Friday, December 11, 2015

Of Software Zombies
and Franken-Computers

That deafening outcry you heard last Tuesday was the sound of countless Family Tree Maker customers reacting—negatively, if you couldn't tell—to's announcement that it will be discontinuing sales of its desktop software.

The announcement itself prompted well over seven thousand Ancestry customers to weigh in on the decision, a response which brought on the management's acknowledgement that the still-remaining comments were "curated" and addressed in a follow-up post which itself generated nearly four hundred additional comments.

All was not quiet in the genea-blogging world following that bombshell. Dear Myrtle hosted a Google Hangout on Air on Wednesday—after which she embedded the video on her blog—asking, "Is there life beyond Family Tree Maker?"

Widely-followed geneablogger Randy Seaver re-posted Ancestry's announcement on Genea-Musings, as well as his take on the situation and a logical analysis of the options available to FTM users and an updated list of alternatives—complete with sales details as other vendors rush in to capitalize on fill in the void.

Online reactions were instantaneous. Up in Canada, Olive Tree Genealogy creator Lorine McGinnis Schulze offered her own version of "Keep Calm and Carry On." Leland and Patty Meitzler provided a link to a petition being circulated to implore Ancestry to reconsider their decision. Most telling was the sidebar showing how many "likes," Tweets and other shares there were in response to the announcement. News has a way of getting around. The Family Tree Maker announcement even has its own hashtag—a less enviable token than you'd usually presume from the world of Twitter.

Still, despite the angst over this turn of events—especially at what one observer reminded us is "the busiest time of year,"—I can't help but side with the calmer voices amongst us:
  • Sales stop the end of this month, true, but customer support continues for another year.
  • There are other genealogy database management options out there.
  • Perhaps commercially-developed genealogy-specific software "solutions" are not the best option, after all.
  • There are still ways to use "discontinued" programs.

True confessions time, here: can I tell you which version of Family Tree Maker I'm still using? Yeah, I know I have the FTM 2014 version in a downloadable disc...somewhere in my office. But that's not what I use. Yeah, still.

Perhaps you remember my rant, back when Microsoft made its own product-killing announcement about discontinuing support for Windows XP. My main reason for frustration then was that that meant the last straw for my genealogy database management program. At least, that's what I thought.

It turned out that my version of Family Tree Maker actually was designed to be compatible, not with Windows XP, but with Windows 95. Yes, that's right: my desktop-resident database program of choice is Family Tree Maker—version 4.40. And yes, it still works.

Back before the earth's crust cooled, and the company selling Family Tree Maker was not but Broderbund, my 1998 version was the program I relied on to gather all the notes, resources, and behind-the-scenes odds and ends for my own family tree. Somehow, I made it what I needed it to be. Yes, upgrades have come and upgrades have gone—not to mention buyouts and company takeovers—but I kept chipping away at my genealogical unknown and adding the tally of those conquered mysteries to my database.

Somehow, before I looked up, I had an annotated collection of well over fourteen thousand names. The system worked for me and—thanks to a husband who isn't afraid to gut the innards of a computer and replace them to his liking—despite having moved on to an upgraded computer with its newer operating system and sleek online capabilities for the rest of life, I still use that old clunker FTM software. It's a dinosaur and I know it, and it's on a computer that I no longer need to use to go online. We'll just keep calm and carry on with our software zombie and the Franken-computer that keeps it alive.

The fact is, computer-based and online commercial entities will come and go. Remember the dot-bomb era? There's a reason they called it that. Nothing is forever—especially when it shows up online. Some things don't even last until the warranty's out, let alone a lifetime. Get used to it. We all need to learn our lesson from the various online properties that were here—BIG—yesterday, gone tomorrow.

Even though they may seem like it, online properties are not part of the public square. Don't be fooled by the trappings of forums and instant feedback. If an Internet entity is a commercial entity, it is private property—even if you posted your thoughts, your work, your research on that company's site. And when that company decides to pick up its toys and play elsewhere, that is its prerogative. Yeah, it's nice when big companies listen to the little guys. But they don't always do that.

If that reality sounds harsh, forgive me. I certainly sympathize with every FTM user's dilemma. But it's not that difficult to see the handwriting on the wall. This time, that handwriting was talking about Family Tree Maker. But there will always be a next time. Our task is to see it and take heed.   


  1. I learned a lesson with the demise of XP - and that is make sure my customers don't get too far out of date with their software - it's a painful problem otherwise.

    I hope you can export/backup all your stuff and that it can be imported into something new(er) if need be!

    1. I guess I'd make a terrible customer ;)

      Actually, the way I resolved my dilemma was to start from scratch when I began my subscription to Ancestry--kind of like a Genealogy Do-Over, only long before everyone else started talking about that. But of course, I kept my old database. I have way too much time and effort invested in that program to just give it up. And this way, I have two sets of family records: one online and one resident in my desktop. Really, it's the best of both worlds.

  2. The computer world is continually changing. Yesterday Windows Live Writer bit the dust and is supposed to be picked up by something called Open Write what a mess. I wouldn't mind paying for a program that works. I think I will just put a blanket over my head for a few days:(

    1. I guess that's why they say the only thing that doesn't change is change, itself...


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