Modern Software Experience

2009-04-09

 

RootsMagic 3

RootsMagic 3 supports the creation of web site. It has an Internet | Create a web site... menu item that brings up the WebWizard.

One of the things you to choose is a project name. That project name is then used as the name for the directory that will contain the web pages.

RootsMagic 4

 dialog box

RootsMagic 4 still has the Internet menu, and the WebWizard. At first sight , nothing much seems to have changed. The RootsMagic 4 dialog contains the same dialog items as the RootsMagic 3 dialog, and each dialog item still offers the same choices with the same defaults. Well, almost the same items. There are a few changes.

help

The RootsMagic 4 dialog box is missing the help button. The help file is still there though, just press F1, it is only the button that is gone.

fonts

Another change is that the RootsMagic 4 dialog box no longer offers a choice of fonts. That is probably because upon reconsideration, letting you choose between Serif, Sans Serif and Monospace did not seem a very good idea. It is much better to let the user’s browser pick a reasonable default font.

Anyway, version 4 no longer supports a choice. You can still quite easily modify the font if you really want to by modifying the style sheet that RootsMagic 4 generates.

location

An problem with RootsMagic 3 is that it defaults to creating its web projects in the RootsMagic program directory. RootsMagic 4 defaults to creating its web projects in your Documents directory.

RootsMagic 3 does not allow changing the directory the project will be created in, RootsMagic 4 does.

extension

It is a minor annoyance that RootsMagic still defaults to using the *.htm extension, and not the *.html extension. There appears to be no option to set the preferred default for all web projects.

date format

The date format defaults to the format used in GEDCOM files, which is the best format of those it supports. Sadly, RootsMagic 4 does not support the international date format yet.
RootsMagic still supports antilogical date formats, but avoids confusion caused by the unnatural order of the date components by never using a number but always using an alphabetic abbreviation for the month.

project

The second dialog box still asks you to provide a title, an introduction, a picture, your address and your email.

RootsMagic 4 still does not allow setting your details once, as a default for all your genealogy databases, like PAF has been doing for years. When you do set the preparer for your database, the WebWizard still does not pick it up.

You have to re-enter your own details every time you generate a few web pages. That really is annoying, as you have to run the Wizard for every report you want to publish on the web.

layout

header and footer

The third dialog box of the WebWizard still expects you to enter any header and footer you might like as HTML. There is still no possibility to just provide some text and style in interactively.

colours

The default colours have changed a bit, but you can still choose any colours you like. There is still no option to save colours schemes. Nor is there an option to save and restore an entire style sheet.

RootsMagic 3 included some ready made background patterns, RootsMagic 4 seems to lack those. This is a defect that will be fixed with the next update.

items to include

The dialog where you specify what items to include in the report, as well as the privacy options, has changed a bit. The major change is that the options for sources are no longer in an pop-up dialog box, but in the main dialog box itself.

result

Both RootsMagic 3 and RootsMagic 4 create fairly simple web sites. I would go so far as to call them unappealing.
That there is nothing fancy about the is actually a good thing; pick the colours and background well, set the header footer right, and the result may blend well with the rest of your site.

I did notice that the code generator is not very smart. I tested by creating a small file without sources. Both versions created a link to a page for sources, but did not produce the page, not even an empty one.

That this basic mistake persists in the new version suggests that testing of the Web Wizard has not been a top priority. That is not entirely surprising, many people use third-party tools to create web sites anyway, but a fundamental improvement may make the web site creation capabilities of version 4 a lot more popular than before.

improvements

Superficially, RootsMagic’s web creation does not seem to have improved much, if at all, but that impression is wrong. The Web Wizard has improved.

live spell check

The first improvement you may notice is the live spell checking within the Wizard, for example when you enter some text for the Introduction. RootsMagic 3 does not spell check that. RootsMagic 4 performs the spell check as you type, and can provide suggestions.

quality

The major difference between the RootsMagic 3 and RootsMagic 4 WebWizard is in the quality of the resulting pages.

tag soup

RootsMagic 3 generates tag soup, pages that only work because browsers are so smart. As bad as that sounds (and is), those pages are still high quality compared to what many other genealogy applications produce, and seem near perfection when compared with the output of The Master Genealogist.

The pages that RootsMagic 3 makes contain hard-coded colours and fonts. RootsMagic 3 makes limited use of style sheets. The practical upshot is that it is hard to modify these pages to your liking.

HTML compliance

The RootsMagic 4 Web Wizard is almost the same as the RootsMagic 3 web wizard, but it was rewritten to produce somewhat better output.

The RootsMagic 4 output still isn’t HTML 4 compliant, so it certainly isn’t XHTML complaint; RootsMagic stills need to make a few improvements to the code generation.

tables for layout

Apart from that, the biggest technical complaint that remains about the quality of the RootsMagic 4 web output is that it still abuses tables for layout. It is not just the pedigree chart (admitted the hardest to do) that is still created by abusing tables, RootsMagic 4 still abuses for overall page layout, and those tables are still hard-coded instead of styled.

real difference

In fact, after comparing RootsMagic 3 and RootsMagic 4 output there seems to be just one real difference: RootsMagic 3 uses a style sheet embedded in the page, while RootsMagic 4 uses an external style sheet, named styles.css.

RootsMagic 3 produces pages that contain this:


<style>a.lnk:link{color: #0000C0; text-decoration: none; }a.lnk:visited{color:
#0000C0; text-decoration: none; }a.lnk:active{color: #0000C0; text-decoration:
none; }a.lnk:hover{color: #C000C0; text-decoration: underline; }a.navlnk:link{color:
#FFFFFF; text-decoration: none; font-weight: bold; }a.navlnk:visited{color: #FFFFFF;
text-decoration: none; font-weight: bold; }a.navlnk:active{color: #FFFFFF; text-decoration:
none; font-weight: bold; }a.navlnk:hover{color: #FFFFFF; text-decoration: underline;
font-weight: bold; }body {font-family: Tahoma, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;
color: #000000; }</style>

RootsMagic 4 makes a style sheet (styles.css) that contains essentially that and then produces pages that contain just this:


<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="styles.css" />

That change is a worthwhile one that has several advantages.

smaller, faster, cheaper

The resultant pages are considerably smaller. That makes them load faster. If you pay for bandwidth usage, it easily reduces your bandwidth bill by more than 10 %.

The savings are that significant. I created the same pedigree with group sheets in both version 3 and version 4. The files that version 3 created totals 1.113.522 bytes, while the total for version 4 is 960.570 bytes; version 3 uses 16 % more disk space and bandwidth for the same site.

CR/LF

I did note another difference that contributes to the size difference; the RootsMagic 3 output uses multiple lines. That increases readability of the code, but each CR/LF pair separating two lines is another two bytes.

The web pages that RootsMagic 4 creates do not contain CR/LF pairs. That makes it harder to read the code, but it does shave a few percent of the total file size. It is a sensible move; browser do not need the CR/LF pairs, and humans can always reformat the code to their linking before having a look at it.

easier to modify

The 16 % difference is caused by the switch to an external style sheet. I have not looked at every detail, but it is my impression that the quality of the pages seems otherwise unchanged.

Still, this is an important change. Now that there is a central style sheet, their look is easier to modify. You do not need to modify every single page, but can change the appearance of all pages by changing the style sheet.

The style sheet is not big. There are not many options to change yet, but this is probably just RootsMagic’s first step in the right direction; a web site with a layout that is fully modifiable through its style sheet.

conclusion

hardly different

The RootsMagic 4 WebWizard is hardly different from the RootsMagic 3 WebWizard. The major difference is in the output; RootsMagic 3 still uses embedded styles, while RootsMagic 4 uses an external style sheet (styles.css). That makes the RootsMagic 4 pages smaller, faster and cheaper.

external style sheet

The use of an external style sheet allows you to modify fonts, colours and background for all pages at once without having to modify them all or recreate those pages. You can develop our own style sheet for use with RootsMagic 4 output. to make its pages match the rest of your website.

quality unchanged

The quality of the pages seems otherwise unchanged. The RootsMagic 3 output is better than that of most other genealogy applications, but I remain adamant that computer applications have no excuse for producing anything but fully compliant HTML.

tables for layout

RootsMagic still abuses tables for layout, and those pages are hard-coded; their appearance cannot be changed through the style sheets.
If RootsMagic were to use style for layout, the pages might easily see another 10 % reduction in size and become truly customisable.

links