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Family Tree Magazine (UK), October 2000

Reunion 7 for Macintosh

Review by David Fowle

Introduction

Reunion is the mainstay of Macintosh family history software. Other commercial programs have come and gone or, like Family Tree Maker for Power Mac, simply languished and failed to move on. However, Reunion has remained in the fore, building on its original innovative format with fully editable charts and reports. The choice of well written Macintosh genealogy software is between the shareware programs GENE and GEDitCOM or the fully featured Reunion...

The first thing that existing users will probably notice is the lack of the charting application SuperChart. The program has undergone a complete overhaul and in rewriting Reunion yet again, Leister have created a much more elegant program, combining the previously separate Reunion and SuperChart packages and integrating the electronic manual which first appeared in version 6. This first electronic manual annoyingly required your web browser to be run to view it, making the loss of the paper version feel even greater, but is much better implemented in version 7.

Another long-term shortcoming was the inability to open two or more family files at once, a feature especially useful if you want to compare a file supplied by another researcher without importing into your own family files. To overcome this I have always retained the previous version on my computer, enabling me to open a GEDCOM file from another person in the old version, whilst running my own database with the latest, but version 7 now allows more than one open file.

Interface Options

The Family Card interface is, in my opinion, the best of any program I've seen for use on either the PC or the Macintosh. The design is clean and clear with no gimmicks, faux pages, etc., and up to 20 children are visible at a glance without scrolling. You can include photos if you wish, and are also able to customise the display to show only the required events. I usually hide the lesser-used education and religion fields so that I can show christening and burial as well as birth and death. You can easily set up several alternate display formats if you wish, and simply switch between them.

This main Family Card interface exhibits one or two minor changes in appearance. Drop down menu buttons look different but work the same as before and photographs can now be re-sized directly by using a drag button on the corner. The Dustbin button, used for extracting wrongly linked and duplicated persons, has been replaced by a rather more dignified Clipboard symbol. The Ages button has been replaced by one which accesses the Manual but, as before, the functions are still available in the List menu.

The big change to the interface in version 7 is the very useful Quickbar, situated just below the normal button bar, which permits the creation of user assignable, direct links to any selected family cards. This is especially useful as your database grows in size, since you can place buttons for key individuals to help you move around the database more quickly. buttons are easily created by dragging and dropping a person from the family card onto the bar when the button names may be easily edited...

The e(lectronic) manual

The previous electronic manual required you to be running your web browser to view and search but this isn't always convenient or immediate. The newly integrated manual is comprehensive and excellent--the only disadvantage I found was that you can't browse it in the bath, which is where I usually discover the lesser known features of most programs!

A keyword search screen is accessed from the Manual button on the toolbar and returns quick accurate results, showing hyperlinks to the relevant parts of the manual which match your search criteria, and is much faster to use than a printed manual and index. An example of the results of a search are shown in Figure 2. I had a slight initial program of access to the pages from the search screen but this was simply and quickly resolved by renaming my hard drive.

Context sensitive help has also been added in this version with most windows having a "?" button in the corner, directly linked to the relevant section of the manual.

It still helps to have a large monitor to avoid their clutter, thought, and I have never regretted buying an inexpensive graphics card and secondhand colour monitor to give me the massive desktop area that the Macintosh operating system allows.

Web features

Reunion allows you to create web version of family cards, offering a range of display and privacy options... There is now an option for web cards to include photos, movies and sounds which have been linked to a particular person or family and MP3 audio file support has been added to the multimedia capabilities. There is also a choice of three new display frames for images included on your web cover page.

Charting improvements

The features offered by SuperChart have always been a strength of the package, and now, as well as being integrated into the main program, they have been slightly improved. When you create charts, all the boxes have a tiny navigation button in the corner, and clicking on this opens a multi-option menu. One time saving option permits direct selection of person-linked pictures to be added to the chart, whilst another allows the equally useful feature of a link directly to that person's family card.

The new navigation button is a feature of the boxes on all chart styles except Timelines and the new Fan charts. This new Fan Chart option displays up to 10 generations in a semicircle...

Chart pictures may be framed in a choice of styles, which are not particularly twee, as I feared they might be. The feathered, oval frame with the frame turned off gives a very pleasing vignette style presentation which I think looks well on charts...

Added text, such as captions or perspective events, may now be rotated on the chart to save space or add individual style. Printing big charts is always a problem as the largest size printer that most people can afford is an A3 inkjet, so "cut and paste" is usually needed and the result is not impressive. A new feature of the Page Setup, Virtual Plotter, allows you to see the size of your chart on a single sheet of paper and to use the Apple LaserWriter 8 printer driver to create a single page. PostScript file for use by a print bureau with a large inkjet plotter printer.

Other new features

It is easy to forget all the previously used sources and to duplicate them when adding new data at a later time. Imported GEDCOM files can create many duplicates too, so a new Match & Merge Sources feature has been added to sort out the multiple copies...

There are around 80 new features in this upgrade and many minor changes, but for all that, it is still very useful. A good example is the new way the Speed Names list operates: new entries now replace the least used names rather than the oldest entries. Besides major new features, it is the many minor changes such as this one which make the program a pleasure to use.

Leister runs an excellent Reunion Mailing List [ReunionTalk] to support users, with input from Leister staff and other users, providing general program support and ideas for realising the full capabilities of the program. "Bug fixes" are also announced and the version 7.02 update was available from the website at the time of writing.

Many of the changes incorporated in the program come from the feedback on the mailing list and, in consequence, each new version includes a plethora of small satisfying improvements which may add just one small option or slightly modify an existing feature.

Summary

This is without question the best family history program on the Macintosh, but of course it hasn't any real opposition from any other "mature" programs. However, it can hold its own against the best of the Windows programs, too. Not content to rely on its past reputation, Leister has continued to improve on the ease of use of this already excellent program. Some program writers are guilty of being market-led and creating too many upgrades with too few new options; however, with the new key features in this program, such as the Quickbar and fan charts, the integration of SuperChart and the manual and well over 80 other improvements, Leister cannot be accused of producing a poor value upgrade. You will never get a program to please everyone all of the time, but Leister have gone a long way to making Reunion 7 "the program to buy a Mac for".

If you are still using version 4 or 5 it's definitely worth upgrading, but version 6 is as far as you can go on your trusty old 68K Mac. I think version 6 users with PowerMacs will find enough useful new features to make their upgrade well worthwhile...