When Software MacKiev first announced that they had purchased Family Tree Maker (FTM) from Ancestry.com, they stated in an online FAQ that owners of FTM 2014 and FTM 3 would receive free updates (Fig 1). It seemed to me that the FAQ implied that the updates would come out the same time as the new versions were for sale on their store.
I think many other people interpreted the FAQ the same way, judging by comments on the Ancestry blog and message boards. An email dated 4 March 2016 from MacKiev confirmed my belief; it stated, “Users of FTM 2014 and Mac 3: Hang in there! FREE updates are coming. They will be available in about a week or so through the built-in update feature. We will send you an email to let you know as soon as they are available.” While FTM did go on sale again on 1 March, the update was not pushed out to current users. I later found out that there was a delay in MacKiev getting access to the familytreemaker.com website, which is how the updates were pushed out. But it’s almost May now, and I still haven’t heard when the updates will go out.
So on 20 April I reached out to MacKiev president, Jack Minsky, and spoke with him by Skype. He explained that the update will go out very soon. They don’t want to send it out until it’s ready, which it nearly is. They want to fix as many bugs as they can that have been identified by users who bought the updated versions from their website. They’ve sold almost 10,000 copies since 1 March, so that’s quite a few new users to find problems that were previously missed. Jack pointed out that updating FTM and getting it back on sale after only a 45-day hiatus was quite a feat. That they were able to put out an updated version for both Mac and Windows in only a month is a quick turnaround for a software brand acquisition.
Jack also stated that feedback from users supports them waiting to put out the update to current users by about 10 to 1. After they started selling FTM, they got approximately 200 emails complaining about various things that people thought were broken; it turns out that only about 6 or 7 of those were real issues in FTM (as opposed to an issue with the Ancestry website, for example). Jack stated that, if people believe the update might fix an issue they’re having with FTM, all they have to do is ask for it.
By the way, unlike Ancestry, MacKiev doesn’t do phone support because they don’t have “operators standing by.” The best way to reach out to their tech support is their website. Jack also clarified who is providing support for FTM: “For the record, we are not yet doing support for all users. So officially, we support all Mac users but so far only FTM 2014.1 on Windows. Ancestry supports all other Windows users (including Ancestry FTM 2014 and older) and will be doing that until sometime this summer.” Jack said that the planning for them to transition to doing all the support is going well and that Ancestry has been very helpful in that regard.
In a separate message, Jack stated, “About to send out an updated Mac beta. We found some things we thought should be fixed before shipping the updates. Reported by users and missed by our tester’s (and beta testers). But we are almost there now. Mostly things that were there forever but one bug we introduced ourselves when fixing something else.” And the MacKiev support page states, “The free updater has not been released yet. We still have fixes to make on it based on what those who have purchased it as upgrades have told us. So please be as patient as you can. And know that we’re working hard to make the new versions everything they should be for you. Everyone who has signed up for the Family Tree Maker mailing list will get an email the moment it’s available.”
The Mac Store app is a special case. Apple won’t let them just transfer the Mac app from Ancestry to MacKiev; it will be treated as a new app, which means that current users of the Mac App Store version won’t get updates from the Store any longer. The way MacKiev is working around this is that the updater will download the update from the website instead, but all future updates will come from the website instead of the store. MacKiev does plan to have a Mac App Store sale where the app will be available for $29.99 for a short time. Apparently some people prefer to get all their apps from the Store.
The TreeSync replacement that both FTM and RootsMagic will use is progressing, but Jack was bound by confidentiality agreement not to go into specifics. However, MacKiev is working behind the scenes with Ancestry to ensure there’s no interruption. He was fairly confident it would be done by the end of the year, but he said that they will err on the side of caution, and if the new technology isn’t ready yet, they won’t release it. When I asked if there would be public beta testing or if it would all be in house, he said there’d be public beta testing.
MacKiev is using several avenues to get the word out on the progress of the updates. People who signed up for their mailing list should have received at least one email. Jack also participates in three Family Tree Maker groups on Facebook, something he says he enjoys doing. He said he’s never before been involved with such a passionate user base. However, he admitted they need to do a better job of communicating with users. MacKiev’s strength is developing software, not marketing or social media.
Jack reiterated his commitment to making FTM fully GEDCOM 5.5.1 compliant. They included some changes in the dot 1 updates to 2014 and 3 and will include a few more in the forthcoming patch. They’re working towards pure GEDCOM, but it won’t be complete until the first major release from MacKiev.
Jack explained a little bit of the MacKiev philosophy. He said that the best tech support is to fix bugs as soon as they are identified. They’re primarily a software development company and eat bugs for lunch. All the bugs I’ve submitted to them are called “Keith bugs;” I’m not sure how I feel about them killing my bugs! Just kidding, of course. Instead of using the acronym CNR (Cannot Reproduce) on bug reports, they use CRY, “Can’t Reproduce Yet.” Their motto with FTM changes has been to “do no harm.” He said they’re very proud of the software they develop; they don’t do abandonware and continue to maintain their products long after newer versions have been released. He claimed that all their other products, like Mavis Beacon, get 4 and 5 star ratings on Amazon.com, so I checked Amazon myself. There are many editions of Mavis Beacon available, but the one listed by MacKiev is rated 4.3 stars with 3 ratings. Print Shop 2 is 3.8 stars, while Print Shop 3 is right at 4 stars. KID PIX 3D has the highest rating at 4.4 stars. Jack confided that they viewed FTM as a bit of a fixer-upper, especially the Windows version (they were previously developing the Mac version anyway) and that putting their own brand on it was a two-edged sword. However, they are committed to continuing to fix and improve FTM. Jack described how if someone reports a particularly bothersome bug, they will fix the bug and send that person a patched version right away.
Jack talked a little bit about the future of FTM. In addition to the near-term bug fixes and improvements, to include full GEDCOM 5.5.1 compliance, they will eventually restructure the app internals. While the database will still be based on SQLite, Jack said they’d like to be able to support the very large family trees that some users have (up to half a million people!). I was interested to hear that FTM’s database is based on SQLite, since at one time it was based on VistaDB. I asked Jack if they had any plans to offer free trial versions of FTM, something that many people have complained about the lack of. Jack said that they probably will for future versions that are pure MacKiev releases. But for now, they want to focus on improving FTM and making it another product they can be proud of. I think that’s a good approach to take.