Modern Software Experience

2008-10-15

It’s Our Tree

It’s Our Tree is a social genealogy website. It is the English language site of Verwandt.de, which operates multiple sites to support multiple locales.

Home Edition

One problem with social genealogy sites is that your data is on some server outside your control. Most sites allow you to backup the data to your own PC by exporting it to GEDCOM. It’s Our Tree already offered GEDCOM export, but has now gone one step further, by offering It’s Our Tree Home Edition.

It's Our Tree Home Edition About Box

Well, I think it’s real name is It’s Our Tree Home Edition, but the image of the CD cover they posted with their 2008 Oct 13 announcement spells the product name as "Its Our Tree Home Edition". It’s a giggle-worthy production error, That’s what it’s; it is not just a typo or editing mistake, they actually managed to get their own logo wrong. That somewhat embarrassing error is not just on the CD-cover, but in the setup wizard and the program’s About Box as well.

download

It’s Our Tree Home Edition (IOTHE) is a program for Windows. The CD-cover suggests that the company has produced a CD-ROM to hand out at trade shows and such, but it’s a free download. It is a small download too, less than 3 MB.

installation

The setup wizard allows you to change the installation directory, and I suggest that you take advantage of it by changing the rather silly "Home Edition" into "ItsOurTree" or "ItsOurTree Home Edition", so that you’ll actually know what program it is when you browse the directories. The same goes for the Start Menu folder.
Other than the need to pick reasonable names, setup was blissfully uneventful and fast.

starting up

Once the setup is done, it offers to start the program. The program shows a tip on start-up, and manages to annoy by maximising its window until you size it just once. It does not try to connect to the Internet.

international

Verwandt.de’s international approach is immediately evident. The program offers a choice of user interface languages; Dutch, English, Spanish, French, German, Polish, Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese. IOTHE has a menu item to bring up a character map, and it does not bring up some pathetic dialog box with just the 256 "Windows ANSI" characters like Legacy does, but it actually brings up Windows’s Character Map utility, which let’s you pick any Unicode character you like.

The program initially display a menu only, but as soon as you add at least one person, a toolbar appears. I tried creating a tree from scratch to get an initial feel for the program and found the user interface to be fairly straightforward, but way too dialog-happy. You do one thing, you get a dialog, you choose some option, you get another... sigh. It isn’t as bad as TMG or Relatives, but it is annoying.

help files

The program does not include a help file, it includes ten help files; one for every locale it supports. That sounds fantastic, but it isn’t. All the help file contains is the erroneous logo and a link to the website. It doesn’t contain any help, and the web site does not have help pages for the program either. The German help file is the only one with real content. For the other languages, there might just as well be no help file.

saving

Another problem is that the program let’s me edit the tree without ever asking for a filename or saving it. It doesn’t ask whether you want to save until you exit the program. That is rather odd considering that the Home Edition’s raison d’etre is to save your genealogy files locally...

Like other program that allow you to edit without saving to file, IOTHE allows you to edit just one family file at once. You cannot load two files and compare them to each other. You can start it twice, but until the vendor documents this possibility explicitly, I do not recommend taking advantage of it. It might be programming mistake, and if the two instances of the program confuse each other, it might be your data that suffers.

import and export

creating a file

I decided it was time for the usual import tests, but performing these seemed unusually difficult.

I tried creating a new file by choosing File | New and thus walked smack into a serious interface blunder; File | New does not bring a File Open dialog box, it brings up the program’s New Person dialog box instead. There is an Edit | New Person... menu item, yet the File | New menu item does exactly the same; even after creating a person record (which should not be necessary), you still do not get an File Open dialog box. You need to go back to the menu and choose File | Save. When you do, the program defaults to saving in a subdirectory of the program directory...

File | New merely annoys with a New Person dialog box and does not make a new file at all. File | Save will save a file, but default to the program directory instead of a proper data directory. I sure do not expect perfection from a 1.0 program, but basic issues like this make me wonder whether anyone at Verwandt ever bothered to try and test this program before releasing it.                   

import export menu item

There is a "GEDCOM import export" menu item on the file menu, but it is greyed out. When I start creating a file by creating persons, it remains greyed out. When I try to save the file, and specify a file name, the program does not save the file, but pops up a message box cryptic error message instead: "The file format requires the specification of a creator". Only when you click OK does it present a properties dialog box for entering your own details. IOTHE wants you to specify your own details before saving the file, but instead of simply presenting the dialog box, it puts up an annoying messagebox first.

That dialog box has several options. It does not just let me specify my name and address, it also lets me specify the home person and the date format. The date format defaults to YYYY-MM-DD and that may seem right, but it is not, because the format the program export too does not support that format.

The "GEDCOM import export" menu item remains greyed out.

native format

I don’t think there is anything you can do to enable the "GEDCOM import export" menu item. It seems to be a dead menu item, another indicator that no one bothered to test this program, yet that matters little.
After playing around with the program for a while, it became obvious to me that it does not have a native file format at all.

It turns out that IOTHE does not have its own file format. It was created to read and write the same GEDCOM files that the It’s Our Tree web site read and writes. You do not need to choose File | Import or File | Export, because File | Open and File | Save already support the GEDCOM format.

Having a date format option for GEDCOM files does not make sense, because GEDCOM’s date format is not configurable but fixed. Now, IOTHE actually supports a few other formats, but the date format option should not be presented for GEDCOM files.

character encoding

The File | Save had not asked me to specify a character encoding. Turns out that it saved the file in UTF-8. That’s the best possible default encoding, one that will not lose any data. The only complaint here is might be that it did not offer a choice, but every other program should support UTF-8 already.

Now, there is a little thing about UTF-8 that even PAF gets wrong; GEDCOM 5.5 does not allow UTF-8. To use UTF-8, you need to use GEDCOM 5.5.1 - and IOTHE gets this right! The GEDCOM it created dos not only default to UTF-8, it also specifies the GEDCOM version as 5.5.1. There are only a few programs that get this right, and IOTHE is one of them.

GEDCOM import

IOTHE does not automatically save the files you import, so the import speed was measured by first importing the GEDCOM file (File | Open) and then saving it again (File | Save). The time need to navigate to the proper directory and picking a file name thus become part of the total import time.

For the 1 MB GEDCOM the raw import time was about 6 seconds, the save time about 15 seconds, and the total import time 30 seconds. Obviously, a better user interface would allow an import time of 21 seconds, but 30 seconds is not particularly bad.

mediocre

It ain’t bad, but performance with small files does not mean much, so I moved on to importing the 100k INDI GEDCOM. During import, IOTHE displays nothing but a progress bar. While it takes its sweet time importing the data, its CPU usage keeps hovering around 50 %. The program fails to repaint its main window until the import is done.

Raw import time is 28m14s, but the import is not done until the file has been saved for future use. After file save, the total import time is 38m15s. That’s mediocre performance. It is faster than Legacy 7, even faster than Legacy 6, but slower than Family Tree Maker 16. The older FTM 16 is considerably faster than FTM 2008, but it is not a speed demon. The five year old PAF 5.2.18 is more than ten times as fast as the brand-new IOTHE version 1.0.

import log file

There is no import log file. Not in the source directory, not in the target directory, not in the program directory, there just is none.

After exploring the program for a while, I found that it does support the creation of log files, but that this feature, so essential for figuring out whether anything went wrong, has been turned into an option that is off by default. Verwandt really needs to review the default settings of this program.

Alas, turning the import log option on does not provide a real import log. It only provides you with a dialog box after import that allows you to save a file. That is not a real import log. A real import log is written as event occur, so you can see how far an import got when the program crashes. IOTHE will only offer the option to save an import log when it finishes importing your file, much like Family Tree Builder. Such a post-import report is considerably less useful than a real import log.

A minor issue with changing the options is that the internationalisation still needs a bit of work. The program shows your Import GEDCOM options as benutzerdefiniert. That’s a rather befuddling word, unless you happen to know that it is German for user-defined.

file saving

slow save

An import time of some 38 minutes for the 100k INDI GEDCOM is far from the worst import time, but notice that the file save took 10 minutes - and that it take ten minutes every time you save, however small your change, because IOTHE always rewrites the entire file. That is unworkably slow; it is unreasonable to have to wait ten minutes every time you save a change.

memory hungry

During the import phase, memory usage seems fine. According to the Windows Task Manager, IOTHE usage climbed to138 MB, which is acceptable. During export however, the Task Manager showed IOTHE to be using more than 550 MB; IOTHE uses more than half a gigabyte to write a GEDCOM file of just 43 MB.

overwrites source

I was rather unpleasantly surprised to find that the save command did not save to the same file as before, but actually overwrites the file you imported from instead! I have backups and can recreate this file by exporting it from PAF again, but this is a very serious mistake indeed. I should not need the backup because I re-saved a file. It sure reinforces the impression that no one at Verwandt bothered to do even the most basic usability tests.

deletes before save

Overwriting the source file instead of saving the current file is a serious mistake, but it isn’t the worst yet. The worst mistake is that IOTHE bluntly starts overwriting your current file before it is done writing the new file. It deletes the old file before saving the new file. If the application or system crashes during the ten minutes it takes to save the file, a lot of data will be lost.

default

When the data was loaded, the program did not default to the INDI record with ID 1, but to record 329. I noticed that her last name is Aalbers, but there are other persons called Aafkens, so it is not because she comes first when all persons are sorted alphabetically.

Let’s say that it took about an hour, then it took 60 × 60s × 2.7 GHz × 50 % = 4.860.000.000.000 CPU cycles to accomplish nothing. It’s a stunningly inefficient unaccomplishment worthy of the Guinness Book of Records.

exiting

With the data loaded, exiting the program seems to take forever. It is not saving the file, yet exiting the program actually takes more than half an hour. During that time, IOTHE fails to repaint its window, and Windows adds the dreaded "(Not Responding)" to its title bar. Exiting the program is the simplest operation of all, yet after half an hour, IOTHE was still using 50 % of CPU to do nothing. I let it run and when I checked back several hours later, the program had finally exited.
Let’s say that it took about an hour, then it took 60 × 60s × 2.7 GHz × 50 % = 4.860.000.000.000 CPU cycles to accomplish nothing. It’s a stunningly inefficient unaccomplishment worthy of the Guinness Book of Records.

Killing and restarting the program is considerably faster than just exiting it.

ANSEL

Because IOTHE does not offer a choice of encodings on output, I wondered how well it supported different encodings on input. I particular wondered whether it supported ANSEL. I created a small ANSEL file to test it, and discovered that it does support ANSEL on input.

rationale

That makes it a bit surprising that it doesn’t support ANSEL output, but not entirely. ANSEL is pretty good character encoding, but it does not support all Unicode characters like UTF-8 does. Exporting to UTF-8 is the right thing to do, so why allow the user to shoot themselves in the foot letting them pick something else?

The only limitation of the UTF-8-only policy is that you cannot import the file into programs that do not support UTF-8, but when you think about it, That’s a good thing too. You really don’t want to import your data into programs that, some 20 years after the introduction of Unicode, 15 years after the formalisation of UTF-8 and nearly a decade since the release of GEDCOM 5.5.1, still do not support UTF-8 GEDCOMs.

GEDCOM XML

IOTHE supports GEDCOM 6, also known as GEDCOM XML. That makes it the first desktop program to do so. FamilySearch published a GEDCOM XML draft in 2002, but did not follow that with an actual standard, and seems to have abandoned its GEDCOM XML effort.
As far as I know, no vendor ever supported it. I noticed that Geni.com toyed with when they were about to add GEDCOM support, but Geni.com currently supports GEDCOM 5.5 as it should.

IOTHE does not just support GEDCOM XML, it also support GedML, which is a fairly straightforward XML variant of GEDCOM 5.5 by Michael Kay.

It even supports Comma Separated Value (CSV), which may come in handy if you want to import to or from a database or spreadsheet.

Export of the 100k INDI file to GedML takes 10m20s, export to GEDCOM 6 takes 14m47s. The export to GedML results in a 60 MB file, the export to GEDCOM 6 in a 75 MB file. The program defaults to same filename for both - it just uses the *.xml extension. It also offers to open the output file once it has created. If you say yes, it opens the file in Internet Explorer. Now, IE can handle XML files, but it just wasn’t designed to open XML files of 75 MB, so it’s best to say no.

The GEDCOM 6 and GedML support are half-hearted; IOTHE will export to GEDCOM 6 and GedML, but not import from it.

features

This first version does not have many features. There are no reporting options, there is no HTML output. It does have one feature that far too many other program lack; a consistency check.
I tried running it on the 100k file. Loading the file is the same as importing a GEDCOM, it takes more than 28 minutes, and waiting so long for your data to load sure is a test of patience.

consistency check

The consistency check is pretty fast. It took about half a minute to check all records. It is also pretty useless. Once IOTHE is done checking, it presents a dialog box with the results. You can save the text it shows there as a file, but by itself the text is too minimal to make much sense. You can click a line in the results pane to go to the offending record, but when you do so the window disappears, and the program does not even show the message you clicked anymore. What really worries me is that this poor interface made me run the consistency checks again, and that it did not find the same number of issues the second time round. Consistency is the one thing I expect from any computer program, when it does not deliver that, I get really worried.

Nor do I like a flood of messages such as "Child 'Janna' has already different parents:". One or two such messages indicate a problems in the database, a flood of such messages indicates that the program is confused by guardians and adoptions.

home person

You can set the home person, but even when I explicitly opted for record 1 in the options dialog, the program did not show record 1. I tried navigating to it by choosing the Edit | Go To menu item, and that turned out to be a mistake. When you choose that menu item, you do not get a dialog that let’s you enter an ID, but a progress dialog box you have to wait for while the program builds an alphabetical list. That takes about a minute and a half, after which you have to scroll through a list using a dialog box That’s way too small for the purpose.

statistics

One silly feature is the statistics menu. How much sense does it make for a program to not even produce an import log, and not have reports, yet show statistics?

call names

Most people have a calling name based on their actual name. For example, Jeanette is called Jenny, and Albertus is called Albert or just Ab. In Germany, call names are registered officially, so you’d expect a German program to have explicit support for call names. Verwandt.de is a German company, yet IOTHE does not support call names.
There are several menu options for nicknames that strongly suggest that the author confused nicknames and calling names, and is treating these two concepts as if they are one and the same. It does import nicknames correctly.

HTML output

IOTHE does not support HTML output, and I wonder whether Verwandt will ever want to add it. They are offering IOTHE as an offline editor for your data on ItsOurTree.com. They don’t want you to generate your own web pages, they want you to upload your data to their servers.

You’d expect some option to upload and download your data from within the program, but there is none. There is a File Link option in the Options menu, but that is not to upload your data, it is to associate the *.ged extension with IOTHE.

weird menu item

There is one menu item I don’t even want to try. The edit menu has a "Delete Group.." item. It allows deleting entire groups from your file, such as all ancestors. I have no idea why anyone thought that capability would be a Good Thing, but I am curious now. The German help file describes the option, but does not explain what you need it for. I really look forward to an updated help file that explains just how useful this feature is.

technology

INI

The program directory contains an empty itsourtree.ini file. When the INI file is empty it might just as well not be there, but the bigger issue is that new software should not be using INI files, it should be using the Windows Registry instead.

Delphi

It’s Our Tree Home Edition appears to have been written in CodeGear Delphi, including Pierre la Riche’s FastMM Borland Edition, a memory manager That’s faster than Delphi’s own memory manager.

Unicode controls

IOTHE does not seem to have been created using the fully Unicode-enabled Delphi 2009, but using Delphi 5 with the TNT Unicode Controls. The TNT Unicode Controls were originally offered by TNTWare, but since 2007 Mar 27 part of the TMS Unicode Component Pack. The free but unsupported older versions can still be downloaded from elsewhere on Internet.

LibTiff

IOTHE includes the LibTiff image manipulation library. The current version of LibTiff is 3.8.2 with 4.0 in alpha, but IOTHE uses LibTiff 3.4 Beta 037. LibTiff 3.4 betas were released in 1998.

zlib

IOTHE uses zlib by Jean-Loup Gailly and Mark Adler. The current version of zlib is version 1.2.3, released on 2005 Jul 18, but IOTHE uses 1.1.3, released on 1998 Jul 9.

ALQuickSortList

It uses ALQuickSortList. This component is so old that there is hardly any reference to it on the net. It was produced by Arkadia, but the domain name it used back then has been in use by a real estate firm for years.

decade

The setup program is Inno Setup version 5.2. That seems the be the only reasonably recent component, and it is not part of the program itself. Delphi 5 was released in 1999 and all the components used to build this program are about a decade old. That makes you wonder whether the program itself is that old. Perhaps parts of it are, but the program as a whole is not. It supports GedML (1999 Feb 16), GEDCOM 6 (2002 Jan 23) and it has an ItsOurTree.com (2007 Nov 26) logo.

conclusion

general

This is a true Unicode program, and it writes UTF-8 GEDCOM 5.5.1 files, but the user interface seems untested, overall performance is mediocre, and its file save is not just unreasonably slow, it is dumb and dangerous. IOTHE’s file save function does not just overwrite the source file but also deletes the current file before writing a new one. If anything happens while it saving the file, data loss is a certainty.
Exiting the program takes incredibly long too, but that hardly matters; the aforementioned issues earn it a strong discommendation already.

data files

There is no native format. The program loads and saves to GEDCOM, and does that so slow that you wouldn’t want to use even if it was an otherwise great program. There is no import log file. The program does not support an import log. It only supports the creation of a post-import report, and that option is off by default.

IOTHE does not support ANSEL output, but it does support ANSEL input. Remarkably, it does not just support GEDCOM 5.5.1, but GEDCOM 6 and GedML too. That support is export only, IOTHE won’t import from it. Right now, the support for these formats is largely a curiosity, but to anyone interested in these formats it’s good to know that this program will write it.

features

The program is multilingual, and has a help file for each locale it supports, but these files are essentially empty files. The program has few features. The one feature I was happy to see, the consistency check, disappointed with its poor implementation. The program will create a few lists, but does not support proper reports, does not support HTML output, and does not provide upload to or download from itsourtree.com either. This program should not have been released as 1.0, but as an early beta.
Although IOTHE is a German genealogy program, it does not support call names.

slow

Many operations brings up a progress dialog box before bringing up the dialog box you really want, and IOTHE does not seem to have been coded for speed. Practically everything about this program is slow. Its lack of performance is about as frustrating as Family Tree Maker 2008.

performance

IOTHE’s memory usage is not as bad as FTB’s. In fact, IOTHE’s memory usage seems pretty reasonable until you decide to write a GEDCOM. Still, its overall performance is plain horrible. Its file load is slow and its file save is slower. The slow load and save are not the performance problem. IOTHE is not as dialog-crazy as TMG, but it is certainly pop-up happy. IOTHE continually annoys by popping up more boxes than necessary. happy and truly aggravates by displaying progress bars before many of its dialog boxes, often making you wait more than a minute. Exiting the program seems to take forever. The performance issues make IOTHE unsuitable for anything but tiny files, with just a few hundred, perhaps a few thousand persons it it.

testing

IOTHE seems have undergone internal testing that is about as rigorous as that for the infamously defective Family Tree Maker 2008. The issues with this program are so basic that they could hardly have escaped notice if Verwandt.de had bothered to do some internal tests at all, but they apparently thought that testing is not necessary.

overall

Right now, IOTHE is a database program without a database, and its performance ranges from poor to pathetic. Most of these performance problems would be solved if IOTHE were upgraded to using some native database system with indexes. That upgrade upgrade should also solve its defective file handling.

file handling

IOTHE isn’t a code-page based program like Family Tree Builder. It is a true Unicode program, but it does share basic design mistakes with MyHeritage Family Tree Builder. Its file handling logic is just as broken and just as scarily defective. Like MyHeritage Family Tree Builder, It’s Our Tree Home Edition is a danger is to your data.

epilogue

It’s Our Tree Home Edition is a danger to your data. This review would have ended with that warning if I had not wondered why there was something familiar about the program, and how an ostensibly new program came to use ten year old technology. The answer, of course, is that it isn’t a new program at all, but one that has been around for a small decade already.

Ahnenblatt

The About Box of It’s Our Tree Home Edition lists the author as Dirk Boettcher. Dirk Böttcher is best known as the author of Ahnenblatt, a German genealogy program. He apparently started development in 1990, and released version 1.0 in 2001.

The first international version was Ahnenblatt 2.50, released in May of this year, and that is what IOTHE seems to be based on. I downloaded Ahnenblatt 2.53, the latest version, and gave it quick whirl.

rebranded

The It’s Our Tree blog post that announces Home Edition claims that we developed a free software, but that is simply not true. It’s Our Tree Home Edition was not developed by Verwandt.de. IOTHE 1.0 is a re-branded release of Ahnenblatt 2.5.

Well, re-branded and stripped; the original Ahnenblatt program offers a lot more than IOTHE does. Ahnenblatt has a native database format (*.ahn), it supports HTML output, will create a few diagrams, and is available in a portable version, It will create Tiny Tafels, has options to burn to CD and will also export to Plucker, an e-book reader for Palm OS and Windows Mobile devices. Ahnenblatt does not take forever to exit, but exits promptly. It does not take half an hour to load a file, and ten minutes to save a file. After importing into native format, Ahnenblatt takes about three seconds to save the file and about ten seconds to load it again.

Its muscles have been ripped out, and it is left gasping for CPU cycles, to try and move its bones with nothing but skin and tendons.

Ahnenblatt Anorexic

I’d love to say that IOTHE is a Light edition of Ahnenblatt, but it is a half-destroyed Ahnenblatt. It’s Our Tree Home Edition is not Ahnenblatt Lite but Ahnenblatt Anorexic. It is Ahnenblatt without a native database format. Its muscles have been ripped out, and it is left gasping for CPU cycles, to try and move its bones with nothing but skin and tendons.

Once you know that It’s Our Tree Home Edition is really Ahnenblatt Anorexic, you also know that you should avoid it, and evaluate Ahnenblatt Original instead.

updates

update 2008-10-15 version 1.01

I started this review on 2008 Nov 13 with version 1.0 (1.0.0.4). The program does not check for updates, but I checked the download page, and found version 1.01 (1.0.1.1). Neither the download page, nor the versions.rtf file included with the program details what the differences are.

update 2008-10-27 dishonest press release

The It’s Our Tree blog announced the software on 2008 Oct 13. Now, two weeks later, the company issued a press release which starts off with Users have to pay up to 84,- USD for family tree software at Amazon.com. However, today the family social network itsourtree.com has released its desktop software called “Home Edition.”. That sounds as if It's Our Tree Home Edition is the first and only free genealogy software on the planet, which is emphatically not the case.

The press release claims that the Home Edition offers state-of-the-art usability and technology., but the truth is that the technology it uses is ten years old, many versions behind and no longer supported, and its user interface is far from state-of-the art, but would in fact be unremarkable on Windows 95. Apparently, the It’s Our Tree co-founders do not care much about truth in advertising.

The press release goes on to say:

Itsourtree.com co-founder Sven Schmidt states: Like Google’s strategy of turning the expensive Keyhole software [Earth Viewer] into the free Google Earth, we decided to offer a software that is usually pricy for free.

Co-founder Daniel Grözinger adds: This is a thank you for all the support we have got from our users. This also extends our internet strategy of offering top quality at no cost.

That comparison is not just grandiose - It’s Our Tree is no Google - but wrong and dishonest too.
It is wrong because Google Earth has several editions, and only the basic edition is free. It is dishonest because the software that It’s Our Tree offers is not usually pricey at all. It's Our Tree did not buy a company to start giving their expensive software away, but merely arranged to create a branded variant of an application that is freeware already. While Google continues to improve Google Earth at is own expense, It’s Our Tree removed features from Ahnenblatt to make their Home Edition. They did that in such a way that Home Edition is a danger to your data - that is a far cry from top quality.

updates

name change to dynastree

It’s Our Tree has changed its name to dynastree (all lower-case), perhaps in part because of the problems it had spelling its name. Consequently, It’s Our Tree Home Edition is now known as dynastree Home Edition.

2011-04-24

FamilySearch has broken the link to the GEDCOM 6.0 draft. The broken link has been removed.

Please see the GEDCOM Alternatives article for current links to this document.

GEDCOM import

file1 MB GEDCOM100k INDI GEDCOM
time30s38m15s
time in seconds302.295
INDI per second162,0743,60
bytes per second35.186,5016.906,05

product details

propertyvalue
productIt’s Our Tree Home Edition (IOTHE)
version1.0
organisationVerwandt.de
websiteIt’s Our Tree Home Edition
pricefree download
requirementWindows 95 or better
notesupports GedML and GEDCOM 6
Verdictslow and seriously defective
Ratingdangerous

links

It’s Our Tree Home Edition

It’s Our Tree (Dynastree)

also mentioned

genealogical data formats

technology