As most of our readers know, I belong to numerous on-line forums and discussion threads. Lately there have been numerous requests for assistance in the selection of Genealogy software. Hopefully this post will provide some help in that vein while making the responses obtained via email from the discussion forums both more meaningful and valuable.
The first thing to be aware of when you ask for help in picking software is that you will get your respondents biases along with their recommendations, even if they don’t mean to provide you their biases. Software after all is a reflection of both its users and authors. To help you sort through that challenge, you ought to think carefully about:
- what you have,
- what you need,
- what you want,
- what would be nice to have and also about
- what inconveniences you are willing to put up with…
To start, you need to think about the all functions you have currently, and those that you want to preserve going forward. Once you know those, you need to be very clear about what you hope to accomplish with the new tools you desire to evaluate/ purchase. Here are some items worth thinking about although I’d be remiss were I not to point out that this is neither a complete nor prioritized list (oh, and it reflects my biases).
Do you prefer a single user PC-based solution? If you do, then you need to consider the operating system you prefer to use (For example, I am a Linux user with little interest in either Windows or Apple OSes.)
The major Operating system options are:
- Windows (version)
- Mac (version)
- Linux (distro)
- Unix (distro)
- Blended OS environment (which OSes do you want…)
Do you want your genealogy information/ data published or shared on the Web? If so,
- Do you want everything hosted and managed on-line exclusively? (e.g. Ancestry.com)
- Do you want your genealogy information to be self-hosted? (e.g. TNG)
- Or do you prefer a blended site providing a subset of data from a PC application and reformatted for web based sharing? (e.g. ManyRoads)
Are there special functions you want to retain from your current or earlier systems, like your data? If so, then you need to consider how you will transfer the data from your old environment to the new one. Here are some other items you might consider:
- Do you have printers, scanners, multimedia devices, etc. that you want to use in the new environment? If so, you ought to test them out.
- Do you want to run your new system alongside some other system (maybe even your old one)? If so, you need a plan to make sure that happens successfully.
- Are you certain your old system can output data in a format that the new one can read/ understand? You should test that out or you’ll risk a serious failure.
How much money are you willing or wanting to spend on the new system? Here are some items that can impact your costs:
- Does the new software system run on your existing computing platform?
- Do you need to buy a new computer to make the software run?
- Do you need training to get the new system operational?
- Do you have a family geek to help you with your technical problems or will you need to pay someone for the help?
- How much does the software cost? (Remember Open Source software is free… e.g. GRAMPS)
- Does the software provider provide support? What does the support cost?
If you answer the above to your satisfaction, then you need to consider human factors… and don’t trust strangers to interpret ill-defined requests correctly for you. Questions like:
- Is it easy to use?
- Is it fast?
- How stable is the system?
- Does the software require a lot of technical know-how?
Responses to questions like these most certainly involve personal opinions and biases. One person’s “technical” is another’s “light-touch” user. “Complex” for one is “essential” or “robust” for others. You need to use and experience software in order to get a decent answer that fits your true needs and concerns. Asking is a start but it is just that, a start…