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buspar Genealogists Be Aware – Desktop Software and Web Applications are Converging | ThinkGenealogy

Genealogists Be Aware – Desktop Software and Web Applications are Converging

Saturday, 29 Sep 2007 | by Mark Tucker

All users of genealogy software should be aware that desktop software and web applications are converging in exciting ways that will soon affect the applications they use. One way that they are converging is through something called Rich Internet Applications (RIAs).

Are there any genealogy Rich Internet Applications today? The answer is yes. At least a few. Currently, they all are created using Adobe Flash.

It might surprise you that FamilySearch Labs is on th leading edge of genealogy Rich Internet Applications with these prototype applications:

Pedigree Viewer
panning, zooming
direct-line highlighting
ancestor/descendant view
GEDCOM import

FamilySearch Labs - Pedigree Viewer

Life Browser
add artifact (photo, record)
edit details
associate artifact as evidence
image representing potential timeline feature

FamilySearch Labs - Life Browser

Other genealogy sites using RIAs include:

panning, zooming
enter details, support for single birth, marriage, death date
intuitive interface for adding parents, spouse, siblings, and children
appealing design


2D/3D perspective, animation to help flow through tree
enter details, support for multiple facts (birth, marriage, death, many more)
intuitive interface for adding parents, spouse, siblings, and children
appealing design


Desktop or Web Applications

Through my years as a software developer and architect, I have developed both desktop and web applications. When I started my career more than 13 years ago, I had the choice of working on mainframe systems or on Windows desktops. I chose Windows. Many years later, web applications were all the rage. One reason for this was their ease of deployment. After a few years of doing web development, there was a backlash of sorts as the types of applications that my team was building were too complicated for the web. The users complained of slow performance and were unsatisfied with the user experience. So the pendulum swung back in favor of desktop applications that (this time) were connected to a server to get the data.

Other developers have continued to build for the web and have employed techniques such as Ajax to build more interactive web applications. Users have always had a choice of web browsers (Netscape, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, etc.) which has caused developers extra work as the browsers don’t function the same. As web applications become more interactive, these differences in browsers continues to cause difficulties.

One advantage of desktop applications is that they can take advantage of the processing power of the computer that runs them. On the other hand, one issue you get with desktop applications is which operating system (or platform) to target: Windows, Mac, or Linux. Some developers have been seeking for the solution that would give them the “hat trick” of running on all three.

Rich Internet Applications

The development world is changing with the concept of the Rich Internet Application (RIA) which mixes the best of web applications and desktop software. You get the ease of deployment of the web with the better user experience and performance of the desktop. Although not a tenet of RIA-development itself, some of the technologies used to develop RIAs also solve the cross-platform problem. These technologies include:

At this point Adobe is leading the pack due to the large number of computers that have the Flash player installed. In a weekly column in June 2007, Robert X. Cringely talks about RIA technologies and specifically why Flash comes out ahead of Java:

The folks at Macromedia (now Adobe) saw some amazing shortcomings in other web-based execution systems and simply did it right. Java applets were fantastic with major shortcomings (huge Java runtime, poor performance, clunky and ugly interface, etc). Flash fixed all or most of those. And Flash does cross-platform so much better than Java ever did.

RIAs built with Adobe tools can be run inside any browser that supports the Flash player or even outside the browser using the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) to support cross-platform deployment. I am very excited about what is currently available from Adobe.

Microsoft’s Silverlight is in the early stages with version 1.0 that was released on September 4, 2007. I can see good things ahead for this technology as I have been using its sibling-technology Windows Presentation Foundation for almost a year now.

I have to admit that I haven’t looked closely at JavaFX. Any discussion of RIAs wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t at least acknowledge that Sun Microsystems sees this technology as important. I will be keeping an eye on this technology as well.

Here are links to sites that include sample Rich Internet Applications:


Over the next few years we will see less distinction between desktop applications and web applications and more focus on the applications themselves. More application developers will choose to create Rich Internet Applications and this will also apply to genealogy software. The technologies will become more mature and their capabilities will increase. When this happens there will be more applications available across operating systems. Imagine your favorite genealogy application available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Smartphones, PDAs, and other devices will likely support RIAs furthering the reach of your applications. This trend is exciting to me both as a software developer who wants to create genealogy software as well as a family historian who uses it.


  1. Mark, thought you might also be interested in http://www.familyinhistory.com. It allows users to upload a GEDCOM and it will instantly create a collaborative website, where each ancestor in the family tree has an individual page for photos, histories, etc. There are Flash-based pedigree and descendants charts and an AJAX timeline for each individual.

    To see an example site, look at http://pratt.familyinhistory.com and for an individual’s page, see: http://pratt.familyinhistory.com/individual/view/19750. We invite you to come upload your GEDCOM and try it out!

    –The FamilyInHistory.com Team

    Comment by FamilyInHistory.com — 30 Sep 2007 @ 6:33 pm

  2. Sorry Mark, looks like the periods got pulled into the links above. Let’s try that again:

    Mark, thought you might also be interested in http://www.familyinhistory.com It allows users to upload a GEDCOM and it will instantly create a collaborative website, where each ancestor in the family tree has an individual page for photos, histories, etc. There are Flash-based pedigree and descendants charts and an AJAX timeline for each individual.

    To see an example site, look at http://pratt.familyinhistory.com and for an individual’s page, see: http://pratt.familyinhistory.com/individual/view/19750 We invite you to come upload your GEDCOM and try it out!

    –The FamilyInHistory.com Team

    Comment by FamilyInHistory.com — 30 Sep 2007 @ 6:35 pm

  3. [...] the web, making use of the app easier. ThinkGeneology.com has a great related article about the convergence of web software and desktop software, touching on the topic of Rich Internet Applications. Good [...]

    Pingback by Seth Godin on Data vs Software » article » smart computer use? — 4 Oct 2007 @ 3:50 pm

  4. [...] between FamilySearch Labs and GeneTree, it appears that they are working together.  In a previous blog post, I used the Pedigree Viewer from FamilySearch Labs as an example.  When I registered for GeneTree [...]

    Pingback by ThinkGenealogy » Is FamilySearch Labs Partnering with GeneTree? — 23 Oct 2007 @ 7:44 pm

  5. [...] they are web or desktop.  They will just be applications. In a previous post I discussed how desktop and web applications are converging into something called Rich Internet Applications (RIAs).  This is just another example.  Google [...]

    Pingback by Chrome, Google’s new browser eyes web applications | ThinkGenealogy — 5 Sep 2008 @ 1:14 am

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