Dec 3, 2021

(+) Leave Your Existing Genealogy Program Behind and Look to the Future

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.

Are you thinking about upgrading to a new computer, possibly including an upgrade to a new operating system? If so, this article is for you.

Over the years, a number of popular genealogy programs have been discontinued. Do you remember Personal Ancestral File, The Master Genealogist, CommSoft’s Roots 5, Carl York’s The Family Edge, Quinsept’s Family Roots, Ultimate Family Tree, or SierraHome’s Generations 8.0? Those and a number of other, lesser-known genealogy programs have all faded away over the years. May they all rest in peace.

The reasons for each program’s demise vary, but a few themes seem common. Obviously, a lack of customers is often a major factor. Developing software, distributing it, and supporting it with a customer service department is not cheap. Any program needs to sell a lot of copies in order to generate enough revenue to cover expenses and hopefully to generate a profit for the producer. Some programs never sold enough copies to achieve profitability.

Another huge expense is updating the software frequently to add new features and to keep up to date with rapidly-changing technologies. For instance, several genealogy programs were written in programming languages using dBase or FoxPro databases, products that were dropped by their producers years ago. The genealogy programmers kept using the database technology as long as they could, but eventually problems crept in. The most common problem was compatibility with Windows. New releases of Windows might break or at least hamper the databases used in some genealogy programs.

One genealogy program suffered a similar, but slightly different, problem. After working well for a number of years, a new version of Windows was introduced by Microsoft. The program would no longer print when installed on the new version of Windows. If installed on earlier versions of Windows, printing worked perfectly; but, the newer version of Windows from Microsoft made changes to the printing functions that were not compatible with the one genealogy program.

Paying for programmers’ time to rewrite existing software to make it compatible with the latest version of an operating system is expensive. Many small software producers with small customer bases could not afford to make the changes. If a company sells software for $30 and has only a few thousand customers, the company cannot afford to hire many more programmers.

Another problem is a bit subtle but just as deadly: implementing a modern user interface. Look at any program—genealogy or any other application—that was created only within the past few years and designed for use with Windows 8 or Windows 10 or Macintosh macOS. Then compare that to a similar program written ten or fifteen years ago for Windows 98 or Macintosh OS 9. The newer program probably has a modern “look and feel” when compared to older programs. Yet many of the programs that have been around for years look very old-fashioned by today’s standards. I can think of one genealogy program that runs under Windows, but it looks like it was written for MS-DOS.

NOTE to anyone who started using a computer in the past few years: MS-DOS was a primitive operating system produced by Microsoft before the company invented Windows. The original MS-DOS did not use a mouse and could only display very primitive graphics. You can read more about the history of MS-DOS in Wikipedia at:

Another issue is the addition of apps for handheld devices. The entire world seems to be enamored of mobile apps in the past few years. Indeed, the sales of Windows and Macintosh systems is slowly declining while the sales of tablet computers, smartphones, and other portable devices has exploded. Many of today’s genealogists want to carry their databases everywhere in a mobile device that weighs a few ounces, not in 3-ring binders and not in a laptop. Today’s genealogy programs that do not have companion apps for iPad and/or Android mobile devices are losing sales.

Finally, there is “the cloud.” Technology has changed to the point where it is now more practical and also more cost-effective to save your data in distributed servers in multiple locations. The high reliability, always backed-up capabilities keep your data safe and secure. Even better, with today’s “online everywhere” technology, you can access your data from home, from a genealogy conference, from a genealogy library or archive, from a hotel room, or even while riding in a commuter train. Cloud technology also keeps your information safe and secure from hackers, unlike individual computers.

Today it is practical and, in many cases, preferable to keep your own private genealogy database in cloud-based where it cannot be changed by anyone else in such products as MyHeritage, The Next Generation of Genealogical Sitebuilding, WebTrees, and other products that protect your data.

NOTE: I generally recommend you do not store your PRIMARY genealogy database in any online service that allows other people to change your carefully researched information. Those online databases that allow anyone and everyone to change your data are generally full of “genealogy fairy tales.” I would suggest you avoid such primitive products and instead focus on maintaining YOUR carefully-researched data, complete with source citations.

Of course, all this has a huge impact on all genealogists who use computers. What should you do if you learn that your favorite genealogy program will soon be discontinued? Another question is, “What should you do NOW to protect your investment in case your favorite genealogy program is discontinued at some time in the future?

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