APG-L ArchivesArchiver > APG > 2004-02 > 1076264144
From: "Gregory Winters" <>
Subject: [APG] 'Big Three' Reporting and the Web
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2004 13:15:44 -0500
Ever since getting the mountain of generous feedback from various List members, I have been working diligently to sort out the features of the so-called 'Big Three' genealogy software applications (Family Tree Maker, The Master Genealogist, and Legacy) in regard to my particular need to 1) publish an organized, easy-to-read paper version of the traditional Descendant Narrative, and 2) publish a version of this same report to the Web, keeping in mind all of the idiosyncracies of Web-based browsing. With these goals in mind, here is my (short) list of requirements that would satisfy both usages:
1. As I mentioned previously, I need the ability to easily include 'mini ancestor reports' which branch from in-laws so that a reader/browser can easily find related surnames without having to wade through my direct ancestry.
2. I need the ability to work with notes, citations, events, etc., in any manner I choose. For example, in the report format, I am comfortable with the main body of notes accompanying the entries as they appear in succession throughout the main body text, with citations being managed as either footnotes at the bottom of the physical page or at the end of the body text. However, when it comes to the Web, interspersing notes throughout the text of generation lineage is 'screen bloating' and makes it hard to following the lines, so I would prefer to be able to treat notes as footnotes (or hyperlinks) along with citations and other information.
3. I'd like to be able to maintain the integrity of the formatting between the physical report to the HTML document.
4. Although I appreciate the hard-coded 'narrative language' in the (detailed) narrative report format, I would like to have more control over the insertions. For example, I don't really care for the 'who was born in' prefix to the actual birthdate. The simple date range (month day, year - month day, year) would suit me just fine. However, there are other dates, such as marriages, christenings, etc., which, in my view, lend themselves better to this 'folksiness' and I prefer the phrases there. The reason behind this is that my first shot at my Web publication (from Family Tree Maker) resulted in a Word file which was 1.5MB in size - quite a load for those still strapped to dial-up connections!
5. Another approach to Point 4 above would be to have the ability to take the Standard Narrative (which even though is more suited to what I'd like it to be in terms of appearance but generally leaves out important information such as burial and other events) and allow inclusion of selected events.
6. I'd like to have word-processing level control over database and formatting display options. For example, I don't like those 'generation lines' which most of the applications force upon us. The simple standard numbering scheme is just fine. (Exporting to a word processor doesn't solve this problem. The very next time a raw report is generated by the database, then the user is forced to go through all of the custom formatting again in the word processor.)
7. Because of security issues and the Internet, it is more critical than ever to have a robust, multi-optional engine dealing with the display of information regarding 'living' and 'private' individuals. As you all know, there are numerous combinations of possibilities - some examples: 1) those who are living and wouldn't mind information being displayed, 2) those who are living and *do* mind, 3) those who are deceased, but whose living ancestors would like their information still being kept private, but not falsely labeled as 'living,' etc. A good application and subsequent report set should have easy ways of dealing with all of these possibilities.
7. Most importantly, the maintenance between the database and the resulting reports should be zero. In other words, I should not have to maintain a document in more than one application.
With these general design principles in mind, here is a summary of what I have learned from the 'Big Three' so far in terms of their capabilities. In fairness to the vendors, I have only just begun to engage their respective technical support teams in search of solutions to the issues I raise below. For the purpose of this post, I will simply speak to each of the three applications in paragraph format without formalized formatting.
FAMILY TREE MAKER v11 - This application has a curious way of guiding a user around in order to get the result desired. There really is nothing in the menuing system known as a 'Descendant Narrative,' at least the way this report is commonly known. First off, the designers believe that a report is something you wish to view in the interface, so they include trees and reports in the View menu on the Windows Menu Bar. (Traditionally, a proper View menu includes elements of the interface, such as various lists and windows, not items which are generated as a part of database interaction.) Next, the user has to know that the report which s/he is attempting to render is actually considered by FTM's designers to be a 'tree' - in this case, the 'Outline Descendant Tree.' (To me, a 'tree' is some sort of organization chart consisting of a pattern of lines and boxes.) Once generated, the user has a rather sparse selection of formatting options to choose from: some indenting opt!
ions, Yes/No to generation numbers, fonts - size and style, page borders, and a few other minor options. Content selection is equally limited: although the entire list of database events is available to the user, there is little else other than things like options to include spouses, limit the number of generations, etc., which can be utilized in the report. FTM's 'book' format changes hardly anything about content and formatting with the exception of its default 'paper' format. The appllication has a large difficulty with being able to format the user's selections properly, and sizing errors are common. The best of the entire lot (which I ended up using to launch my website) is the 'Genealogy Report.' However, once again, the options are limited. Thankfully, some of the options I would normally select are included in the hard-coded output. For example, there are generation headers, names are in small caps, and the paternal lineage is listed next to each primary entr!
y. However, the entire body text, including major and minor information, notes, etc., must be formatted a single way, meaning that names and notes are visually all mixed together making things hard to sort out. Curiously, minor information (e.g., burials) is considered by the report generator to be 'more about,' which forces the reader to scan the entire record (which can be lengthy if notes are included) just to find out where a person is buried. Overall, however, the Genealogy Report from FTM most closely suits the requirements listed above, but still requires a lot of maintenance on the back end. Another glaring hole in FTM's control of the output is in the area of privacy. FTM arbitrarily assumes that all persons who do not have death dates are still alive. (I have been given tips from veteran users to simply insert accepted text or question marks into the death fields, then this 'fools' FTM into believing that there is a legitimate date stored there.) However, th!
at doesn't smoothly address the issue. Curiously, the application requires that all privatizing of records be done at the *file level* - a sort of one-for-all, all-for-one approach which completely precludes choice. This is a management nightmare, as one might expect, and one which forced me to examine other applications. Summary: FTM's Genealogy Report is a fine piece of database data inclusion, options, and formatting, but the overall options and the large problem with the report not being 'Internet friendly' make it unusable for me. (Side note: there is no HTML export function in FTM v11.)
THE MASTER GENEALOGIST v5.11 - As I was informed from various members of this List, TMG sports an awesome list of report inclusion and formatting options - it wouldn't be feasible to get into all of them here. I will simply stick to the context described above. The biggest problem I'm having with this application is that it seems to be buggier than the other two. Calls to a printer from various report generation windows cause either a freeze or the command to port is simply ignored (by Windows?). I'm also having a problem with the Descendant Narrative Report and footnotes/endnotes. Although I have the option to have sources displayed/printed clearly selected, there is nothing in the resulting report which shows them anywhere. The footnotes themselves are indeed in the body text, but their descriptive counterparts which are supposed to be at the end of the report are no where to be found! Evidently, the user has to print out a separate Endnotes report, but this is miss!
ing all of the standard footnotes (!) and tough to manage in an HTML context. Also, the Endotes report seems to have a problem with the direct link to the database because there are Source Error messages sprinkled among the list, whereas other reports (and endnotes listings from other applications) do not share this problem. Although the report generator includes an impressive list of file type outputs (including some old relics such as AmiPro and Wordstar - remember those??), there is nothing which will generate an HTML file, so the user is forced to export to a word processor which will either generate the HTML file itself (such as Word), or itself be easily exportable to an HTML text editor. (It's also annoying to have to have to keep regenerating the same report even though all that has changed are options, not database elements.) There are a couple of serious management problems I have as well: 1) as in FTM, everything printed in the body text must all be the same !
font, notes and all, and 2) I can't get the application to move the notes to the footnotes area. Summary: although it appears that TMG might be the vehicle I need to finish the job (with considerable additional effort), there seems to be many inexplicable problems which may or may not get worked out with tech support help.
LEGACY v5.0 - As suggested by a couple of List members, this application is probably the best combination of features and ease of use among these three applications. Although not quite as robust as TMG, Legacy would satisfy all but the most particular of users in regard to reporting options and inclusions. One awesome difference as compared to the other two apps is the ability to format *individual elements* of the body text (yes!). For example, I can render Notes in an italicized smaller font, making it much easier to read sections of the report. However, although Legacy boasts an awesome list of pre-formatted reports, for some reason the designers felt that certain features should be 'turned off' for some of the reports. For example, eagerly I sought out the 'where to print citations' feature which was indicated in the Help section. Sure enough, there it was...but the options (with record, end of page, end of report) were greyed out! Other important options, such as!
splitting lists of children across pages, including generation numbers (or not), and removing blank lines (among MANY others) were hard-coded into the format. There is also no ability to remove or modify the 'folksiness' of the resulting display. All in all, however, I'm working with Legacy the most aggressively (I've actually shelled out for the Deluxe edition) in the attempt to make this thing conform to my requirements. Unbelieveably, however, as strong as Legacy is with the screen/printer format, its HTML engine is quite disappointing. The majority of the nice formatting options available in the screen/printer format are not rendered in the resulting HTML page that Legacy will create, making all your customizing effort in this respect useless. Once again, the application forces the user to export to the word processor and carry on from there.
Interestingly, a completely bare-bones application known as Personal Ancestral File generates an HTML setup that puts the Big Three to shame. This app's output renders a *series* of organized, hyperlinked HTML pages complete with a set of navigation buttons to jump generations or to view source data. Sadly, this program is so limited (hey, it's free!) that what goes into the web page is devoid of important information and controls.
The upshot of all this is that the reader must understand the difference between a word processing document and a database report. The former has no 'predecessor data' - it is simply generated by the user. As time saving as it is, the word processor can only render a set of relatively disconnected documents which must be filed and managed by the user. Not so with database reports. The integrity of the database must be preserved at all costs, so the related reports must be 'passive' insofar as they render (with appropriate formatting options enabled) what the user is managing within the database. For example, when I export the Genealogy Report from FTM into my word processor, create an HTML page, then upload to the Web, when I have to go into the HTML source code text and manually change data, then I am violating fundamental principles of referential integrity (with all of the related known problems in doing that). What I believe we need from these applications is a re-!
examination of the required commonalities and important differences between paper and Web and be provided a reporting engine that properly comprehends the requirements of both. Legacy doggone near has this accomplished - if those options weren't greyed out! :-)
|[APG] 'Big Three' Reporting and the Web by "Gregory Winters" <>|