Modern Software Experience

2009-01-08

RootsMagic 4 Preview

version 4.0.0.27

The RootsMagic 4 Preview phase has started. The email I received provided a link to a page with two downloads, one with and one without the place names database. The one with the place names database is about 75 MB, the one without is about 7,5 MB. The first preview is the version 4.0.0.27, a build of 2009 Jan 6, which expires on 2009 Jan 15.

XP feel

The interface is very similar to the RootsMagic 3 interface. It is still easy to use, but now that I have switched to Vista as my main platform, I cannot help but notice an XP feel to the user interface. This RootsMagic rewrite seems squarely targeted at Windows XP. That makes perfect sense of course. Windows XP is the still platform of choice. The Windows Vista and Windows 2010 (Windows 7 in current Microsoft parlance) niceties can be added later.

unfinished

Although RootsMagic 4 is feature complete, it is not finished. Not only is the intention of the Preview to shake out remaining defects, the current help file is really just a note to say there is no RootsMagic 4 help file yet.

defects

I have already reported several defects. These are all minor issues, matters of polishing rough edges. I have not experienced any major problems yet. I am curious to see how fast the various reported defects will be fixed.

import

I tried to import a database, and was happy to note that RootsMagic 4 defaults to keeping its data separate from the program, in a Microsoft-approved location. RootsMagic 3 did not do that. I have send in reports that some program default seem wrong to me, but all the import defaults seemed just right.

This being a Preview, I won’t say too much about import speed. Definitive performance measurements are something for the final release. The one thing I needed to know is whether the rewrite had resulted in major slowdown.
I am happy to report that the preview performed a direct import of a large PAF database in just a few minutes.

problem search

I imported the large database to do a problem search. The option dialog to do so looks just the same as before, but the dialog with the results is slightly different. The results themselves were quite different.

year zero

If you have a date without a year, Legacy 7 will treat it as the year zero in the proleptic Julian or Gregorian Calendar, despite the fact that these do not even have a year zero. RootsMagic seems to treat such dates as the current year, which leads to various erroneous warnings such as Born after Marriage, just because you entered a birthday without a birth year. RootsMagic 3 does not do that. I sure hope this get fixed before the release.

New Year assumption

Like RootsMagic 3, RootsMagic 4 stills suffers from the assumption that the date is Jan 1 when you do not enter a year, and may thus complain that someone born on 1927 Jun 23 and died in 1927 is Born after Death. RootsMagic is not the only application to contain such mistakes, and I figured a workaround for this particular problem years ago; just enter the death as Bef 1928.

RootsMagic 4 does seem to do a more thorough job and find more problems than RootsMagic 3 does, but because of the many false positives the preview find, it is hard to be sure, and it certainly is not better yet.

place list

The place list dialog has a geocode button. It took RootsMagic just a few minutes to match all places against its place database. Browsing through the result dialog box, it seems to have matched most places and matched them correctly.

That seemed impressive enough already, but it really hits you just how fast and good the place matching is when you notice that it is merely dialog for the unmatched places, all the places for which it did it not manage to find an exact match. This is the dialog of its place name match failures, yet even that dialog box of non-matches seems better than Legacy’s dialog box of successes.

places within municipalities

This place name matching dialog box shows a list of possible matches to right, with a likelihood score next to it, and more often than not, the top selection is correct. The biggest problem seems to be that the database does not understand place names within municipalities - but it still shows that municipality as the likeliest match.
The RootsMagic 4 place name matching is not perfect, but it is already much faster and more accurate than that in Family Tree Maker, Legacy and Map My Ancestors.

disappearing act

The one thing I really do not like about the dialog is that it does not show the exact matches, nor the suggested matches you have accepted. As soon as you accept a match, it disappears from the dialog, leaving you to wonder whether it merely geocoded the place name with the coordinates of the municipality as a reasonable approximation, or actually replaced the place name with the municipality, thus losing valuable information. I fear it is the latter, which would be wrong.

mapping

Once most places have been geocoded, you may want to have a look at a map. Selecting by place name work fine. You can also choose a person to see their events mapped, but I encountered a practical difficulty selecting the right person…

RootsMagic 4 Preview mapping

This screen shot looks funny, but it is not. That is a real screen shot for a real database - my database. The mapping dialog includes a list of persons to select from, but there are no dates or spouse names to help you select the right individual from a bunch of identically named persons.

Although the RootsMagic 4 Preview seems to handle large databases quite well, with just a few noticeable slowdowns (for example, it took several seconds to show the people list in that dialog), the Preview’s people list has simply not been designed with the practicalities of large databases in mind.

stability

Participants have received several mails about known issues. I avoided these issues and did not encounter any stability issues at all. I got one low memory warning, perhaps partly because of RootsMagic, but even in that low memory situation, nothing went wrong.
RootsMagic 4 still has defects that need to be resolved, but its stability seems okay already.

performance

RootsMagic 4 feels faster than RootsMagic 3, but I was running RootsMagic 3 on a single-core Windows XP machine and I am running RootsMagic 4 on a quad-core Windows Vista machine. Perhaps it is actually a bit slower. The performance sure seems similar to that of RootsMagic 3, and if there is a speed difference, it is not big.

overall first impression

It is a preview so some issues are to be expected. The overall first impression is promising; RootsMagic 4 is rewrite that will offer more features without sacrificing speed, usability or stability.

2009-03-04 Public Beta

RootsMagic 4 is a Public Beta now. Sign up to get a key That’s valid till 2009 Mar 31. That suggests that RootsMagic hopes to release version 4 before that date.

link