Family Tree Maker 2008 is ready for future, built with Microsoft technology

Saturday, 18 Aug 2007 | by Mark Tucker

Family Tree Maker 2008 was released this week as completely redesigned software built with Microsoft technologies.  The redesign starts at the user interface but doesn’t stop there.  This version of Family Tree Maker is built on Microsoft’s .NET Framework and uses the Composite UI Application Block(CAB) and the Smart Client Software Factory(SCSF) .  I am familiar with these technologies as I use them daily as part of my responsibilites as a Senior Software Architect building a client framework for application teams within my company.

A few weeks ago when I installed Family Tree Maker 2008 RC1, imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was built with the same frameworks that I use at work.  I can run the software and understand how it is composed at the same time.  I find myself thinking, this is the Shell, and these are Workspaces and the SmartParts. 

The following CAB terms are useful for this discussion:

  • Shell – the main window of the application that contains menus, toolbars, and Workspaces
  • Workspace – a user interface container that holds SmartParts
  • SmartPart – a section of the user interface devoted to a specific task
  • Module – a deployable unit of code that can contain SmartParts or business logic; the Shell loads one or more Modules


Some of the benefits of building an application with CAB/SCSF are:

  • Separation of Concerns – one team can build the Shell and many teams or developers can simultaneously build the business logic and SmartParts and later put them together.  Also developers can focus on their strengths which results in more productive software development.
  • Modularity – user interface components and business logic can be packaged is a deployable unit called a Module.  To extend the software, just add another Module.
  • Extensibility – there are many extensibility points built into CAB/SCSF besides the Module which allow better evolution of software over time.

Because the Shell is loosely coupled (connected) to its contents (SmartParts) and SmartParts are loosely coupled to each other, then the software is built to evolve with less development cost and less chance of breaking existing code.

What this means for those who use Family Tree Maker is that the software has been refreshed and will continue its long life.  In fact, I am hopeful that the development team can deliver many enhancements in the future because of their decision to build on these frameworks provided by Microsoft.

I am also excited with the prospect of having genealogy software that I can customize.  Besides the extensibility features built into CABSCSF, Family Tree Maker also has a Plugins menu which indicates that they plan to offer extensibility through additional companies or maybe a plugin community.

FTM Plugins

In Family Tree Maker 2008 RC1, there are no Plugins listed. 

I am awaiting news from The Generations Network about guidelines for Plugin development.  I will share them as I am able.

Links for Developers and Architects:


  1. thank you for a brilliant review by some one who knows what he is talking about

    the problem is that FTM 2008 is a rush job and not as good as FTM 16 etc for daily data entry

    please see the discussions

    all we want is a template emulating the old interface

    will it be you who writes a killer plug in or a java emulator?

    Comment by Hugh Watkins — 20 Aug 2007 @ 11:29 am

  2. I haven’t used FTM for many years so I am unfamiliar with the feature comparision between 2008 and the previous version.

    Comment by Mark Tucker — 20 Aug 2007 @ 12:37 pm

  3. It’s very nice that FTM has used new technologies in re-designing the software, it’s just to bad the designers were so unfamiliar with genealogy that they removed the 2 most useful and probably most used reports (“Ancestors of” and “Descendants of” narratives) along with several other basic functions. I was impressed at first glance as well until I got to the “Media” tab. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter how new the technology or how pretty the package, it you can’t get the data back out, it’s completely useless.

    Comment by Linda McCauley — 20 Aug 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  4. Thanks for the insight – it was very interesting!

    While it is true that the FTM 2008 Beta RC1 needed some minor fixes, the application, IMO, is much, much better than older versions.

    I pre-ordered FTM 2008 but, though it has been released some say, I haven’t received my copy yet. Naturally, I’m hoping many of the issues in RC1 have been addressed. A few nay sayers on the message boards at claim they would not have had time, but I’m not so sure that’s true.

    Comment by Ed Stoddard — 20 Aug 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  5. New technology is wonderful but in re-programming Family Tree Maker, they forgot to incorporate the functionality that existed in prior versions and in my opinion, did not utilize the capabilities of the new technology to satisfy the customers needs. They left out QUALITY and USABILITY.

    I’ve been playing with the Beta of the new version for the last couple weeks using a copy of my database of 13,000 individals. I was initially excited to have an opportunity to check out the Beta that was released just 20 days prior to the August 14th release. I thought it would have all but a few minor bugs and I would be able to do more than with FTM 16. However, when I compare it with FTM 16, there are reports missing, there are report options missing; the web search has some new technologies utilized but you have to take more steps to use them becaue the algorithm used in the search is substandard; the feature to navigate touching the person in a chart is gone; the data entry of children is much more awkward; the user customizes fact fields but what would a date be used for height? Why does a genealogist have to be forced to generate a book by uploading data online? Surely it could be an option because it could allow greater flexibility but I don’t want living person data in the hands of Why does it take 5 minutes to generate the same marriage report in FTM 2008 that it takes a few seconds in FTM 16? Why does it search the internet and slow down the response time is refreshing the screen with a new person rather than search the internet when I want to use the web search tool? There are more than a few isoftware ssues and usability concerns. I submitted 43 issues and I’m not even fully testing it as I would as a company tester.

    No, I don’t believe the final version is going to be much better in quality and usability than the Beta and that comes from experience. Programming changes and testing changes is not a short process. In my opinion, they should have waited until 2008 to release the product and then maybe then, it would be a good quality, highly usable product.

    Comment by Linda Matthews — 20 Aug 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  6. Thank you for the excellent technical review. I found it both insightful and interesting. I had been looking for an explanation of some of the capabilities of Net framework. I now have a grasp of what is happening in FTM 2008.

    Unlike others, I a m a hugh fan of FTM 2008. I like its look and feel and find it very easy to use. I am slightly disappointed that some features were not included but I have great expectations for their future implementation.

    I too am excited about the ability to include Plugins. I look forward to them publishing how plugins will link to the main program and whether they will be made available to commercial developers as well as non-commercial program users.

    I have one small question and perhaps you can shed some light on the matter. Is it possible to make changes to data elements (validation edits and properties) and have those changes distributed without issuing a new release or official update?

    Comment by B J Hamilton — 20 Aug 2007 @ 11:55 pm

  7. The concept of FTM 2008 is great and will take us into the technologies of the 21st Century but I think it an insult to foist a half baked program on FTM users when they were using the best simple program on the market . At the present moment it is a computer technicians program not a genealogists masterpiece . Certain reports are missing and it does not cater for the computer illiterate person who cannot do all those fancy tricks in compiling a book . I can produce a very readable book with manual insertions from V16 . FTM 2008 should have been released in 2008 and not 2007 and call it 2008 .

    Comment by Laurie Thompson — 21 Aug 2007 @ 4:27 am

  8. Mark,

    Just discovered your blog as someone posted your FTM review to the forum. Great review and excellent blog. Will be checking back regularly. Very interesting to read about things like Familt.Show and Family Pursuit.

    Thanks much.


    Comment by Cahrles Bolding — 21 Aug 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  9. An intelligent and informative review…at last!

    Comment by Trish Lewis — 22 Aug 2007 @ 5:35 am

  10. Mark,
    I am a computer programmer working in mumps, learning cache, your insight is fascinating.

    I have the final version of 2008, and yes there are two important things missing, the offline books and in the reports the Ahnentafel and Descendants of Reports.

    So far I do like the interface. The Plug in feature is sort of like knowing that Christmas is coming. Maybe we will get a book and Ahnentafel reports there?

    Comment by Jeff Padell — 23 Aug 2007 @ 2:21 am

  11. WOAH… just got my new FTM 2008 today, installed it and am blown away…. I’m so bogged down with work these days that I don’t have the mental capacity for the learning curve.

    I do have one question for anyone out there “in the know”. Up til now, I have not put my data on the site because there’s no way to import/export from the web to a flat file on the PC.. do you know if the new version has that capacity to upload to the web interface or to download the data maybe in a *.csv file or gedcom for import into the new FTM?

    Does anyone know about these plugins I saw?

    I bought GenSmarts, may not have needed that?

    I’m not sure… I’m so blown away by the newness…. its going some free time and mental capacity to take it all in…. I wish I was younger, had more memory and was not in need of a mental reformat…. cuz lord knows if I can pull a recovery on this old brain LOL

    Ok, thanks for listening and/or answering.

    Laurie K.

    Comment by Laurie K — 24 Aug 2007 @ 6:49 pm

  12. 17 years ago the best selling Personal Information Manager (PIM) was rewritten from multiple releases of tangled ‘spaghetti’ code to bright shiny new Object Oriented architecture. The staff of 20 programmers all had degrees in Computer Science, some with Masters Degrees. The rewrite took about 1 1/2 years. The owner was antsy to get it out the door and recoup the costs.

    There were a few ‘slight’ problems. Existing users’ data would not accurately transfer into the new product (often with no warnings). The features and functions of the old product were often missing or significantly different in the new. There were numerous ‘crashes’ with devastating results.

    The technology used was ‘state of the art’ at the time and great marketing literature was developed touting its use in the new product. Unfortunately, old fashioned planning and concerns of usability were not foremost in the programming team’s focus.

    The new product never overcame its initial release. Vast areas had to be reworked as the customer base dwindled. The product died a slow death over the next few years.

    We hope this is not the case for Family Tree Maker.

    Comment by Jim Borad — 30 Aug 2007 @ 2:42 pm

  13. While I am both a geek (database programmer) and a genealogist, I apprecaite what they were trying to do. The interface is first-rate and mostly intuitive.

    What I miss are some of the reports that we fought so hard to get over the years. Are we going to have to pay extra to get a plug-in to get the fan charts, timelines, and publishing tools?

    Comment by Alan Barasch — 3 Sep 2007 @ 6:21 am

  14. I spent three hours browsing FRM 2008 last night and have yet to find our ‘reference ID numbers’ that had been featured in every version of FTM through 2005.

    In previous editions, each individual was automatically assigned a reference ID number. This singular number became the basis of our filing system for photos, documents, et al. Many of our friends in genealogy were doing the same.

    In moving our file to FTM 2008 – the previously assigned ‘Reference ID Numbers’ seem to have disappeared….making a filing system that files and entire room virtually useless.

    Has anyone else experienced this glitch?

    Comment by Bruce Walchuk — 7 Oct 2007 @ 1:33 pm

  15. I have over 158,000 names in my data base and over 50 years of research involved, there is no way FTM could pay me to try this new offering. Pre-purchased, listened and read the reviews, will return the product or let it rot in the package.

    Comment by Carolyn Dunaway — 11 Oct 2007 @ 4:15 pm

  16. In responce to reference numbers, yes they are gone, the FTM blog does say they are looking at putting them back in future additions, they also say they will add an off line books , pdf’s release sometime next summer. There is hope, for the future, but I for one do not like the new interface, I find it much too busy to quickly add edit and type information into my records.

    there are many things missing, any items in the scrapbooks that were not linked to a source are not imported.
    Title field data is Missing
    AKA data does not import.
    Cause of death from Medical now refered to as medical condition not cause of death.

    Master sources are gone now.
    Yes you now have the ability to link several people to one source, but without the higher level master source. ( one step forward and one step back)
    the ability to change the fact type for an existing fact is gone, as is search and replace, and change all facts of X to Y.

    The web interface keeps all the pages within the application and does not let you open it in a new window.
    The new interface that yes is more modern and looks nicer is more awkward and takes more time to mnavigate, switch to other views or people and is generally much slower.

    I will stay with FTM 16 or switch to another program as my main program, instead of using FTM 2008. yes the sign of the future is there, and I do see the positives, but usability and editing ease are my priorities.

    Comment by Jeanette — 14 Oct 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  17. I agree totally Jeanette. We just did a ‘Beginners Workshop” with 50 people attending and I suggested to one and all that they either find VTM 16 OR give another program a try. FTM 2008 was obviously rushed to market and is NOT ready. What a shame.

    Comment by Bruce Walchuk — 27 Oct 2007 @ 9:13 am

  18. Got a new copy of Family Tree Maker for a Christmas present so I’ve played with it for an hour or so. I too feel that FTM 2008 takes two steps forward and two back.

    I like the way the hints appear on the tree. But merging searched data seems very crude. How do you bring in a whole family from a census?

    I like the way you can get synchronised views of the tree and the family all in one place. However, they could have added so much more flexibility in using multiple windows to look allow much more flexibiity. (Is this the MS Composite UI Application Block getting in the way – MS never did understand windows.)

    Comment by Dave Roberts — 26 Dec 2007 @ 4:46 am

  19. Overall, the interface for FTM 2008 is awesome and I do love the search and integration. However, I must say, the lack of the fan layout is making me consider returning it and seeing if I can get a copy of the 2005 version – that is how much it means to the END USER.

    Hey, software architects (I am one for Healthcare BTW) – have you ever heard of user input or feedback. This seems to be a big deal. If you’re having problems with the math for the curves and it’s going to take some time, come clean about it. At least we’ll know why it’s not there and we, as -=*CONSUMERS*=- won’t think you’re just flat out not listening to us!!!

    Please figure this out, ASAP or let us all know you’re working on it. It was supposed to be in the SP2 in October, but it is NOT!!

    Comment by Jon Myers — 29 Dec 2007 @ 3:14 pm

  20. I came across your blog via Google, and found this article that you wrote nearly a year ago. I cannot believe how little information is out there for developers wanting to build plug-ins for FTM. The official website site map actually lists a “Developer Resources (Coming Soon)” section. Does anyone know how long it has said that for? And how soon is soon?

    Do you – or does anyone – have any more information regarding developer resources wanting to extend FTM functionality?

    Comment by Andrew K — 31 Jul 2008 @ 7:30 pm

  21. I think I have found a way of importing the automatically generated reference numbers in V16 into the new 2008 version. This should be of interest to Bruce Walchuck, Carolyn Dunaway, et al.

    If you export your entire V16 (or earlier I guess) ftm file as a Gedcom file in PAF format and then reimport it but make sure you only import the basic name and date information AND the reference ID (i.e. tell it NOT to import any other fields) it will simply turn all the automatically generated ID’s into manual ones. They will then import into the new 2008 version seemlessly. Each person will have the original Reference ID as a personal fact.

    There is still the problem of course that the new version does not allow you to search for a reference number….. yet…

    Comment by John Sillitto — 6 Aug 2008 @ 2:44 pm

  22. Hi Mark.

    Are there any good learning materials to learn about CAB SCSF. I am supposed to develop a CAB SCSF app and as of now have no material to learn about it. David platt’s book isnt helping either..any blogs or books which i can buy anything at all… thanks

    Comment by Hari — 28 Oct 2008 @ 11:48 pm

  23. I am not aware of any books other than David Platt’s on CAB/SCSF. You can find the documentation as well as samples at
    Also check out Rich Newman’s site:

    If you are doing strictly WPF development, then consider Composite WPF at

    Best Wishes,


    Comment by Mark Tucker — 30 Oct 2008 @ 12:41 am

  24. I wish I would have read the comments on this thread before buying FTM2009. This software is horrible. They hooked IE7 and made a futile attempt at integrating a web service. When searching for a record, the interface reloads the page once for each record on the page to scrape the page. Then it flashes once for each record as it hits the web service. Poor poor programming.

    The comment about quality and usability is dead on. This is not ready for any time – much less for prime time.

    Comment by Dave — 28 Nov 2008 @ 10:27 pm

  25. Having read some of the positive and negative comments about this product, speaking as a new user, I find it very well produced and easy to use. To those who complain that it is not as good as the old verion, resistance to change is only natural. Sometimes new software releases are all about consolidation and stepping up to new technology. It takes a lot of development effort to refactor code and I’m sure that FTM2008 was more about building a solid foundation for the future than adding new features. In the fullness of time, I think we’ll see that the FTM team’s decision to adopt up-to-date patterns and practices will pay big dividends over then next couple of versions of the software, so persevere awhile before you make any hasty decisions to abandon ship. For me, good-looking and easy to use software is at least as important as what it does. Form and function are two sides of a coin and cannot be seperated. I’m really looking forward to FTM2009, I’m sure it will make big improvements over FTM2008 which will be enabled by the new patterns and practices being used.

    Comment by Tim Long — 28 Dec 2008 @ 12:31 pm

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