Modern Software Experience

2008-05-06

Beta Testing

invitation

On 2008 Jan 10, Benjamin Nettesheim, the Brand Manager for Family Tree Maker, invited beta testers for the next FTM 2008 patch. I already remarked that their choice to limit the beta test to current owners virtually ensures that import and export features will remain undertested.

joining

What I did not reveal at that time, is that I completed the survey to join the beta programme. I did so without revealing that I am the author of this site, to avoid any special treatment.

confirm

After confirming my interest in participating as a general tester, I received an email with some information about a download link. That was in mid March. When I followed the link I received Service Pack 3.

I received several early versions of Service Pack, and each time the download link was way different from the previous download link.

Service Pack 3 Beta

The Service Pack 3 Beta is a file named 1700559-1700902.zip; obviously a file to update FTM from version 17.0.0.559 to 17.0.0.902.

Version 17.0.0.559, the version I must have to install over is FTM 2008 Service Pack 2 Revision 2. This uninstall name reflects that it is the second revision of this Service Pack; the original Service Pack was pulled after being up for just a few hours. This is the current Service Pack.

Service Pack 3 Candidate 2

On March 20, I received an email titled SP3 Candidate 2. This is a file named 1700902-1700917.zip; obviously a file to update FTM from version 17.0.0.902 to 17.0.0.917. So, I needed to have version SP3 Beta to install SP3 Candidate 2.

The mail came with a list of issues of that had been updated or fixed.

defect list

I took some time to study that list. The first thing that hit me was the sheer number of defects. I knew FTM2008 was a bad product, but this list was so big, that it was already divided into several categories for my reading ease. Numbers don’t mean much though, a program with a thousand minor mistakes no one notices is better than a program with two defects that make it crash every time. What really matters is how serious the defects are.

silly to serious

The defects range from silly to serious. The one thing the list once again convinces me of, is that that Ancestry.com did practically no testing before releasing FTM2008.

Consider that Find & Replace Can’t find words with punctuation at the end and that the whole program cashes when you try to navigate to the people collection using the Go To button on the Find & Replace dialog.

The impression I get from the list as a whole is that practically no testing has been done at all before FTM2008 was released. I do not believe there was any test team. I do not even believe the coders did any straight face tests. The list informs me that they fixed the sort order of children. That is such a basic feature for a genealogy program, there should be nothing to fix there.

There are a few new features, such as gradient fills in charts - a non-functional feature, and. I am really looking forward to reading Mr Nettesheim’s explanation as to just why Ancestry.com is playing with gradient fills while customers are still experiencing program crashes. There is a prioritisation issue here.

private GEDCOM export

GEDCOM export is still an issue. Browsing through the comments people left on service pack announcement on the FTM blog, I came a cross a link to a Chris Wood’s Tracing My Roots blog, where we details his frustrations with FTM2008’s GEDCOM export.

excluding private facts

He complains that it impossible to exclude private facts when exporting to GEDCOM, and that several approaches he took to solving or working around the issue only revealed other issues. He notes that the FTM file format export only actually works if you don’t change the default export options. As soon as you do, the export window just disappears and the software doesn’t do anything.. So, he decided to compact my database and.... it crashed..

badly written

Now, when an application crashes, all kind of things can happen. If you have Visual Studio installed, you may get an option to debug the application. Being a developer by trade, Mr Wood decided to take that option, and discovered just how badly this software has been written, and how this only reinforced my beliefs about how poorly the project management has been within the Generations Network..

no-holds barred

The entire post is a good no-holds-barred text that hits many open nerves, but I especially liked the aside he ends his complaints with: Just as an aside... Service Pack 2 for a product named Family Tree Maker 2008??! Good grief! It isn’t even 2008 yet!.

adapting the code

The real kicker is what he posted next day. He has been looking at FTM2008’s GEDCOM export code, and adapted it to make it do what it should do. That may sound incredible to some, but FTM 2008 is a .NET application, and .NET is a fairly flexible platform.
The surprising thing is not that a developer fixed the code, but that the defect was so obvious that, although he had no previous knowledge of the code and no access to the source or any development document, he was still able to fix it within a day.

it’s official! unfinished too many defects

A few comments below Chris’s link to his blog, Benjamin Nettesheim responds:

Chris brings up some valid points and concerns, all of which the Family Tree Maker Team is working hard to address. Unfortunately there are too many defects that remain in the current product. We believe we are making significant progress to address these. Additionally, a number of people have had the understandable impression that things missing in FTM 2008 were deemed unnecessary. In truth, these features are valuable but simply have not been re-written into the product yet. Our top development priorities are stability, performance, and missing features.

Here we have the official word from Ancestry.com’s own Brand Manager for Family Tree Maker, essentially admitting that the product has too many defects, is still unfinished, and that stability and performance are development priorities, which is a roundabout way of admitting that it is unstable as hell and performs like a lethargic snail without having to admit that you admitted it.

the best of its kind

Meanwhile, the Family Tree Maker web site still invites us all to Find out what makes Family Tree Maker 2008 the best software program of its kind.. Methinks there are some brand management and business practice issues here.

The meaning of that sentence depends on what Ancestry.com means by "kind", but they understand as well as anyone else that the reader understand it to mean genealogy software. How do you reconcile promoting FTM as the best genealogy software with the fact that your program is defective, unfinished, unstable and slow? By the way, just how ethical or smart is it to keep pushing a product that is sure to disappoint the buyer? There are some brand management and business practice issues here.

release candidates

I received several emails about release candidates. I double-checked, and it really looks like never received Release Candidate 3. I received a Beta, Release Candidate 2, Release Candidate 4 and Release Candidate 5.

Shortly after receiving Release Candidate 4 I received an email that even with SP3 RC4 installed, FTM2008 will crash every time after a merge - and that the FTM team finally fixed this issue.

unnecessarily frustrating

Trying to test the betas was unnecessarily frustrating. The SP3 Beta required FTM 2008 SP2rev2. The SP3 RC2 required SP3 Beta, so that could be installed over it, but then SP3 RC4 required FTM 2008 SP2rev2 again, which meant I had to uninstall FTM, reinstall FTM2008 and update to FTM 2008 SP2rev2 before I could apply SP3 RC4. It was the same with SP3 RC5; had to uninstall FTM, reinstall FTM2008 and update to FTM 2008 SP2rev2 before I could apply SP3 RC5. And finally, when SP3 came, I had to uninstall FTM, reinstall FTM2008 and update to FTM 2008 SP2rev2 before I could apply SP3.

This is pretty annoying - and complete unnecessary. It is perfectly possible to release patches that upgrade all previously released version to the current version.

datenamerequiresversion
2007-08-14FTM 2008 Release-17.0.0.416
2007-11-28FTM 2008 Service Pack 2 Revision 217.0.0.41617.0.0.559
2008-03-13FTM 2008 Service Pack 3 Beta17.0.0.55917.0.0.902
2008-03-20FTM 2008 Service Pack 3 Candidate 217.0.0.90217.0.0.917
2008-04-24FTM 2008 Service Pack 3 Release Candidate 417.0.0.55917.0.0.959
2008-04-26FTM 2008 Service Pack 3 Release Candidate 517.0.0.55917.0.0.963
2008-05-01FTM 2008 Service Pack 317.0.0.55917.0.0.965

new defects

The comment threads on official announcements about Family Tree Maker are worth browsing through. There is little doubt as yet that FTM2008 SP3 fixes many issues, but many issues remain, and seems to have some problems of it own.

Various people reported that the ZIP file they downloaded was corrupt. They may be the lucky ones, because David Warwick, Norma Bennett and Chris report that FTM2008 stopped working after installing SP3, David Starling mentions that FTM2008 still crashes whenever he tries to open a report, and Mitch reports that he is no longer related to his own parents and cannot import sources from Ancestry.com anymore either. Scott Silverman reports that all his entries show "No direct relationship found". Kathy Marie posts Charles Bash’s report that generating a register report is slow and that the options button keep resetting themselves.

Ronald Chambers' complaint is that other items "leak through" into places. This is not so much a programming defect of FTM2008 but a long-standing and much-complained about design defects of all previous version, up to and including FTM 16. The response from Athena notes that "Even though the developers of Legacy have programmed around that defect when importing FTM files, no one at TGN seems to even recognize the problem exists.".

conclusion

The FTM2008 SP3 Beta experience would have been a lot better if FTM2008 was such a defective, unfinished, unstable and slow program to begin with. The Beta Test experience would have less frustrating if new versions could be installed without going through the entire uninstall and update to latest release experience before being able to install the latest Release Candidate.
Al that is true, but my real feeling after trying various versions of FTM2008 for some time now is that FTM 2008 itself is a Beta Test Experience that Ancestry.com makes their customers pay for.

updates

2011-04-23 Service Packs

Ancestry.com broke the links to the service packs. You do not need Service Pack 1 if you have Service Pack 3. The Patch965.exe file containing Service Pack 3 seems to be gone too, but the Family Tree Maker Service Packs article documented the new location of the Patch965.zip file. The link have been updated.

2011-04-24 Chris Wood

Chrs Wood's 2007 blog entries Family Tree Maker [GEDCOM export] and Since my rant yesterday… seem to have been deleted. The broken links have been removed.

links

program

related articles

Ancestry.com Family Tree Maker blog announcements

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