The Sad State of Mac Genealogy Software
Posted by Jamis on May 15, 2005 @ 08:08 PM
I’ve recently been experiencing a renewal of interest in family history research. About 4 or 5 years ago I did quite a bit of work on my genealogy, but what with kids (and Ruby!) I’ve only recently rediscovered that passion.
Unfortunately, this renewal of interest coincides with my adoption of Mac OS X. I say unfortunately, because I have looked and looked for a decent genealogical program for OSX and am frankly astounded by the lack.
“Lack” is probably too strong of a word. There are actually quite a few applications for the Mac, and a few of them are even free. But I have been less than impressed what what I’ve seen.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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. 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 also looked at several free applications for the Mac, and they either were extremely minimal, funtionally, or they used the GEDCOM file directly. (I’ll forego a second rant.)
I know there are some decent apps that run under X11 (like GRAMPS), but (for one) I don’t want to have to install all the million little dependencies those have, and (for another) I’ve never found those apps very well suited for my style of research.
Frankly, the only genealogy application I’ve ever really liked is the Personal Ancestral File versions 4 and 5, which only runs on Windows. I really don’t want to have to do all my research on Windows. Really. I cannot use Windows anymore without becoming extremely frustrated.
So, unless someone can point out another option for the Mac that I haven’t already looked at, I’m thinking about writing my own. (This is one of the “need” applications I mentioned in my last post.) In general, web-based genealogical programs are very difficult to use for anything other than browsing one’s database, but I’ll probably use a simple Rails-based interface so I can work out the data model, and then I’ll try and learn ruby-cocoa in order to make a prettier UI.
- Scale to tens of thousands of individuals.
- Easily navigate the database, not only from parent to child and child to parent, but jumping to specific individuals quickly.
- An evidence system that isn’t just an afterthought. Sources are critical to genealogical research, a fact which too many apps seem to overlook.
Anyway, we’ll see what comes of this. Regardless, I’ve got to find something.