Warning: this article contains personal opinions.
I recently exchanged email messages with a newsletter reader who is looking for a replacement for his favorite genealogy program, the now-defunct program called The Master Genealogist. He raised some good points about today’s available genealogy products, and I responded with some of my views and predictions. I decided to write an article based upon our “conversation” and to also expand our comments as I imagine many newsletter readers also are interested in finding new and (hopefully) better programs.
First, let me write specifically about The Master Genealogist.
The Master Genealogist, usually referred to as TMG, was a very powerful Windows genealogy program. It had features that appealed to the serious genealogist who wanted a tool to not only record genealogy findings but also to track and manage the entire family history research process. TMG had an army of strongly dedicated users, most of whom seemed to enjoy wringing every last ounce of productivity out of the program.
Many TMG users are still using the program as it seems to work well on every version of Windows, from Windows XP through Windows 10. However, most of the users also realize that some day a new version of Windows probably will break some of the features in TMG. Future use of the program is not guaranteed. Since the program is no longer supported or updated, a large number of these users are thinking about replacing TMG with something that will hopefully be supported for many more years.
I do not know the finances of Wholly Genes Software, the producers of TMG, but I suspect the company saw declining revenues every year accompanied by either stable or increasing expenses for support and future development. No company stays in business very long with those opposing factors. In addition, TMG was written in what has long been an obsolete programming language, so the idea of porting it to a new language or even to new operating systems (Macintosh, Android, iPad, etc.) probably was cost-prohibitive.
While the decision to drop TMG and to close the doors of the company was disappointing to the customers, I imagine the owner of the company had no other choice.
Alternative Genealogy Programs
OK, here is the sad news for present TMG owners: there is no other genealogy program on the market that has the power and the advanced capabilities of The Master Genealogist. None.
That’s bad news for dedicated TMG users, but it is a fact of life.
There are programs that are better than TMG at various individual tasks, such as searching online databases, better at comparing family trees with distant relatives who have uploaded their family trees to a myriad of web services, better at providing user-friendly interfaces, and perhaps better at a number of other tasks. Indeed, there are more than a dozen excellent genealogy programs available today for Windows, Macintosh, and other operating systems.
However, I am not aware of any genealogy program available today that matches the power of TMG at recording all facets of the research process, at providing tools for evaluating genealogy evidence, and at a number of tasks that serious genealogists expect. Maybe there will be such a product someday, but such a product does not exist today.
Other Factors That Affect the Future of Genealogy Software
I read a lot of printed and online computer trade magazines. Over and over, I have read that the number of desktop computers being sold is dropping rapidly every year. In addition, depending upon which manufacturer’s report you read, the sales of laptop computers are either holding steady or else are declining slowly every year.
The only laptops that are growing rapidly in numbers are the cloud-based Chromebook laptops that run the Chrome operating system. The sales of Chromebooks are exploding for a number of reasons: they are very easy to use, very reliable, perform most of the tasks that every-day computer users want, have been widely adopted in the public school systems, and have very low prices.
The Windows 10 and Macintosh OS X operating systems only run on desktop and laptop computers if we ignore the tiny fraction of 1% of the tablet computers that can also run Windows. Anything less than 1% can safely be ignored; it is not a significant factor.
The bottom line is this: the number of Windows and Macintosh systems being sold is already dropping every year.
This leads to one inescapable conclusion: Windows and the Macintosh OS X operating systems are also slowly dying. If the only systems that run these operating systems are declining, the operating systems themselves are obviously declining as well.
To be sure, Windows and OS X will not disappear any time soon. Your present desktop or laptop computer probably will be very useful for a long time yet. I believe Windows will survive in ever-smaller numbers for at least another decade, especially in the corporate environment. Businesses seem to love their Windows systems and probably will keep using them for at least another 10 years, perhaps longer. Sales of Windows systems to in-home users are already declining rapidly and that trend undoubtedly will continue.
I am not as sure about Macintosh OS X. Apple apparently has already seen “the writing on the wall” and is slowly merging the advantages of OS X and the advantages of mobile iOS systems (iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch) into one powerful, but future, product. OS X will probably change radically into something new, perhaps with a new name, and then will continue for a long time.
It seems obvious to me and to many others that the trend is moving to mobile systems, namely iPads, iPhones, and Android tablets and cell phones. These tiny devices are selling like hot cakes. In my frequent travels to airports and on board airplanes, I see hundreds of portable computing devices, mostly those running Android or Apple’s iOS operating system.
Next, can you name a single brand-new genealogy program that has been announced for either Windows or Macintosh OS X in recent years? I am not referring to any new, upgraded release of an existing program. Instead, how many NEW genealogy programs can you think of that have been announced for Windows or Macintosh in the past 2 or 3 years?
NOTE: I can think of a couple, but they also seem to have since disappeared.
RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, Ancestral Quest, Family Historian, Family Tree Builder, Family Tree Maker, Reunion, MacFamilyTree, Heredis, GRAMPS, and other genealogy programs for Windows and/or Macintosh OS X are still being used by millions of people around the world; but, one has to question the future of these programs. If the number of Windows and Macintosh OS X desktop and laptop computers being sold every year is declining, what is the inevitable result for Windows and Macintosh OS X genealogy programs?
I will suggest that sales of these present programs will slowly decline.
Of course, many of the companies that produce today’s genealogy programs are releasing new versions for Android and/or Apple iOS. I believe that most of these companies will remain in business and will remain profitable as they adapt to changing marketplace demands. The growth of genealogy programs appears to be taking place in the mobile marketplace. Dozens of new Android and Apple iOS genealogy apps have appeared in recent years, some of them produced by companies that have been producing Windows or Macintosh products.
There is one “elephant in the room” that I have not yet mentioned: the cloud.
Cloud-based apps are taking over the world in many areas although apparently not yet in genealogy.
Google Docs seems to be destined to replace Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, OpenOffice, WordPerfect, and many other desktop/laptop word processors. Similar stories seem to be happening for Excel and other spreadsheet programs, for Photoshop, and for many computer games.
If the Windows and Macintosh computers are to slowly disappear, it seems reasonable that the programs for those operating systems will also become less and less popular every year. OK, perhaps not entirely. Again, almost all the producers of word processors, spreadsheet programs, photo editing programs, and games are rapidly creating new versions of their programs for Android, iPhone, iPad, and cloud-based operating systems. Most of them have also developed or are developing cloud-based versions. I predict that their Windows and Macintosh versions will fade away, but most of the companies will remain in business by selling versions for the newer operating systems and for the cloud.
Let’s examine cloud-based genealogy programs.
Cloud-based genealogy programs are available in two versions:
1. Many of the huge online database services digitize millions of records and make them available to their customers. I am thinking of the databases on MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com, Ancestry.com, and other online services. While valuable, I will ignore their company-contributed digital records for the remainder of this article. Instead, I will focus solely on services where individuals can upload their own family tree information for online storage and often for online collaboration with other genealogists. These are the online services that allow users to build their family trees on the web sites instead of in their personal devices.
2. In addition, there are only two well developed, state-of-the-art genealogy programs available today for implementation by single users in the cloud: The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (which I will abbreviate to “TNG”) and WebTrees, an open source, free genealogy program. Both of these programs are great for use by one person, by one family, or by one family association.
For more information about TNG, see http://www.tngsitebuilding.com.
For more information about WebTrees, see https://www.webtrees.net.
Note: Do not confuse the cloud-based TNG program (The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding) with the now-defunct Windows genealogy program called TMG (The Master Genealogist). These are two entirely different products, developed for different operating systems by different software developers. They are unrelated.
There are many advantages to using cloud-based programs, although not all of those advantages are apparent in today’s cloud-based genealogy programs:
1. Most of these programs can be used with a variety of operating systems— Windows, Macintosh, Linux, Android, iPhone, iPad, Chromebooks, and probably future operating systems that have not yet been invented. No longer will cousins using different operating systems have difficulty exchanging genealogy data or be restricted to the multiple problems of GEDCOM data transfers. If everyone is sharing data within cloud-based genealogy programs, everyone will have access to the same data. The choice of the user’s computer is now unimportant.
2. The security of cloud-based programs is equal to and often better than that of desktop and laptop computers. Admittedly, many people do not yet believe that. Yet today’s security techniques on cloud-based systems are far better at locking out thieves, hackers, and spies than either Windows or Macintosh.
Note: I had a Windows laptop computer stolen from the trunk of my automobile a few years ago. The thief gained access to all my genealogy information on the laptop’s hard drive, as well as my credit card numbers, my Social Security Number, the name, email addresses, and telephone numbers of hundreds of my relatives and business associates, my checking account information, my investment portfolio, and much more. Even the simplest cloud-based application has better protection than a stolen laptop computer that has not been encrypted! I spent weeks canceling credit cards and bank accounts and obtaining replacements. Such problems are rare in today’s strongly-protected cloud-based systems. Had I been using a cloud-based banking system, cloud-based credit card company access, and other cloud-based services, the thief would have accessed nothing personal.
3. In cloud-based genealogy services, sharing information theoretically is easier to implement and control than it is with desktop and laptop genealogy programs.
Notice my use of the word “theoretically.” Not all of today’s cloud-based genealogy services have implemented controls for sharing. However, TNG, WebTrees, and some of the huge online databases intended to be used by thousands of users provide options to keep your genealogy information private, to share it with only a few trusted relatives, or to make it visible to everyone on the World Wide Web. With many of these services, the user is in control of his or her own privacy. Be aware that there are exceptions, however.
The future of genealogy software appears to be in programs installed in the cloud, not programs installed in Macintosh or Windows computers. None of those programs contain the power of either TMG or most of the other Windows and Macintosh genealogy programs in the versions available today. However, they are improving every year.
Today’s cloud-based genealogy programs have capabilities that approximately match the genealogy programs of the 1990s, plus they are compatible with many operating systems and can support multiple simultaneous users. Those of us who have been using genealogy programs since the 1990s can report that the available genealogy software has improved greatly since those days. I am certain that today’s cloud-based genealogy services and even the mobile apps for Android and Apple iOS also will improve at least as much in future years.
The new cloud-based programs will not match the power of the Windows and Macintosh programs this year, probably not next year, and I doubt if they will be as powerful even the year after. But I anticipate that they will match and even surpass the power of today’s desktop and laptop genealogy programs within a few years. The genealogy programs of the 1980s and 1990s continually improved to become the powerhouses of today. I believe history will repeat itself: today’s cloud-based genealogy programs will continually improve to become collaborative services that do far more than anything we have today.
The way I see it, the future of genealogy software is in the cloud.