Response (re: Sad State of Mac Genealogy Software)

A response to the article Jamis Buck posted about the state of Mac genealogy software. Unfortunately their server appears to be down right now, but you can find it in Google’s cache. This isn’t a rebuttal or a counter-point so much as it’s a response (I both agree with and disagree with some of what they said).

First off, I want to say this: If there are things that you don’t like about certain Mac genealogy applications, you need to let the developers know. If there are features you want, you need to let them know. Most of the Mac genealogy applications have developers who are easy to contact, either through forums or through email. They can respond much quicker than some of the developers for some of the larger Windows genealogy applications. They need feedback.

Reunion by Leister Productions appears to be the suite of choice for most Mac-using genealogy enthusiasts. Unfortunately, it is also butt-ugly. I can’t emphasize that enough. I’m sure there are plenty of ugly Mac programs, but I can’t believe people would pay $100 for something this hideous. It’s like they couldn’t decide on a color schema and so went for as many pastels as they could find. And the list of children, there at the bottom? What’s with the bizarre diagonal layout?

It’s not as good looking of a program as something like Delicious Library, I’m not going to deny that, but they’ve built their reputation and user-base over many years on functionality, stability, and easy of use (yes the children listing is weird). They also support a Classic version. The price is steep, no doubt about that. Three things though: you can buy this in a physical Apple Store, Classic (OS 8.6/9) users can still use the latest version, and they also advertise in Mac magazines. I can’t emphasize the last two points enough. It may not seem like a big deal, and they aren’t single-handedly responsible for keeping genealogy on the Mac platform alive, but those three points are important (of course the $100 pricetag in stores probably turns people off, when they can select from half a dozen Windows genealogy programs from $20-$50, but price isn’t the major issue here). The children thing bugs me as well (but it’s not a show-stopper).

That said, Frank Leister has indicated that Reunion 9 is being developed, and that Reunion will make the transition to Intel-based Macs. This can only mean (in my opinion, which I maybe wrong), that Reunion 9 is being coded in Xcode/Cocoa. This should lead to a better-looking UI (please change the children view), and the ability to add many more features.

Heredis is a bit better—it at least looks like a Mac application. But it follows a philosophy of “make everything available in a single window”, which I found a bit overwhelming. It also took forever to import my database (20k individuals), which doesn’t exactly make me confident in its ability to handle large databases. Not something I’m willing to spend seventy bucks on.

Heredis….well, I haven’t used it, and it’s been a while since anybody heard anything out of them. It has some interesting views (and as somebody on the MacGenealogy.org forums pointed out, Heredis has support for those families where”inbreeding” occured, which seems amusing on the surface, but actually can cause some genealogy programs to behave strangely when you look at the trees). I would still probably choose Reunion over it.

MacFamilyTree is the most visually appealing of the three commercial apps I checked out—I was very impressed by its look. However, my impression of it is that it would make a very good application for a beginning genealogist, who has a very small database. It doesn’t handle rapid data entry well at all, and it cannot handle databases larger than a few thousand individuals.

I can’t speak about its ability to handle a few thousand individuals, and if they want rapid data entry, one Mac genealogy programs that does support rapid data entry (according to a good friend of mine) is GEDitCOM (which they don’t mention). Otherwise, MacFamilyTree maybe the way to go for many Mac genealogists if price is an issue, or they are just getting started. It has a good price ($50), it’s constantly being improved (and I don’t mean simple bug fixes, they are continuously adding new features, even in non-major point releases). It’s also programmed in Xcode/Cocoa, and they’ve already built it as a “Universal” application (supporting PPC and Intel-based Macs).

A criticism they had of MacFamilyTree (and other genealogy programs that do this):

It also uses the GEDCOM file directly as the persistant storage, which does not scale. (A side-note: I cannot understand why so many programmers of genealogy software persist in thinking that a raw GEDCOM file is a good way to store genealogical data. It is a data transfer format, for crying out loud! Any program that uses the GEDCOM directly as the database is unsuitable for my uses, because the raw GEDCOM file as data storage mechanism cannot scale to tens of thousands of individuals. Figure it out, people!)

I had several reasons why I don’t mind the GEDCOM format being used as the primary data container, but exporting to GEDCOM invalidates most of them.

I think the most important issue I have is this : I don’t want to put in a lot of data, into a program that uses a propietary format. GEDCOM is very far from perfect, but in the unlikely event that everything that used GEDCOM went away tomorrow, I could still easily extract the information out of it. I’ve heard horror stories of people needing to pull data out of old data files that were proprietary in nature, and they no longer had the original applications (or didn’t have the ability to run them). You’ll occasionally see somebody posting on ancestry.com saying “I need version 3.01.49.2 of Family Tree that ran under Mac OS 7.x, so that I can salvage some files”. It’s rare, but using an open format does mean data portability.

Of course, GEDCOM 6.0XML is right around the corner, as this posting from About.com from November of 2000, points out: the LDS Church will soon be releasing version 6.0XML.

I agree with their requirements, but as far as scaling issues, I’m not so sure that it’s the applications themselves, but rather that it’s the environment they were coded in. A lot of carbon-apps have scaling issues. When I get time, I will test MacFamilyTree in this area, because it, like I said, appears to be using Xcode/Cocoa, and I would have thought that alone should make this a non-issue.

The evidence system is important. That is one thing that is lacking with Mac genealogy applications. I’ve wondered if you could hack something together in one of GEDitCOM’s views that would be more “evidence-oriented”. I don’t have enough experience with GEDitCOM to do so (nor do I have the time to learn another genealogy program).

There were FileMaker solutions in the past (that I guess were never updated or ported to OS X) that handled research and evidence, but they weren’t integrated in the genealogy applications – you ran them alongside your genealogy application, which is inefficient, when you get down to it.

If Reunion and MacFamilyTree added better evidence/research support (which in MFT’s case would mean abandoning the GEDCOM format as it’s main data format, while still retaining the ability to work with/export GEDCOMs, as any good genealogy program should), I would think the Mac community would be set.

After all that (you are still reading this?), I have a confession to make

I’m a hypocrite.

I use The Master Genealogist, GenSmarts, and VirtualPC.

There, I said it. Genealogy is one area where I failed to make the transition to Macs fully. I’d like to simply blame it on old habits and not wanting to learn new things, but Jamis made some good points, namely about evidence.

I also like the third party utilities that work with several of the Windows applications (GenSmarts being an invaluable tool to me).

That said, there is no perfect Mac or Windows genealogy software program.

One strong argument to be made for Mac genealogy software – while the fact that most of the programs don’t have the large teams/companies behind them like Windows genealogy programs (especially some of the programs that have the mega-genealogy companies behind them), that can be a benefit – it is a lot easier to interact with many Mac developers, and they are able to respond much quicker.

After everything I’ve said up there, I think Mac genealogy software is pretty healthy. Yes, they all lack extensive research/note capabilities, but there are plenty of 3rd-party notebook/outlining programs that are, in some ways, better than something that was tacked on. About This Particular Mac occasionally runs articles and reviews concerning these programs.

You have four commercial applications (Reunion, MacFamilyTree, GEDitCOM, Heredis), as well as a few free ones. You have a fifth application that will be commercial at some point (I believe, although it may remain free), called ohmiGene. It’s very new and appears to be progressing nicely.

I find it interesting that, considering genealogy is a niche segment in the Macintosh world, it’s able to support four (and possibly a fifth in the future) commercial genealogy applications.

I have more to say on the matter, especially where research/evidence is concerned, and how the Intel transition could effect things, but I’ll save that for another time.

One Response to “Response (re: Sad State of Mac Genealogy Software)”

  1. JBlack says:

    As a complete neophyte to genealogy and family tree software for the Mac, I found this summary useful. Hope it’s still relevant.

    Thanks

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