- The download and installation went smoothly, although it was a bit longer than I expected. It's a very large program at 164MB and will take a while, even via DSL or cable modem. The final version will probably not be as large, but this beta version still contains extra debugging code which has inflated the size. My first impression at the first screen was that it looked way to much like all of the Web sites in The Generations Network, but that's a minor point. A lot of people actually use FTM because of its tight Internet integration, so this is just another step in that direction, I guess.
- File installation took some time as well. Everything was easy with a small, simple gedcom file, but when I entered my own family gedcom with 8,000+ names, it took several minutes and generated over 1,000 errors. Gasp! Turns out most of them were unknown GEDCOM tags from my RootsMagic file, so that wasn't a problem. A few double dates it didn't like, and about a half-dozen places it choked on, but that's it. Not too bad.
- There is a lot of information displayed on screen at once in FTM 2008. Some people will consider this a plus, as you can see both the family view and pedigree view, as well as the individual edit screen in one shot. Personally, I don't usually feel the need to see the overall pedigree view, and wouldn't mind a screen that's less busy. Luckily for me, I found I could drag the various window panes around until I found a configuration that worked well for me. I also really liked that I could easily customize the individual edit screen to include other events that I use frequently, such as baptism, burial, occupation and immigration. The program seems to remember the screen layout changes from file to file, but I had to re-do the "customize view" on the individual data entry pane for each family tree I imported. Once I played around with the setup, however, I really liked being able to see and enter so much information on one screen without popup windows or changing tabs.
- Notes and sources show improvement over previous version. There are multiple note fields for each individual and fact, and notes can be made private on an individual basis. If you don't see the notes feature next to facts in the individual person's information pane (on the right-hand side), then you may need to go to Tools -> Options to turn this feature on (it wasn't set this way as the default in the version I downloaded). On the source tab, you can view sources by individual, and there is a pane on the bottom which displays other people for which this same source was used. You can also enter sources for each individual fact and event, attach a photo or document to the source, as well as notes.
- The book feature is not yet active, although it appears from the beta version that the only option may be to upload the content to AncestryPress (also still in beta). This is basically a personal publishing service that helps you create nicely designed pages from the records, photos, and documents in your family tree, and then print them out. A professional book printing and binding service is supposed to be available shortly. The downside to this feature is that it requires online integration. I like it as an option, but don't feel that it should be the only option. As members of my genealogical society often remind me, not everyone is online. But maybe that's just a feature that's coming and hasn't been added yet. Most charts and reports are similar to what was offered in recent versions. The Custom Report option ended up hanging the program with my large test database, however.
- A lot of people will probably enjoy the place authority option which includes a long list of place names from around the world. All non-standardized place names in your family tree which aren't recognized are marked with a little symbol that takes you to the Place Authority screen. Here you'll be presented with the most likely match and asked if you want to accept. I chose to turn this feature off, however. The reason for this is personal. I like to use the term "county" after the county name in the database. Probably because I do research in a lot of countries and just like to be as specific as possible. The place authority chooses not to include the word "county" after the county name. It's a matter of personal preference, but since there appears to be no way to override this, I just turned the feature off.
This is just my first look at the program and is in no way a full review. Several features are not yet implemented in this beta version, and I haven't had time to give it a full workout yet. The best way to get your own feel for the program is to download and try the beta for yourself. I don't yet know if The Generations Network plans to release a trial version of this software, so this could be your only chance to get a good look at the program without purchasing it.
I'd like to know your thoughts on this new look for the venerable FTM as well, so please click on "comments" below and tell us what you think!
Updated on Tuesday, July 17 to add:
Kathi Reid over at AncestorSearch has a lot of great in-depth comments on her beta testing of Family Tree Maker 2008. Thanks to Randy Seaver for pointing this out! There is also some good discussion of the program over at the FTM-TECH list on RootsWeb.