When I learned of the unexpected death of Keith Wilson nearly 9 months ago I was shocked. Keith was not only the developer for iFamily For Tiger–as it was known when I first became acquainted with and subsequently purchased the software–he was head cheerleader for the product and a passionate genealogist. The quality of the product attracted me right away but it was Keith’s personal involvement and interaction with the users–through the iFamily forum and email–that was the most instrumental factor in my purchasing iFamily. We carried on a lively email banter and swapped a few jibes and stories even though a hemisphere separated us. If there was ever a problem or a question regarding either iFamily or genealogy, Keith was quick to respond, in fact his proaction was astounding, almost rivaling his programming skills. So Keith’s death struck me as tragic for his family and friends and the project he certainly loved, iFamily. His death also introduced a level of pessimism in me about the future of iFamily.
Perhaps it is unfair to assume that the best intentions cannot realistically be expected to translate into that which they intend. Perhaps, but the development of iFamily has been stalled since Keith’s untimely passing and there are no tangible signs that development is ongoing, or, if it may ever be revived. I had hoped that iFamily’s code base would be taken over by either another individual who was an avid genealogist or by a firm similarly committed to genealogy so that Keith’s efforts would continue to grow and flourish from the fertile foundation he had laid. Unfortunately, in nearly nine months not one revision has been made to iFamily, not even the last revision Keith had scheduled for release around the end of October 2008. I am not a software developer and I harbor no secret desire to become one although I had been a programmer for over 20 years (retired); however, there is an implicit professional mandate not to let a viable code base languish; it is not good for business and it certainly is not very considerate of customers who have purchased the product and spent long hours filling its database with genealogical data. It would be kinder and wiser to announce the end of development for that software. Situations arise when it becomes necessary to end product development; unfortunately, such casualties are not all uncommon in technology.
While I have hoped that I was mistaken and that my judgment was faulty, action or inaction seems to confirm my doubts. On June 9 2009 I raised a query in the iFamily forum regarding Apple’s newest operating system, OS X 10.6, dubbed Snow Leopard, and compatibility issues, if any, with iFamily. It was said that there were no expectations for any conflict or problems for iFamily running under Snow Leopard. Sadly there are: iFamily does not run under SL. Apparently, iFamily was never tested by the developer to confirm that it would or would not run under OS X 10.6. The developers of Reunion 9 did test their software and issued a warning prior to the release of Snow Leopard so that the users would know in advance that upgrading the OS would cause Reunion to fail. Meanwhile, they are working to release an upgrade to address the problems which they have identified.
My personal preference is to continue to use iFamily as my primary genealogy program and I am willing to be patient for the short term as long as there is a definite commitment made to the active development of iFamily and not long periods of inactivity and promises which go unmet. One of the realities involving of computers is that operating systems will continue to improve and change. Developers have an obligation to keep abreast of, and, in some cases, ahead of the sharp technology curve that these improvements promise if they want their products to remain viable. I hope that coding issues with iFamily and Snow Leopard will be resolved in a reasonable time, on the other hand, I am beginning to take a closer look at Reunion 9 as it appears to have a solid user base and a track record for longevity–not a bad quality when one is involved with genealogy.