(+) 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. 

This article was inspired by the recent announcement that The Master Genealogist, a popular genealogy program for Windows, will soon be discontinued. (See http://blog.eogn.com/2014/07/29/the-master-genealogist-to-be-discontinued for the details.) However, the information here applies to any program that becomes unavailable or to anyone who perhaps is thinking about upgrading to a new computer, possibly including an upgrade to a new operating system.

This week’s announcement that a popular genealogy program would be discontinued was sad news, but not unusual. Indeed, similar announcements have happened over the years. Do you remember Personal Ancestral File, 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 year or two and designed for use with Windows 8 or Macintosh OS X.9. 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.

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. 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 heavy laptop. Today’s genealogy programs that do not have companion apps for iPad and/or Android mobile devices are losing sales.

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?

What to Do Immediately

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