If you are using Family Tree Maker, you probably need to start looking for another genealogy program. Kendall Hulet, Senior Vice President of Product Management at Ancestry, posted an article to the Ancestry Blog today stating, “We’ve made the tough decision to stop selling Family Tree Maker as of December 31, 2015.”
The announcement is available at http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2015/12/08/ancestry-to-retire-family-tree-maker-software.
This announcement shouldn’t surprise anyone. For several years, Ancestry.com has supported TWO interfaces: a web interface at http://ancestry.com that looks at the company’s online databases plus the Family Tree Maker software installed in Windows and Macintosh computers that looks at the same online databases plus allows the user to add more information with the option to keep the new information private or to share it online. In effect, Ancestry.com’s biggest competitor for some time has been Ancestry.com! It’s tough when you compete with yourself.
Next, Ancestry.com traditionally has announced new upgrades to Family Tree Maker every September or October. This year, there was no such announcement. That led to some speculation that a major change was underway.
Of course, the entire computer industry is moving away from software and databases installed in desktop and laptop computers. The trend is to iPads, Android tablets, Chromebooks, and other devices that store both data and programs in the cloud. Such storage typically is more secure and more reliable than keeping programs and data in a free-standing computer where it is sensitive to hard drive crashes, user errors, and other problems. (You do have multiple backups of your data, correct? With cloud-based services, multiple backups are made for you automatically.)
The cancellation of desktop and laptop programs isn’t new. Adobe already has switched many of its products to cloud-based equivalents. (Details may be found at https://www.oracle.com/cloud/index.html.) Microsoft’s Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) has been available for some time in two versions: the traditional desktop and laptop version and the cloud-based version called Office 365. (See https://www.office.com.) I suspect the desktop/laptop version of Microsoft’s Office will go away one of these days. Google Docs has already become a strong competitor of Microsoft Office and is free for personal use.
Email software used to always be installed in the computer. Email programs including Eudora, Thunderbird, Pegasus, and others used to be installed in almost everyone’s personal computer. Now those programs have largely disappeared, replaced by cloud-based programs (Gmail, HotMail, Outlook.com, Yahoo Mail, and others).
In the genealogy world, Personal Ancestral File was canceled years ago and The Master Genealogist also disappeared some time ago. Now Family Tree Maker is suffering the same fate. I doubt if today’s announcement will be the last one we read of a Windows or Macintosh genealogy program being canceled by its producer.
Another sign is that almost no new, full-featured genealogy programs for Windows or Macintosh have appeared in recent years. All the programming efforts now seem to be devoted to mobile apps for tablets and cell phones or cloud-based applications. I suspect we will see more Windows and Macintosh genealogy programs disappear within the next few years.
I see this as a positive step. Cloud-based applications open up possibilities of collaboration with other genealogists as well providing safer and more reliable databases that don’t disappear with a hard drive crash. Of course, changes always make many people uncomfortable. Users of Family Tree Maker are now facing discomfort.
The fact that Family Tree Maker is being dropped shouldn’t be a major problem for anyone. There are numerous alternatives. In fact, if anyone prefers to stick with a desktop or laptop program, there are many good ones available for Windows, Macintosh, and even for Linux. Changing to a different product certainly will be inconvenient, of course. There will be a learning curve to overcome. However, the use of GEDCOM files will transfer the data. Some manual clean-up is usually required after a GEDCOM data transfer, but that should still be a lot less painful than re-typing everything!
Current Family Tree Maker users have three options to choose from:
1. Keep using the current version of Family Tree Maker for some time. It will not stop working any time soon. Perhaps an upgrade of the Windows or Macintosh operating system will break something in Family Tree Maker someday, but that probably won’t happen for a while. There is no need to rush to a new product. Perhaps a bigger risk is that support from Ancestry.com for the now obsolete Family Tree Maker will end on January 1, 2017. If you have a problem after that date, you will not receive support from Ancestry.com.
2. Switch to a different desktop or laptop genealogy program. There are many excellent genealogy products available for those systems. I plan to publish a number of articles about available Windows and Macintosh products over the next few weeks.
3. Start transitioning to a cloud-based genealogy service. There are two versions of cloud-based genealogy applications available: one method where you share a database with thousands of other users and the other method where you maintain your own private database in a cloud service where no one else can access it without your permission. Family Tree Maker users probably are already familiar with Ancestry.com’s web interface. They may choose to use that. However, that certainly is not the only choice available. MyHeritage.com, The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding, webtrees.org, WeRelate.org, FamilySearch.org, WikiTrees.com, Heredis, and others all have excellent web-based products as well. Again, I plan to write about the cloud-based genealogy services over the next few weeks.
If you are looking to switch from Family Tree Maker to a different product, I also suggest you stop and consider your long-term solutions. Do you want to switch to a different desktop or laptop application? If so, what is the life expectancy of THAT program? You could switch to a cloud-based program, but I will warn you that those programs have both great strengths and major weaknesses. For instance, most of today’s cloud-based programs do not have nearly the variety of printed reports that are contained in most desktop and laptop program.
Every genealogist should evaluate today’s offerings and also try to look into a crystal ball to see what lies in the future as industry trends keep shifting. As for me, I am moving to the cloud. My coming articles will explain why.