Software

Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) Explained

NOTE: This article may appear to be unrelated to either genealogy or history. However, some genealogy software is released as Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) and a number of questions about such software have been posted to the discussion board on the newsletter’s web site in recent weeks. I thought a short article explaining the term might help others who have not yet asked “What is FOSS?”

Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) is exactly that: FREE. However, not all free software qualifies as open source.

I will classify free software into four groups. The first three are considered to be proprietary software. That is, the producing organization does not allow else to see the source code of the software the programmers created. The source code is private, or proprietary, information that only the employees of the producing organization are allowed to see.

1. Ad-supported free software

Free software is proprietary software that might be something created by a corporation or a non-profit organization and may contain advertising that promotes the products or services of that organization or perhaps purchase something from one their advertisers that pay to have advertising inserted into the free software. The producing company does not make the source code of the program public, however. You have to hope and trust that the free software does not contain viruses, trojan horse software, or other malware (malevolent software) that might steal your credit card information or bank account credentials or something similar. Facebook is perhaps the best-known free software that contains advertising.

Gramps 5.0.0 Released

Gramps is a FREE genealogy program originally developed for Linux and UNIX-like operating systems. However, it has since been ported to Windows and Macintosh systems as well. It is an impressive program, both intuitive for hobbyists and feature-complete for professional genealogists. Not bad for a FREE program! Gramps has thousands of users all over the world.

Gramps is a community project, created, developed and governed by genealogists. It is not developed and sold by any commercial company. Instead, you can download this program online and start using it immediately. There is no registration required, no spyware, and no invasion of your privacy. In fact, you can even download the source code yourself and examine it for any flaws or bugs. Once you are satisfied with the source code, you can compile it on your own computer. However, for those who prefer an already packaged version, you can download the executable program itself and simply start using it immediately.

A Report on “Which Computer(s) Do You Use?”

About a week ago, I published a 2-question poll asking newsletter readers Which Computer(s) Do You Use? 2,548 people responded and told which system(s) they use for genealogy tasks. I found the results to be interesting and decided to publish them here.

Question #1: What is your PRIMARY computer, the one you use the most for genealogy purposes, such as recording your own family tree? (Please check only one)

Answers:

With the Next Version of Microsoft Windows, Say Goodbye To Your Windows PC As You Know It

NOTE: This article is not about genealogy but I suspect many Windows users will be interested in it. If you are looking for true genealogy-related articles, I suggest you skip this one.

Huge changes are coming from Microsoft. A new rumor is going around that claims Microsoft is switching from SELLING Windows to RENTING it instead. Some users think it will be an improvement while others believe it will be a major step backwards to computing in the way it was done in the 1970s when very expensive mainframes did all the computing and all data input and output by humans was done by using remote “dumb terminals.”

Microsoft is getting ready to replace Windows 10 with the Microsoft Managed Desktop. This will be a “desktop-as-a-service” (DaaS) offering. Instead of owning your own copy of Windows, you’ll “rent” Windows by the month. Microsoft already does this with Microsoft Office 365. Other companies, notably Adobe, also have software rental models, replacing the old concept of purchased software.

Now It’s Easy to Publish Your Family History in an Electronic Book with Gedcom Publisher

John Cardinal is well-known for the excellent software products and services he has created, including the genealogy hosting service, Family History Hosting, and his products that produce web pages for personal genealogy web sites: Second Site and GedSite. Now he has a new product that produces electronic books (ebooks) containing the results of your family history research. These ebooks can be read on most ebook readers, such as an iPad, as well as on Windows and Macintosh computers. Here is the announcement:

Narragansett, RI – July 25, 2018 – Family History Hosting, LLC is pleased to announce Gedcom Publisher.

Gedcom Publisher is a ground-breaking application that creates an electronic book in EPUB format by combining text and images you enter with information taken from your GEDCOM file. Gedcom Publisher knows the ins and outs of constructing a book in EPUB format, and it knows how to read your genealogy data. That means you can focus on the content of your family history book.

“Digital publishing is very popular,” said John Cardinal, CEO and Founder of Family History Hosting, “and it’s likely that when our grandchildren mature, most if not all their reading will be e-books, not paper books. That’s why we should create family histories using electronic books.”

Digipulse Sends Access Information about Your Digital Assets After You Die

If you should pass away unexpectedly or simply become unable to manage your own affairs for any reason, who will step in and manage your digital assets? Such assets might include passwords to web sites, access to Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies, documents of any sort that are stored in your computer(s) or in the cloud, and any other digital items that need to be passed on to your heirs or caretakers. One new service uses the latest technology to securely make the information available to those who need it, but only after you can no longer control the information yourself.

Digipulse operates a decentralized asset encryption and distribution storage service, meaning that your uploaded files will only be accessible to you and your designated recipients. “Decentralized” means there is no one place that a hacker can go to to find the information you wish to keep secret. Everything is encrypted and broken up into pieces, and then the pieces are stored in different servers. Of course, normal backup procedures are also in use, as is typical in most cloud-based services. Everything is managed by a blockchain.

The Scanner in Your Pocket or Purse

NOTE: This is an update to an article I wrote four years ago. A newsletter reader asked about scanners today and I wanted to refer her to my old article. However, when I looked at the old article, I found some of the information I published four years ago is no longer accurate or relevant today. In addition, there are several new apps available today that did not exist four years ago. Therefore, I updated the article with today’s information and am re-publishing it now.

pixel-xlGenealogists have lots of uses for scanners. We like to make digital images of information from books, court records, old maps, and even records found on microfilm. High quality portable scanners are inexpensive these days, typically $50 and up. You can occasionally find them at even lower prices if you watch the sales. However, convenience is always an issue. Do you really want to carry a portable scanner with you at all times just in case you happen to encounter something you want to digitize? Actually, you probably already have such a scanner with you every time you leave the house.

Today’s Apple and Android smartphones typically have excellent, high-quality digital cameras built in. These make terrific scanners. Need to digitize a record in the deed books or the receipt you just received from a fast food restaurant? Make sure you have good lighting and snap a picture of it. I have been doing that for years and find it works well.

OldNews USA – an Online Search of Old Newspapers

OldNews USA is the app that won the RootsTech 2017 Innovator Showdown. It makes it easy to find interesting stories and articles in historical US newspapers, using the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America collection of over 11 million newspaper pages from 1789 to 1943. Quoting from the OldNews web site:

Designed for both genealogists and history enthusiasts, OldNews USA makes getting started with historical newspaper research easier than ever. With OldNews USA, you can quickly discover interesting stories and articles in historical US newspapers, using the Library of Congress Chronicling America collection of over 12 million newspaper pages from 1789 to 1963.

With OldNews USA, you begin by entering who or what you are looking for. If you want to find articles about a person, all you need to enter is a name, a date range, and a location.

Is My Virus Checker Telling the Truth?

Virus checkers are wonderful tools-— when they work. The problem is that you never know if they are telling the truth or not when they claim to have detected a virus on a web site or in a file on your computer.

The problem is called “false positives.” This happens when a virus checking program says there is a virus or there is a POSSIBILITY of a virus when, in fact, there is no virus in the web site or in the file. Sadly, this happens thousands of times every day, mostly to Windows users.

My favorite reference for this issue is How To Tell If a Virus Is Actually a False Positive, an article written by Chris Hoffman four years ago that still seems to be very accurate. He wrote:

“Your antivirus will complain that this download is a virus, but don’t worry — it’s a false positive.” You’ll occasionally see this assurance when downloading a file, but how can you tell for sure whether the download is actually safe?

A false positive is a mistake that happens occasionally — the antivirus thinks a download is harmful when it’s actually safe. But malicious people may try to trick you into downloading malware with this assurance.

The article may be found at https://www.howtogeek.com/180162/how-to-tell-if-a-virus-is-actually-a-false-positive/.

Google Podcasts

Google now has its own podcast app called Google Podcasts. OK, there’s not much originality in that name but, then again, it is obvious what the app does and who produced it. If you have an Android phone, you can head over to the Play Store and obtain it right now. Google Podcasts is available free of charge.

Google Podcasts allows you to LISTEN to whatever the podcast creator(s) produces. It works on all sorts of podcasts. I assume it works not only on Android phones but also on tablet computers and other devices that use the Android operating system, although I didn’t test that. However, I downloaded it and installed it on my Android phone this morning and immediately subscribed to a half-dozen genealogy-related podcasts. That app worked well on all of them. If you don’t know what genealogy podcasts are available, Google Podcasts will help you find them. Once you install the app, open it, click on the magnifying glass icon (that means “search”), and enter: genealogy

Polarr Photo Editor is Available Free and (Optionally) Requires No Installation in Your Computer

I know that many genealogists frequently use photo editors to improve or restore old family photographs and for a myriad of other uses. If you would like to do the same, you might already be aware that the two leading photo editing products are Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud) which is only available as a subscription service for $20.99 US per month, and Photoshop Elements, which retails for $99.99 or is also available as a subscription service for $9.99 per month.

NOTE: Adobe, the producer of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, often bundles other products along with the company’s mainstream products and prices vary frequently as various bundles go on sale. Always check the Abode web site at http://www.adobe.com for the latest offers.)

While Photoshop CC and Photoshop Elements are both great products, they tend to appeal primarily to professional photographers and to other business users who can justify such expense. The prices often discourage casual users who only want to edit a few pictures on their home computers. As a result, a number of lower-cost alternatives to the Photoshop programs have become popular, including:

A new DNA Matrix Chart is now Available in Charting Companion

Progeny Genealogy has introduced a new chart in its popular Charting Companion software that provides a simple way to visualize DNA test results, in the context of a Descendant chart.

The DNA Matrix combines a genealogy database (Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, Legacy, etc.) with the CSV match files that result from DNA tests. It shows the amount of DNA shared by people in the family tree. It can highlight errors, or confirm hypotheses.

Announcing the GEDCOM 5.5.1 Annotated Edition

Tamura Jones is a well-known genealogist and blogger. He has long had an interest in the GEDCOM method of transferring data between genealogy programs. He, like many of us, has been frustrated by the numerous shortcomings of GEDCOM but, unlike the rest of us, he decided to do something about it. Tamura has now released a new FamilySearch GEDCOM 5.5.1 Specification Annotated Edition. You can read more and download the new specification at https://www.tamurajones.net/GEDCOM551AnnotatedEdition.xhtml.

Comments by Dick Eastman:

GEDCOM was created by and is still supported by FamilySearch. It remains a product of FamilySearch, not of Tamura Jones. As Tamura writes in his specification, “This is not a new GEDCOM version. This is an enhanced edition of the current GEDCOM version. The Annotated Edition is the full FamilySearch GEDCOM 5.5.1 Specification, improved with corrections and enhanced with annotations.”

Version 12 of the The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (or “TNG”) has been Released

This is big news for one of the most sophisticated genealogy products of today: TNG. It is a genealogy program that installs on a web server and can be used by one person alone or by hundreds of genealogists at once. It is especially useful for family members working together to document their family history and to genealogy societies and other organizations involved in multi-member research efforts. The following announcement was written by Darrin Lythgoe, the man behind Next Generation Software:

SANDY, UT: A major upgrade for The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (or “TNG”), is now available from Next Generation Software. TNG 12 includes many enhancements and new features, plus security and user access improvements. Existing users can purchase the upgrade at a discount by returning to their previous download page.

This release also includes three new template designs, plus added functionality for several others, and a new language is supported (Chinese). Several media handling functions have been improved, and two privacy-related tools have been introduced. Significant upgrades have also been made to the DNA testing feature and the Mod Manager, which allows users to easily install or remove add-ons.

Zotero: Your Personal Research Assistant

Zotero is a cloud-based service that automates and documents much of your research on the web. Did you find a web page about an ancestor? Or how about a page that describes the town in which your ancestors lived? How about creating a “To-Do List” for future research tasks? Do you need to create a bibliography for the article you are writing? Zotero can do all that and much more. In fact, Zotero is a FREE, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share research.

NOTE: I’ll describe the differences between the free version and the paid storage options later.

Zotero is a project of the Corporation for Digital Scholarship and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. It was initially funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. With credentials like that, you know the product is not some fly-by-night service created by a single individual in his or her garage!

Zotero Storage synchronizes PDFs, images, web snapshots, and files among all your computers, allows you to share your Zotero attachments in group libraries, and makes them available through the zotero.org website. The program bears a strong resemblance to both Evernote and to OneNote except that it is optimized for research tasks, not for general-purpose note-taking. The program works on Windows, Macintosh, Linux, or from a web browser (although the web browser version has somewhat limited functionality). Unfortunately, there is no version for Android, Apple iOS, or Chromebooks.

Create a Digital Diary and Your Descendants will Thank You

Diaries written by an ancestor are amongst the most valuable family heirlooms of all time. Whether it is a diary written by a soldier in wartime or a day-by-day account of life on the farm, these daily journals provide great a understanding of the lives of our ancestors. However, this begs the question: Are you creating a diary with a plan to leave it for your descendants?

An article by David Nield in Popular Science magazine says:

“Keeping a daily journal lets you practice writing, organize your thoughts, and preserve your habits and events for posterity. But who has the time and energy to sit down for a dedicated recording session every day? Instead, jot down your entries on the go—by keeping the tome on your phone.”

Indeed, writing an electronic journal can provide great benefits to yourself when you need to go back and recall an event or some instructions from your past. However, if preserved properly, the same journal can provide a greater understanding of your life for other family members long after you are gone.

Is It Time to Try a Newsreader?

Your paperboy just got smarter. This article will tell you how to easily read more information on the Internet in a shorter period of time. In short, you can use much of the Internet without all the clutter.

I used to spend 2 or 3 hours per day visiting specific web sites over and over in an attempt to find new information. I regularly visited CNN.com looking for news, weather.com looking for the latest weather forecast for my home town, various stock market web sites, and, of course, genealogy sites looking for information about a variety of topics. The old method meant visiting each and every web site, one at a time, then waiting for the page to appear on my screen, then looking at menus to find the new information, waiting again for the new pages to appear, and so on. It was a tedious way to search for new information.

Today I can accomplish the same thing within a very few minutes instead of spending hours searching for elusive information. Today I “subscribe” to CNN.com, weather.com, and several hundred other web sites. New information automatically appears on my computer’s screen whenever I want; I no longer have to open a web browser to visit dozens of web sites in search of new information. I only see new information. Older information that has already appeared on my screen earlier is not displayed to me a second time. Most of the advertisements are also not displayed although a few do manage to appear. The result is in the a form of a “custom newspaper” designed for me, containing new information about topics of interest to me.

Update: Tropy – A New App that Helps Create Order out of Research Disorder

This is an update to an article I published yesterday that adds a bit more information about the product. Tropy is program that provides a method of organizing the photographs and scanned images you take of various documents encountered during your family history research.

Tropy is a FREE, open-source desktop application for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux that is designed to help researchers organize and describe the photos and scanned images they make in archives and elsewhere. The program will group photos, annotate images, add metadata, export to other applications, and easily search their collections.

On the downside, Tropy only allows researchers to import photos as JPEGs, PNGs, and SVGs. It does not import PDF files.

A Cell Phone App Stops You from Accidentally Dating your Long-Lost Cousin

This app only works in Iceland. I was in the country last year and learned about it from several local residents.

With a population of only 320,000 people, Icelanders all know that everyone on the island is related to everyone else. In some cases, they might be closely related, such as second cousins. This presents a quandary when dating: is your date a candiate for marriage or perhaps could such a marriage lead to an incestuous relationship?

MacFamilyTree 8.3 is On Sale at 50% Off

Synium Software has an offer that will appeal to many Macintosh owners. MacFamilyTree is a highly-rated Macintosh genealogy program with an outstanding user graphic user interface. While it has many available options, perhaps the most notable feature in MacFamilyTree 8.3 is the new “CloudTree – Sync & Share“ added in version 8.

CloudTree is a FREE service that allows the user to (optionally) store genealogy information in the cloud and share it with relatives. All new updates to the CloudTree instantly become available to others, who may view it on their Macs, iPhones, or iPads. The other users who have access to the family tree may be able to add new information or, if you prefer, you can make your family tree available as a read-only version instead. Although all entries are synced via CloudTree, all your information is still available locally on your Mac, iPhone or iPad, allowing you to continue your genealogical research when your device is offline. CloudTree will automatically sync any changes once you reconnect to the internet.

MacFamilyTree also works with MobileFamilyTree 8, a full-featured genealogy app for iPhone and iPads that is also produced by Synium Software.