Modern Software Experience

2007-08-14

release

out of beta

After a brief public Beta, Ancestry.com has released Family Tree Maker 2008 (FTM2008), the successor to Family Tree Maker 16 (FTW16).

rewrite

FTM2008 is a complete rewrite. It is Microsoft .NET program, and uses several third party packages. It uses Wholly Genes’s GenBridge for data import, Microsoft Virtual Earth for place mapping, and spell checking provided by Loresoft.

new features

I’d love to focus on the new features enabled by new technology, but the reality of this product is that there is hardly anything really new, and that the real news is what is missing and not working right.

I discussed the issues with GenBridge in my look at the FTM2008 Beta. Previous versions provided spell checking already. The place name integration with Virtual Earth as not all that great, as it support current place names only.

Beta look

import

In my early look at the FTM2008 Beta I found that FTM2008 cannot read a PAF files with 100.068 individuals, is disappointingly slow importing small GEDCOM files (just 33 individuals per second) and that the GEDCOM files it writes do not even have a correct header.

GEDCOM 5.5 only

FTM2008 supports GEDCOM 5.5 only, and refuses to import any older version. I would not consider that unreasonable behaviour for a new program, but FTM is not new and should be able to read GEDCOM files created by earlier versions.

Unicode

Rather unbelievable for a program that is build on top of Microsoft .NET, which uses Unicode throughout, and runs on top of Unicode-based Windows versions only, FTM2008 does not support Unicode. It supports Windows ANSI only, and does not support ANSEL.

ANSEL

It does not do a poor job importing ANSEL because it uses Windows ANSI, it actually does not support ANSEL at all! I am not kidding. I just tested this again, and FTM2008 does the worst thing possible. It does not refuse the ANSEL file because it cannot handle it, it does not issue a warning, but bluntly imports ANSEL files as if they are Windows ANSI files. The result is horrible.

interface

The interface seems to have been made unnecessary busy too look big, and thus mask the lack of features. It certainly demands more clicks then necessary.

Release

compare

Now that FTM2008 is out, it is perfectly fair to compare it to its predecessor, FTM16. There is a clear winner: FTM16.

not better

The FTM2008 release is not much better than the Beta. If Ancestry.com had bothered to provide a list of improvements, I could perhaps have confirmed these. As they did not, I am simply not sure it is better than the beta release at all.

None of the issues I discussed has been fixed, and I certainly did not discuss all issues…

data loss

The GEDCOM support of the Beta was so broken by design that I hardly deemed the program worth a further look. By now, horror stories about FTM2008 abound. People are experiencing problems reading from earlier versions, and reporting loss of data.

features

FTM16’s so-called research journal was primitive, but FTM2008 does not have it at all. FTM16 lets you customise its toolbar, FTM2008 does not. No more preferred spouse settings. No more automatic backup on exit.

export

FTM16 will export its data to the format used by earlier versions, FTM2008 does not. FTM2008 even lacks the ability to write reports in Rich Text Format (RTF) or to Acrobat files.

reports

Users experienced with FTM16 were quick to point at that FTM2008 lacks reports that FTM16 supports. FTM2008 no longer provides the all-in-one tree, a fairly unique feature of earlier versions of FTM. FTM16 supports many different reports, FTM2008 supports only a few, with fewer options.

data CDs

Amazingly, FTM2008 cannot be used to read the data CDs that Ancestry.com sells. You need an older version of FTM to read those CDs.

the real issue

just a few

The complaints listed above are just a few of the most obvious surface issues. I already called the Beta a downgrade of unacceptable quality.

I now believe that judgement to have been too kind. I expect that those who use FTM16 as their main program will produce huge lists of what’s wrong with FTM2008, but it may easier to make a list of things they got right.

not ready for release

The deeper issue is quite simply that this program was not ready for release. In fact, it was not ready for Beta, and barely acceptable as an Alpha. I do not remember Ancestry.com releasing Beta versions of their releases before. Many users had a look at this beta, and provided feedback.

ignoring feedback

The release of this poor product bluntly ignores all the feedback. I have not detected one issue that has been fixed, and apparently, neither has anyone else. Why release a Beta at all, if you are not going to listen to the users anyway?

not ready

Development of FTM2008 has simply not been finished. It not only lacks many features of earlier version, it even lacks basic features. It is spectacularly slow and crashes way too often. It seems to have undergone no testing to speak of, not even a straight face test. There are complaints from users trying to perform the most basic upgrade scenario, from FTM16 to FTM2008, that this is hard to do without helpdesk support, and that it loses data.

conclusion

downgrade

To say that FTM2008 is not ready is an understatement. Releasing this spectacularly poor product, calling it an upgrade and asking money for it is reprehensible.

This is not a well-designed lovingly crafted finely polished product. It is a hastily slapped together raw proof of concept. It kind-of works, but it is so incomplete, slow, defective, unreliable, and even plain unusable that calling it a downgrade is sheer kindness. FTM2008 makes FTW 2 look good.

product details

propertyvalue
productFamily Tree Maker 2008
versionRelease
companyAncestry.com
websiteFamily Tree Maker 2008
priceUS$ 39,95
requirementWindows XP or Vista, with .NET
noterequires CD-ROM drive to install.
VerdictDowngrade.
RatingUnacceptable.

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