PAF has a user interface that could well serve as a model for more recent ones.
Except for sourcing PAF data entry is intuitive. 
PAF has a place for everything most genealogists want to record and the exceptions can go into the notes. Its all the program most need or want. 
PAF is well documented and good support is available on-line and with various usergroups. 
PAF and AQ both run nearly flawlessly on Wine under most Linux distributions. Admittedly Wine's version of IE leaves something to be desired! The Linux program of choice is Gramps which IMO is WAY too convoluted - after all it was designed by committee! That's why I've written about PAF on Wine and I'd write more except that "Full Circle" is after all a Linux rag. 
My personal work is on AQ running on Wine under Linux Mint 16. I keep a copy of the DB on my iPad via GEDCOM and a copy directly on AQ on Windows 7 on my netbook. Why AQ? I really like the Individual tab's view of all the information in the DB and I do realize that PAF's days are numbered.
A few translations are in order. AQ is Ancestral Quest from Incline Software. Wine is described as follows on the website:
Wine (originally an acronym for "Wine Is Not an Emulator") is a compatibility layer capable of running Windows applications on several POSIX-compliant operating systems, such as Linux, Mac OSX, & BSD. Instead of simulating internal Windows logic like a virtual machine or emulator, Wine translates Windows API calls into POSIX calls on-the-fly, eliminating the performance and memory penalties of other methods and allowing you to cleanly integrate Windows applications into your desktop.
OK, got that? The next is Linux. Here is the definition from
Linux is, in simplest terms, an operating system. It is the software on a computer that enables applications and the computer operator to access the devices on the computer to perform desired functions. The operating system (OS) relays instructions from an application to, for instance, the computer's processor. The processor performs the instructed task, then sends the results back to the application via the operating system.

Explained in these terms, Linux is very similar to other operating systems, such as Windows and OS X.
Linux Mint 16 comes from described as follows:
The purpose of Linux Mint is to produce a modern, elegant and comfortable operating system which is both powerful and easy to use.

Started in 2006, Linux Mint is now the 4th most widely used home operating system behind Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS and Canonical's Ubuntu.

Some of the reasons for the success of Linux Mint are:
  • It works out of the box, with full multimedia support and is extremely easy to use.
  • It's both free of cost and open source.
  • It's community-driven. Users are encouraged to send feedback to the project so that their ideas can be used to improve Linux Mint.
  • Based on Debian and Ubuntu, it provides about 30,000 packages and one of the best software managers.
  • It's safe and reliable. Thanks to a conservative approach to software updates, a unique Update Manager and the robustness of its Linux architecture, Linux Mint requires very little maintenance (no regressions, no antivirus, no anti-spyware...etc).
Oh dear, why did I start this translation stuff, this explanation has even more stuff to translate! Let's just say that Debian and Ubuntu are also free, opensource operating systems. Now back to the original comment and more translations.

DB is easy. It is database. GEDCOM is also easy. It is Genealogical Data Communications, a text based markup language used to transfer genealogy files from one program to another. Hmm. IMO means "In my opinion." Oh, I almost forgot GRAMPS. Here is an explanation from the website:
Gramps is a Free Software Project for Genealogy, offering a professional genealogy program, and a wiki open to all. It is a community project, created, developed and governed by genealogists.
  • Installation: Install Gramps, the Genealogical Research and Analysis Management Programming System right away. Gramps currently runs on Linux, MAC OS X, and Windows. Guides for installation on all three (plus BSD and Solaris) are available.
  • Addons: Extend your installed Gramps with third-party plugins to add additional functions. Includes many additional Filters, Tools, Reports, Views, Web Pages, and Gramplets.
  • Documentation: Read the User's Manual and reviews, discover the features of Gramps, learn by example or improve your Gramps knowledge with tutorials.
Now that I have all that out of the way, I have a number of observations. My experience with those who are using Linux is that they are either serious computer programmers or hobbyists with the same interests. They tend heavily towards being engineers and other very technically oriented individuals. They speak a highly altered form of English (or their original native language) and spend a lot of time working on their computers. 

What has all this to do with genealogy? Well, there is a significant group of genealogists who are part of the Linux/GRAMPS community. For example, here is a link to Adelle Frank's post of a "Software and Technology list from RootsTech 2014" mentioned in the Twitter stream. GRAMPS is prominently mentioned. 

What does all this have to do with the death of PAF? In a sense, PAF has moved into the category of legend and myth. It has become the part of the pantheon of genealogical gods. It is now the immortal program and is fast becoming part of the "origin myth" of genealogy. From this standpoint, I really appreciated the comment in the email at the beginning of this post that says,
PAF has a place for everything most genealogists want to record and the exceptions can go into the notes. Its all the program most need or want. 
I know people who feel that way about their 1956 Chevrolet cars also. If that were true then there would have been no need to develop any further programs and we would all be using PAF on our Apple IIs and IBM PCs as we drove to RootsTech in our Fords and Chevys instead of our Subarus and Toyotas.

I long ago realized that there is absolutely nothing I can say or do that will make all those hundreds of thousands of PAF users move to a newer system. In addition, PAF will now never die. It is now immortal and immune to the vicissitudes of mortal life. I was waiting for it to start to be venerated and I suppose that time has come. PAF is dead. Long Live PAF!


  1. You lost me with AQ and Wine. I will have a glass of that with my dinner..

  2. I gave up PAF long ago because it couldn't distinguish "FROM date1 TO date2" from "BETWEEN date1 AND date2" (putting it into sort of English). Yet I remain grateful to PAF's help-file for teaching me the basics of recording family history. And, of course, the price was right.

    The trouble is that people automatically look to PAF's creators for their next step forward. Yet that next step is perceived to be FamilySearch FamilyTree. Where the data you enter one day may be altered the next - remember the photos that could get lost on merged people? Where FSFT has only just enabled the entry of notes at a person level; where it can't enter notes at an event level; where it can't record sources for anything other than a limited number of event types?

    FS hooked these people with PAF - they could be termed customers. If it cares about the genealogies that these people have collected, it needs to do more to bring them on board. It needs to build a better mouse-trap....

    Adrian B

  3. This is the same ‘56 Chevy Daddy got for me in 1960 to commute to college daily!
    I still have the scar on my arm from the ‘Jet’ hood ornament when I waxed it.
    Thank you very much for the photo – brings back many wonderful memories!
    Janette in TN

  4. I just recently sent a copy of the PAF download to someone who was almost hyterical because the computer had died and there was no way of accessing the files and newer software was unacceptable.
    I saved it "just in case" when it was available but haven't used it in years. I have a cousin who uses it and I'm keeping it around in case he sends me his files.

    1. I am not sure I understand why the newer software was unacceptable? Hmm. Seems like something I see regularly.

  5. Much depends upon exactly what is meant when you say, "The computer died."

    IF only Windows died, it in some cases is possible to boot to a Flash memory or CD in the Cd drive. If you can boot to CD or flash, you can get a geek (not an insult in the computer world) to insert a live CD, (almost anything, I tend to use Puppy Linux live CD because it is very small and I am used to it, but any live CD will do) and access the files with the live system, which means you can copy your databases to another flash drive. This live Linux will usually work even if your failed computer has, er, had Windows on it.

    If the computer is completely dead, it is sometimes possible to open up the machine, take out the HD, and mount it with an adapter to a working machine. Ask around before buying an adapter, of course.
    This is not big news to those used to working on machines at the geek level.

    Bruce McGovern (McGovern; Knapp; Kline; Aslin; Sampica; Tharp; etc.)

  6. I have tried AQ 14 on several versions of WINE, in MINT 13, and it has more serious problems than you seem to find.

    First, collaboration will not work. Second, it will not permit the installation of other language modules. Those are not serious problems unless you need those functions, and I need a Spanish language module.

    However, at least once a day, if you try to SAVE, it goes into an endless loop that will not let you close the app nor finish the SAVE. Thus, your work since the last SAVE is all lost. I find this totally unacceptable. I am aware the problem is not in AQ itself, but probably some missing DLLs in WINE.

    I have started using BACKUP instead of SAVE. But, in the meantime I did a SAVE after very record entry to I wouldn't lose much if it broke.

    Altogether, I'd estimate I have added some hundreds of records to my own ancestry database. So I use it a lot when I am doing family history.

    Bruce McGovern