Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Future of PAF



Sunday, April 6, 2008
The Future of PAF

As my previous posts have sparked some online discussions that may have propagated misinformation regarding the future of PAF, I feel like I need to share the exact wording of the statement from Gordon Clarke, FamilySearch Third Party Product Manager, given at the FamilySearch Developers Conference and the BYU Computerized Genealogy Conference.

At these two conferences Clarke read a statement that he characterized as official and explained he would read it word-for-word so he would not get it wrong. Afterwards Clarke e-mailed the text of the statement to third-party developers, stating that "FamilySearch has updated it[s] 2008 Messaging to include 'The Future of PAF'."

I've inserted some commentary, which is not indented.

The Future of PAF
Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is a free genealogy software program offered by FamilySearch. PAF has amassed millions of users since its introduction in 1997. Over the years, many other genealogy software programs have been introduced by commercial companies. Most of these programs offer additional features while often supporting the GedCom and PAF file formats.

The last major release of the program was PAF v5.2 in 2001. Since then, FamilySearch has been developing a web-based genealogy system that will allow the general public to create, search, manage, and share their family histories completely online. This online system will also replace TempleReady, a software program used exclusively by Latter-day Saints to prepare records for temple ordinances. The first phase of the new system (referred to as New.FamilySearch) is being rolled out to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Once the system is complete, it will be available for free to the general public and in multiple languages.

For more information about New FamilySearch (NFS), see the several posts I have made about it. Note that "system complete" is defined by this statement to be the point in time when New FamilySearch is released to the general public. NFS will be a much advanced system compared to the version that has previously rolled out to members of the Church.

Today, users of NFS will definitely need to continue using PAF or one of its competitors. NFS isn't set up to handle the living people in your file. It doesn't allow multimedia content. It doesn't allow export. It doesn't allow private content or temporary-working data. The system for inputting and saving sources needs to be overhauled and in my opinion there's a risk that any work you do with sources now may have to be redone in the future.

PAF does not currently support two way data transfers to the new online system. However, data in PAF can be exported to the new online system by creating a GedCom file of the PAF data and then importing the file into new online system. In the future two way data transfers between PAF and the new online system will be accomplished via a third-party add-on utility.

Two points here. First, many have pointed out that one should not and can not currently export one's entire PAF database and import it into the current release of New FamilySearch. Doing so can create "Individuals of Unusual Size," which bog down the performance of the current system. Engineers are currently addressing this problem, so this restriction is temporary.

Second, third-party developers are working to allow two way data transfers between PAF and NFS. Ohana Software, the PAF Insight people are upgrading PAF Insight (and renaming it to Family Insight) to allow this. Ancestral Quest is also being upgraded with this capability. The two companies are collaborating on extensions to the PAF file format to make this seamless.

While Ohana's offering presupposes you will continue to use PAF 5, Ancestral Quest's product looks and feels just like you are using PAF 5 (they were the original developers of PAF for the Church), so PAF users won't need to change the way they do things.

PAF users can continue using PAF until the new online system is available to them. Once the new system is available, PAF users will have several options available to them:

Remember that "system complete" refers to a much more mature version of NFS than the current release. FamilySearch spokespeople give assurances that PAF will be supported for a very long time. You can continue to use it, and the Church will assist you with its support department for the foreseeable future.

1. Upload their current GedCom file one time and thereafter work exclusively from the new online system.

While upload of entire GEDCOM files is currently not allowed, we're speaking of a future time when this restriction no longer exists.

2. Continue using PAF and exporting any new data via a GedCom file to new online system. This option will require any data that is added to the new online system by others, to be manually entered back into your PAF if you want to have that information on your computer.

Many of you have expressed a desire to continue to use PAF for the remainder of your sojourn on this earth. This option is for you, particularly if you've been burned so many times importing GEDCOMs of other people's garbage that you'd just as soon type new information in by hand. There's a lot to be said for this level of control over your PAF file.

3. Purchase a third-party add-on utility for PAF that enables data transfers between PAF and the new online system, or

If you've grown comfortable with PAF Insight, this option is for you. Continue to use PAF and PAF Insight as you do now. A future upgrade of PAF Insight will work with the NFS instead of the IGI.

4. Purchase a third-party full-featured software program that supports automatic data synchronization with the new online system.

Bugs in PAF are not being fixed. You should really consider one of the third-party software programs. I've already mentioned Ancestral Quest allows you to continue using your PAF files and the PAF way of doing things. Once this point in time comes, I'm sure you'll be able to try out free versions of these programs at Family History Centers. Did I hear that Legacy will include NFS support in its free, entry-level offering? Don't short-change yourself by not learning about the time-saving features that have been added to PAF's competitors.

There are benefits for users who wish to use both the new online system and one of the full-featured software programs. These programs will allow users to:

1. Work offline and then enable genealogical data to be automatically updated and reconciled with the online system.

2. Maintain a working copy of your genealogy file on your own computer hard drive, and

3. Use additional or advanced features that will not be offered in the online system.

The decision is much easier for those who are just beginning their family history and those who do not have an electronic file of their family history—they will simply be able to build their family histories completely online. No other software will be needed.

You don't have to rush into a decision. It will take many, many months before NFS is released to the general public. During that time, many, many bugs will be worked out of these third-party offerings. The NFS support in these programs will be demonstrated at conferences, user groups and family history fairs.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Developers Conference Presentations
Presentations from last month's FamilySearch Developers Conference have been posted online. Be forewarned; these are mostly of a highly technical nature. I'll explain non-technically some of it in future columns.