Okay, it starts off incredibly basic, informing the user of how to use scroll bars and flick between windows using the taskbar but once you get passed that and onto the bits about using the software it guides you through perfectly. Each step along the way is explicitly explained with short videos even demonstrating things for those that can't grasp the concept from words alone. From starting the process by adding your own details to finishing off by designing books of your complete family tree, everything is painstakingly demonstrated in a way that's easy to understand, even for the novice computer user.
The accompanying training DVD does a similarly good job of guiding the user through the entire process and in particular includes detailed instructions on how to install the software. Being English I did find the saccharin sweet American presentation a bit grating but I suppose that's to be expected.
The software itself, although fairly mundane in its appearance, being more reminiscent of the kind of Microsoft Access databases I used to design five years ago, than a modern user-friendly tool, is actually very easy to use. It took me no time at all (well, except for trying to remember all my family's birthdays) to build up a simple three generation family tree, including pictures, sound bites, and a whole host of other detailed information.
It's moving to the next level, though, where things start to fall apart.
A large part of the appeal of the Family Tree Maker software is its ability to search for family members using online databases and in particular those found on Ancestry.com. Now, this really is the interesting bit; finding out where long lost cousins live or who great uncle Charley really was but it's also where a lot of the problems with Family Tree Maker lie.
For a start, the 3-month free subscription to Ancestry.com only includes UK records, which may seem sensible enough. The problem is when you search for family members using the software it nearly always brings up results from the US databases as well, which when you then try and click on it gives you the old 'Hey, you're missing out on some great features. Why not sign up for more'. This is utterly infuriating and we quickly lost patience with trying to perform even the most basic of searches.