Top critical review
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Great online sources, clunky PC software, pinch nose and buy anyway
on December 2, 2011
Ok, so why would I rate this only two stars ("I don't like this") and still recommend to purchase? Despite all the flaws of the software (some discussed below) when the cost of the Platinum version of the software is equal to, or less than, the cost of a 6 month subscription to Ancestry.com this is still a good deal. The main reason is that Ancestry.com's genealogy resources and databases are so extensive and outstanding you'll still benefit from having access. For me, being able to retrieve Ancestry.com's scanned images of primary documents is paramount as it allows for an offline archive of primary sources. In the end, the software generally does what it purports to do and is a nice platform for me when I either don't have internet access, or no longer have an active Ancestry.com subscription.
Family Tree Maker (FTM) continues to have the feel of a platform that is annually tweaked, modified, appended, and upgraded in bits and pieces. FTM is due for a total rewrite from the ground up. Without that, the entire interface feels confusing and inconsistent. After six months of steady use of the 2011 version, and about 3 weeks using this 2012 version, I'm still constantly fumbling to figure out where I am, where my documents are, and just generally navigating around. You do eventually figure things out, but with a better and more consistently designed interface new users will have much less grief. I.e., if you are going to be a new user, you will have grief.
Good design would allow a user to search for documents for an individual, then quickly save an image to your local PC and automatically link the image to that individual. Makes sense to me. Anyway, this is the SIMPLIFIED AND ABBREVIATED version of how this actually happens:
The documents you retrieve will continue to reside on FTM servers, so when your subscription expires, you will be able to see the citations to the documents, but you will not be able to retrieve the images. If you want to save local copies of images of documents existing independent of an ongoing subscription, you have to jump through a lot of hoops. Say you use the web search feature and pull up an image of a 1900 census page from Wichita, KS. Looking at the scanned image, you click on "Save" and you get a box that gives you several options, one of which is "Save to your computer." You click on that radio button to save and . . . you get a popup that tells you HOW to save an image by "right clicking" and such (I already KNEW how to do that - why doesn't "save" just "save?") Ok, you mouse over the image, right click, "Save as ..." and save the image to your hard drive. You THEN have to find the option to "Add media" and point to the location of your newly downloaded image. You THEN have to click on the Media tab and link the image to an individual (you can link same image to multiple people). If you succeed, when you next go to that individual person's record and click on the Media tab, you should see the document image. You click on the thumbnail to view and WHAT? IT'S BLURRY? ILLEGIBLE? They don't tell you that to get a legible version of the image you had to blow it up inside the image viewer BEFORE saving in the first place. Viewing the image at 50% size, you'll have saved a 50% downsized image that when sized up appears blurry.
I like a locally based PC version of my family tree(s), including supporting imagery files. FTM doesn't make this easy so be aware of this before purchasing. In the end, I'd STILL recommend purchasing the Platinum version for the access to the Ancestry.com sources, but I'd replace "learning curve" with "frustration curve." You CAN do it (I do), but stay calm (I don't).
A couple of other nit picks:
The "Shoebox" only stores stuff on the web. There is no similar "Shoebox" offline. No amount of synchronizing PC and online trees will put Shoebox items on your PC.
The auxilliary software wouldn't cleanly install and was unable to find a certain .cab file in an expected directory. I found the file on the CD and put it in the expected directory and all went fine. End users shouldn't have to have the ability to hack a defective install script.
UPDATE 12 DEC 2011: I was doing my research at ancestry.com using the web interface (not the installed FTM software) on a workstation where FTM was not installed and was attaching images of census pages, World War I draft records, etc. to various family members. I went home and synchronized with the desktop software and, lo and behold, copies of the images were automatically downloaded! Now, the media doesn't appear to be attached to individuals, but this is still a good thing. Though, You have to continue to explicitly link each of these downloaded images to individuals. My overall review stands since the interface doesn't make these kind of interactions seamless. The software is STILL 2 stars in my book because images should be downloaded and linked automatically in my opinion.