Modern Software Experience

2011-08-01

New Family Tree Maker

Dropbox Ancestry

Public Beta

Back in 2007, Ancestry.com introduced New Family Tree Maker. New Family Tree Maker 2008 was a complete redesign and rewrite that replaced the aging Family Tree Maker Classic. Ancestry.com introduced Family Tree Maker 2008 through a Public Beta, and it was plain awful. Ancestry.com received a lot of less than complimentary feedback on that release, but did not bother to listen to its users. They released the product a month later, and it promptly won the GeneAward 2007 for Worst Genealogy Product of the year.

The negative user response and much-deserved award shocked Ancestry.com PR so much that they did not even issue a press release for Family Tree Maker 2009. Ancestry did offer Family Tree Maker 2009 to registered users of Family Tree Maker 2008, but managed to make a debacle of the free upgrade.
They only restarted their regular announcements of the annual Family Tree Maker release with Family Tree Maker 2010 released in 2009. Ancestry continued to beta test new releases of Family Tree Maker, but only with Private Betas. It is only now, for the upcoming release of Family Tree Maker 2012, that Ancestry decided to do a Public Beta again.

Sync

Ancestry.com made several announcements during the NGS Conference in Charleston in May of this year. Eric Shoup, Ancestry.com's Senior Vice President of Product, announced that Family Tree Maker 2012, already the fifth major release of New Family Tree Maker, will finally offer synchronisation between Family Tree Maker desktop databases and online Ancestry.com Family Trees.

He hardly had a choice to do anything but to finally and firmly promise that. Family Tree Maker users been demanding this feature for years and were growing increasingly impatient with Ancestry's dilly-dallying.
There was that, but there was something else as well. As is usual with conferences, several vendors issued press releases announcing new products to coincide with the start of the conference. Real-Time Collaboration Software announced AncestorSync. AncestorySync was not immediately available, and it is still in public beta test today, but it promised to synchronise between the desktop application and online trees of your choice.
As Real-Time Collaboration adds support for more desktop databases and online trees to its product, it may eventually offer synchronisation between Family Tree Maker and Ancestry.com Family Trees. When Eric Shoup told his audience about upcoming Family Tree Maker features, they had already heard about AncestorSync, and he certainly did not want to admit Family Tree Maker 2012 would not still offer sync capabilities, but that you should soon be able to buy AncestorSync to make up for the lacking feature.

So, whatever the original plans for Family Tree Maker 2012 features were, as soon as Ancestry.com learned about AncestorSync - and that probably was months before that conference - the TreeSync feature became the focus for the Family Tree Maker 2012 release.

Public Beta

TreeSync is the new feature of Family Tree Maker 2012. Family Tree Maker 2012 may offer other improvements over Family Tree Maker 2011, but TreeSync is the big one. It is perhaps even be fair to say that the entire Family Tree Maker 2012 release - and with it the entire Family Tree Maker brand - depends on TreeSync delivering on Eric Shoup's promise.
The Family Tree Maker development team is under significant pressure. TreeSync has to work; users who waited for years will be enthusiastic when it works, but will not be amused at all when it does not.

Ancestry.com wants to be sure that TreeSync works as intended, but their usual Family Tree Maker Beta group simply isn't big enough to thoroughly test this new feature. To really test TreeSync, to really make sure that the TreeSync feature works as intended, on a lot of a hardware, with different versions of Windows, different anti-virus software, different firewalls, and, let's not forget, different genealogy databases, Ancestry.com needs a Public Beta test.

Public Beta

That Ancestry.com was planning a Public Beta for Family Tree Maker 2012 first emerged on the FTM-TECH mailing list. On 2011 Jul 25, Peter Ruddock wrote There is a public beta available for 2012…. Others reacted surprised to that statement, and then was some discussion about what was going to happen soon, in which it became clear that Ancestry.com had already decided to open up the FTM 2012 to a much larger group. I decided to check back, and found an new message, FTM 2012 Public Beta - Open to the general public, complete with download link.

download and install

The download is a ZIP file of roughly 450 MB. When you expand that file into a directory, one of the files in that directory is Family Tree Maker 2012 - Bet Setup.exe. That file is the installer.
Installation proceeds much like previous versions of New Family Tree Maker, and the product looks like previous versions of Family Tree Maker. I experienced different installation issues on Vista 32-bit and Vista 64-bit. It is a beta, so some issues are to be expected, I just did not expect installation issues for the fifth major version of a major product. Oh well, Family Tree Maker 2012 Public Beta is running on Vista 64-bit now.

backup

If you are going to download and install the Family Tree Maker 2012 Public Beta, be sure to back up your databases. Not only because it is a Beta, yada yada yada, but specifically because it has a new, untested synchronisation feature.

You emphatically can not think of your online tree as your backup; a single mistake could mess up both your desktop database and your online tree.
It's a beta, so experiment with a copy of your database.

Public Beta?

The announcement on FTM-TECH mailing list says it is a public beta, but is it? The message and its title say Public Beta, but the quoted email sent out by the FTM Team does not. Well, several things make it clear that this beta is very public indeed; the URL isn't some account-specific URL that can be used only once, but a public one that can be used by everyone, that does not even challenge you to log in or provide some download password.

There has been talk about a Public Beta, it makes sense for Ancestry to have a Public Beta, and the name of the ZIP file is FTM_2012_Public_Beta.zip.

Dropbox

There is something odd about the download link, http://link.ancestry.com/u.d?J4GhPKb5_wyok_8I-gV8I=541%3E. It is obviously some link that goes through an Ancestry.com server, perhaps to count the clicks. That may be somewhat clumsy, but it isn't odd, there are more companies that obfuscate all their links this way.

What is odd is the download URL that Ancestry.com's obfuscated URL resolves to. When I saw the download link to the Public Beta, I tweeted it to let all my followers know. When I hovered my cursor over the bit.ly/FTM2012B link I had created I did not see http://link.ancestry.com/u.d?J4GhPKb5_wyok_8I-gV8I=541%3E, but http://dl.dropbox.com/u/840832/FTM_2012_Public_Beta.zip.

The Family Tree Maker 2008 Public Beta could be downloaded from beta.familytreemaker.com, but the Family Tree Maker 2012 Public Beta has to be downloaded from Dropbox? What's this, Ancestry.com scrimping on bandwidth costs? This looks a tad unprofessional for a milliard-dollar company - or does it? Using Dropbox is probably simply the practical thing to do. The FTM team uploads a new Beta whenever they are ready, without having to go through whatever internal procedures there are for the Ancestry.com website.

Non-Disclosure Agreement

The email quoted in the FTM-TECH message mentions a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA):

Participation in this beta involves keeping all information about the product confidential until its official release this Fall. *By clicking on the download link, below, you acknowledge* that you have read and agree to the attached Non-Disclosure Agreement and will not publicly discuss the features of /Family Tree Maker 2012/.

No NDA is included with the mailing list message, but the quoted email itself already states that all information about the product is to remain confidential until its official release. I am not a lawyer, but it sure seems that, according to the email quoted in the FTM-TECH message, that FTM-TECH message is in violation of the NDA for quoting that email…

Surely, if there is one mailing list the Family Tree Maker team reads, it is the FTM-TECH mailing list. If they disagreed with the posting of that email, they could have taken steps to remove it. The message was posted on 2001 Jul 27, to a RootsWeb mailing list hosted on Ancestry.com servers, and it is still there.

A Public Beta with a Non-Disclosure Agreement is a contradictio in terminis.

contradictio in terminis

A Public Beta with a Non-Disclosure Agreement is a contradictio in terminis. Non-Disclosure Agreements are for secret things, such as Private Betas. A non-disclosure agreement for a Public Beta makes no sense at all; the nature of a Public Beta is that it discloses everything to everyone.

This is either a Private Beta with an NDA, or a Public Beta without an NDA. Either the statement that it is a Public Beta or the statement that an NDA applies in error. The filename leaves little doubt that FTM_2012_Public_Beta.zip is a Public Beta, in which case the remarks about the NDA are in error, and it is not hard to find a possible explanation; perhaps someone on the FTM Team took a letter for their regular private Beta, and forgot to take the NDA part out.

Whatever the explanation, this beta has been public for several days already, and there is no putting the genie back into the bottle. The best thing for Ancestry.com to do now is to remove all possible doubt and confusion by announcing the Family Tree Maker 2012 Public Beta on their Ancestry.com blog.

updates

2011-08-04 FTM Sync Beta

FTM Sync Beta is about the public TreeSync Beta message board on Ancestry.com.

2011-08-04 TreeSync limitations

TreeSync does not synchronise everything. TreeSync Limitations has the details.

2011-08-05 FTM 2012 Public Beta 2

The FTM 2012 Public Beta download link stopped working a few days ago. That link has been removed.
Duff Wilson, the product manager for Family Tree Maker, has posted a link to FTM 2012 Public Beta 2.

2011-08-23 FTM 2012 Public Beta 3

Duff Wilson, the product manager for Family Tree Maker, has posted a link to FTM 2012 Public Beta 3.

2011-08-29 New Features

TreeSync is not the only new feature. What is New in Family Tree Maker 2012? has the list of new features posted by Duff Wilson.

2011-08-23 FTM 2012 Public Beta 4

Duff Wilson announced FTM 2012 Public Beta 4. There is no download link. You are supposed to upgrade from Beta 3 to Beta 4 using the update feature.

2011-09-09 FTM 2012 Public Beta is over

A new message on the FTM Sync Beta message board makes it clear that the Public Beta is over. Existing installations of Family Tree Maker 2012 Public Beta will expire on 2011 Sep 15.

2011-09-14 Duff Wilson 99,9% claim

A new message from Duff Wilson on the FTM Sync Beta message board reminds readers that the Public Beta will expire on 2011 Sep 15, and claims a 99,9% sync success rate. Several users have responded critically to that claim.

2011-09-21 message board deleted

Ancestry has deleted the FTM Sync Beta message board.

2011-09-29 FTM 2012 released

Family Tree Maker 2012 has been released.

2011-09-29 FTM 2012 for Mac

The Ancestry.com blog got round to announcing FTM 2012, and there finally is an official statement about FTM 2012 for Mac: For those of you interested in Family Tree Maker for Mac, a new version with TreeSync capability is slated to be released by the end of 2011..

2011-12-07 FTM 2012 Update

Ancestry has released an update for Family Tree Maker 2012.

2011-12-159 FTM for Mac v2

The Ancestry.com blog has announced the availability of Family Tree Maker 2012 for Mac with a new and incorrect name: Family Tree Maker for Mac version 2. It is the second major release of New Family Tree Maker for Mac, but the third major release of Family Tree Maker for Mac, and it corresponds to Family Tree Maker (for Windows) version 21.

links

FTM 2012

AncestorSync

FTM 2008