Modern Software Experience

2010-11-22

32-bit trouble on 64-bits system

Family Tree Maker

Let's start with the official statement. In the Ancestry.com blog post Family Tree Maker 2010 and Windows 7, Ancestry.com employee Duff Wilson writes that Family Tree Maker 2010 is fully compatible with Windows 7., that Family Tree Maker 2008 and 2009 are also compatible with Windows 7. and that we continually test Family Tree Maker with 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7..
The sharp reader will notice that he does not explicitly claim that all versions of New Family Tree Maker are compatible with the 64-bit operating systems, but his last sentence leaves little doubt that he meant to do so: If you find a problem while running Family Tree Maker on your operating system, the best course of action is to contact customer support which can usually help you identify and solve the problem. He confidently claims that Family Tree Maker will work fine on your system; well, provided your system meets the minimum requirements, of course.

Vista 64-bit

I've installed Family Tree Maker 16 and all major releases of New Family Tree Maker (Family Tree Maker 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011) on a machine running 64-bit Vista. Not plain Vista, of course, but Vista Service Pack 2, fully patched, all drivers updated, and running a firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware. I upgraded each major release of Family Tree Maker to the latest version by downloading and installing the appropriate Family Tree Maker Service Packs.

Family Tree Maker 16

There is a special Vista patch for Family Tree Maker 16. Windows alerts you to it and would even have downloaded it for you, if Ancestry.com hadn't moved the file without telling Microsoft about it. It isn't too hard to find once you know it exists. The Family Tree Maker site has as a Family Tree Maker Update for Windows Vista User page with a working link on it, and I've added a direct download link below.
This patch is for Family Tree Maker 2005, 2006 and Family Tree Maker 16. There is no patch for earlier versions. The patch addresses issues that occur running Family Tree Maker on Vista (32-bits), and does not address any 64-bit issues. In fact, Family Tree Maker knowledgebase article 2777,  Family Tree Maker 2005, 2006 & 16 Update for Windows Vista & Windows 7, created on 2007 Jan 30 and last updated on 2010 May 15, explicitly states:

Note: These versions of Family Tree Maker are not Vista or Windows 7 64 bit compatible. This article and patch will only work for Vista or Windows 7 32 bit.

Family Tree Maker knowledgebase article 2777

I downloaded and applied all the appropriate service packs without any problems.

New Family Tree Maker

Ancestry.com promotes and sells New Family Tree Maker as a Windows application, but it really is a Microsoft .NET application. That partly explains why it is slow and memory-hungry, but it also implies that Windows compatibility is less of an issue. All versions of New Family Tree Maker should run fine on Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, provided that you have the right version of Microsoft .NET Framework installed.

You should upgrade each major release of New Family Tree Maker to the latest version available by applying the Service Packs for that version. It is possible to upgrade from within the application, but only if that works right already, and some service packs deal with Internet-related problems that users encountered. It is best to download the service packs and apply them manually.
Ancestry.com does not go out of its way to make the various service packs easy to find. You'll find them all when you search through the Family Tree Maker knowledgebase, but I collected all of them in Family Tree Maker Service Packs. I downloaded and applied all the appropriate service packs without any problems.

Family Tree Maker 2011: Application initialising

starting up

So, I installed various major releases of Family Tree Maker and patched all of them to the latest versions available for that major release, without ever starting them up. Here's a question (don't peek ahead for the answer): when I do try to start them up, which of these applications will start without problems?

If you have become very cynical about Ancestry.com software quality, you might guess that not one of them works right. If you are slightly less cynical, you might guess that only the latest release, Family Tree Maker 2011, works fine.
If you have unquestioning faith in every official Ancestry.com statement (You do? You're related to Dracula!), you might guess that all releases of New Family Tree Maker work just fine, and that only Family Tree Maker 16 fails to start. The truth is just the opposite: Family Tree Maker 16 is the only application that starts without a problem.

Family Tree Maker 16

The knowledgebase article for Family Tree Maker Vista patch says that Family Tree Maker 16 isn't Vista 64-bit compatible, but it runs just fine - as it should; once it runs fine on 32-bits Vista it should run fine on 64-bit Vista. System utilities created for 32-bit Vista may fail to run on 64-bit bit, but applications that run fine 32-bit Vista, should run fine on 64-bit Vista.

Family Tree Maker 2011 has stopped working

Family Tree Maker 2011 has stopped working

All the fully patched major New Family Tree Maker releases fail to start. They all crash with a dialog box that tells you the application has stopped working before it really got started. Even the very latest version of New Family Tree Maker, Family Tree Maker 2011 Service Pack 1 (version 20.0.0.376) fails to start as it should. Beside the infamous Application Initializing... dialog box, the Family Tree Maker 2011 has stopped working dialog box is all you get to see.
Changing the properties to run the application in Windows XP (Service Pack 2) compatibility mode does not help. Family Tree Maker 2008 does not work. Family Tree Maker 2009 does not work. Family Tree Maker 2010 does not work. Family Tree Maker 2011 does not work.

incompatible?

It may be tempting to conclude that New Family Tree Maker, even Family Tree Maker 2011, the very latest version, isn't Vista 64-bits compatible, and leave it at that. Superficially, it certainly seems that way, but it does not make sense. First of all normal 32-bit Windows applications should run just fine on Vista, and Family Tree Maker isn't some system utility that relies on version-specific interfaces. Moreover, Family Tree Maker is really a Microsoft .NET application, and Microsoft .NET applications run just fine on Vista 64-bit.

Yes, I am glossing over some details. Family Tree Maker does not seem to be a pure Microsoft .NET application, but contain quite a few dependencies. Still, what's really going on here is that Ancestry.com does not listen to customers or reviewers.

feedback

Back in 2007, Ancestry.com released Family Tree Maker 2008, the first version of New Family Tree Maker. It was preceded by a freely available beta (no longer available). One of the things I observed in An Early Look at Family Tree Maker 2008 is this:

Once you start FTM 2008 Beta, it immediately tries to access the Internet. And I do mean immediately; my Firewall popped up a dialog box even before I saw as much as a splash screen.

The remarkably low quality overall of the Family Tree Maker 2008 Beta provoked lots of criticism and complaints, yet Ancestry went ahead regardless, and officially released the product just a few weeks later. Family Tree Maker 2008 released questioned the disastrous release so soon after the ill-received Beta:

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?

Since then, little has changed. Ancestry.com is still not listening to users. Subsequent releases of New Family Tree Maker have fixed defects and provided missing features, but other than that, the differences between the releases are hardly remarkable. Anyway, Family Tree Maker 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 are very much the same application, and they all fail to start in exactly the same way.

Back in 2007, that very first look at the Family Tree Maker 2008 Beta already identified what's wrong. and the Family Tree Maker 2008 review already noted already noted why it hasn't been fixed. New Family Tree Maker tries to connect to Internet as soon as it is started, and Ancestry.com has continues to ignore the feedback that it should not do that. Practical result, several years after this design mistake should have been fixed already: Family Tree Maker 2011 has stopped working.

This isn't a 64-bit issue, this is not even a Vista issue, this is a New Family Tree Maker design defect.

design defect

Family Tree Maker tries to connect to the Internet as soon as it starts, without asking permission or even telling you that it is about to do so. The Family Tree Maker 2009 review remarked that this defect wasn't fixed yet, and now, yet another few years on, I once again have that Ancestry still didn't fix it. Family Tree Maker 2011 continues this reprehensible behaviour.

I recognised the problem for what it was, not only because I am aware of Family Tree Maker's misbehaviour, but also because I've experienced problems with that on Window Vista 32-bit as well. It happens on 64-bit and 32-bit Vista. It happens on Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7. It happens with every version of New Family Tree Maker.  This isn't a 64-bit issue, this is not even a Vista issue, this is a New Family Tree Maker design defect.

Internet access

A good firewall default to blocking both ingoing and outgoing traffic until you've approved that traffic. Thus, the firewall  defaults to blocking Family Tree Maker's attempt to access the Internet.
A good application that wants to use the Internet does not only ask permission and alert the user to what it is doing, it also checks whether it's connection attempt succeeds, and gracefully recovers when the attempt fails. Family Tree Maker fails on all these counts; it does not ask and it does not tell, but it rudely goes ahead and it crashes when the connection attempt doesn't succeed.

If you allow Internet access, the application starts up just fine. If you block Internet access, it crashes. That leaves little room for another conclusion than that Family Tree Maker's defective networking is the cause of this crash, but what does not Family Tree Maker need Internet access for? Is Family Tree Maker sneakily phoning home every time you use it, like Family Tree Builder seems to do? Is Ancestry.com trying to track your usage of the application, to build a customer profile that allows targeted adds?

Family Tree Maker 2011 Registration

registration

The first time you start New Family Tree Maker, it tries to connect to the Internet to register the software. It is not strictly necessary to register the software, and it certainly is not necessary to start connecting to the Internet even before you've indicated that you want to register, yet that is how Family Tree Maker does it.
When you perform the registration or choose to register later, the dialog box prompting you to register and the network access associated with it should not occur again.
So, the first thing I tried to get past Family Tree Maker's defective networking behaviour was to temporarily allow Internet access, choose to register later (all of it registered already, no need to do it again), and then disallow Internet again access. Sadly, that somehow isn't good enough. Family Tree Maker keeps crashing on start-up.

Family Tree Maker 2011 Options Dialog

automatic update

Another thing many application access the Internet for as soon as they are started is automatic updates. Family Tree Maker is one of these applications. Like many other applications, it defaults to automatic updates rather than manual updates without asking your permission for that setting. You can change the setting in Family Tree Maker Options dialog box.
Well, if you manage to open that dialog box; even in the latest version of Family Tree Maker, the Option dialog box is unavailable until you create a project! Doesn't Ancestry.com test the user interface at all?
Oh well, you simply create a junk project to access the Options dialog box. The Options dialog box contains an checkbox titled Automatically check for program updates when connected to the internet and when you uncheck it, Family Tree Maker will no longer check for updates on start-up. You can still check for updates by manually choosing the Check for Update... menu item from the Help menu.
Sadly, even disabling automatic updates doesn't stop Family Tree Maker from crashing on start-up.

search online

There is another Internet-related option on the Family Tree Maker Options dialog box: search online automatically when connected to the Internet. As long as this option is checked, Family Tree Maker will search for the people displayed on the People tab.
Alas, unchecking this option doesn't stop Family Tree Maker from crashing on start-up.

connection speed

There is a third Internet-related option on the Options dialog box. There is a pull-down menu that offers a choice of several settings for Internet speed. Sadly, the lowest possible speed it allows you to choose isn't zero. However, the lowest possible setting is Dialup (28.8Kbps - 56Kbps), and that is not just a speed, but also a technology setting. One would hope that an application would be especially reserved about using a dial-up connection, and ask permission first, even if it does not ask permission for using always-on connections.
Sadly, Family Tree Maker doesn't have such good manners. Even when you've indicate a dial-up connection, Family Tree Maker continues to crash upon starting up with asking permission to connect to the Internet. Only when you allow Internet access, does it complete starting up without crashing.

go offline

Family Tree Maker 2011 File Open Menu

There are three Internet-related options, but an option for the most important setting, whether Family Tree Maker should try to use the Internet at all, is missing. This isn't a minor issue, but a major one. I imagine that quite a few users who access the Internet over metered dial-up connection have complained about the bills that they rack up every time they start Family Tree Maker. The bills for some users accessing the Internet from their laptop may be even worse. Family Tree Maker needs an Internet checkbox.

There is no such option on the Options dialog box, but there is a Go Offline menu item on the File menu. When you choose that item, it changes into Go Online.
That seems to be exactly what we need, yet even that choice does not prevent Family Tree Maker from crashing upon start-up. You can choose to go offline, but Family Tree Maker does not respect your choice. The next time you start, it changes its status from offline to online again. If you want to be offline, you'll have to make that menu choice every time you start Family Tree Maker.

official explanation and solution

An official statement about the Family Tree Maker has stopped working message can be found in Family Tree Maker knowledge base article 3749 and 5029. The two articles are practically identical. The difference is that article 3749 refers to Family Tree Maker 2008 and 2009, while article 5029 refers to Family Tree Maker 2010 and 2011.
Both articles basically claims that the problem is that your user configuration has become corrupted, and that you need to delete it, after which you need to register the product again. Other solutions various Family Tree Maker knowledge base articles offer for similar issues range from un-installing and re-installing Family Tree Maker itself to un-installing and re-installing the Microsoft .NET Framework and Microsoft WSE 3.0. Ancestry.com is blaming your configuration and Microsoft's code.

I readily believe that corrupt user configurations do occur and result in the same dialog box, but primarily believe that the main cause of that dialog box is the defective code that Family Tree Maker's uses for Internet access. When you allow Internet access, there is no hint of a corrupted user configuration. It is hard to believe that Ancestry.com isn't aware of this, so it seems rather dishonest and disappointing that no knowledgebase article acknowledges or addresses this serious design defect.

firewalls

Different firewall give slightly different results. With Agnitum Outpost running on Vista 64-bit, Family Tree Maker crashes during start-up. With Online Armor running on Vista 32-bit, Family Tree Maker seems to start fine, but crashes by simply disappearing without even a messagebox from Windows as soon as you try to do something innocuous like bringing up the Options dialog box.
What's the same is that Family Tree Maker crashes, but that when you extend Internet access privileges to Family Tree Maker, things suddenly seems to work just fine - which really proves that things aren't working fine at all.

Family Tree Maker 16 seems to runs just fine on Windows Vista 64-bit, but every release of New Family Tree Maker is so defective that it crashes upon start-up.

conclusion

Family Tree Maker 16 seems to runs just fine on Windows Vista 64-bit, but every release of New Family Tree Maker is so defective that it crashes upon start-up. New Family Tree Maker effectively demands that it be given Internet access by crashing if you don't give in to that command.

It is poignant that this Internet access or else demand is coming from a product for which there is no trial edition, which you cannot even download from the Internet, but is only available on CD-ROM delivered by snail mail.

fix for all

It's been more than three years and four major releases since I first reported this design defect. It is way past high time for Ancestry.com to acknowledge and fix this showstopping defect. This critical defect is so serious that Ancestry.com should not only release a fix for Family Tree Maker 2011, but should either release fixes for all major releases of New Family Tree Maker back to Family Tree Maker 2008, or offer free upgrades to Family Tree Maker 2011 for all users of the previous releases.

Oh, by the way, the fix should not just address that Family Tree Maker crashes when it doesn't get Internet access, but should also put the user in control of its Internet usage. Family Tree Maker should start respecting the choices the user makes. Family Tree Maker should not go online when the user has opted to go offline, and should not switch back from offline mode to online mode without the user's consent. Family Tree Maker should default to being offline, nicely ask for permission to check for updates on start-up before ever doing so, and always show when it is going online and why it is doing so. All that is no more than having a little respect for the user.

links

Family Tree Maker

Family Tree Maker knowledgebase articles