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A Case Of Forgotten Users

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... a story of the dangers of proprietary formats.

This page was last updated on July 26, 2013.

The Joy of Historical Databases

In July 1998 while visiting the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum in Salt Lake City, I purchased at their bookstore, a CD-ROM titled "The Pioneer Heritage CD-ROM". The CD-ROM was being offered because it contained all of the text and photos, searchable by keyword, of DUP's extremely useful "lessons", dating back to Kate B. Carter's "Heart Throbs of the West", first published in 1939.

In December 1998 in one of my first on-line purchases, I gave Ancestry $39.95 to "unlock" the CD's full contents, which included the following:

However, the jewel of the collection was labeled simply as "Daughters of Utah Pioneers." This included the following:

Six months later, I upgraded my hard drive, which required a new "unlock" code, which Ancestry furnished without problem. A year after that, a new computer forced another unlock code, which was also furnished, with the customer service representative saying that the initial purchase from a year before was a "lifetime" purchase.

Over the ensuing years, I continued to upgrade hard drives, and computers, and as late as August 2006, Ancestry continued to furnish an unlock code. But beginning in 2000-2001, each call for support required a longer and longer hold time as the telephone support person searched for the needed input screen, which in turn would generate a five-digit unlock code. An attempt in July 2004 needed three separate calls to Ancestry customer support to find a knowledgeable person who was able to find the unlock code generator. At that time, I started doing research into the history of Folio, Infobases, and the development of the file format (.NFO) proprietary to Folio.

A bit of on-line research helped me discover that the Folio setup program uses the computer's internal clock for part of the algorithm, along with a generated five-digit "unlock" code, to "unlock" the contents of the CD-ROM. This means that each new installation, due to new computers or replacement hard drives, must be "real time," meaning that the user must to be at the his computer and running the setup at the same time that customer support is called to request a new unlock code.

Then it happened.

In August 2006, after (yet another) hard drive crash in late 2005, I was unable to find anyone at Ancestry who recognized the need for an unlock code, and gave up. In December 2006 I suffered another hard drive failure, and I was again told by telephone support that an unlock code was no longer available.

Repeated calls to telephone support finally put me in the hands of a support person with similar interests, and he helped me identify the location of the DUP collections on Ancestry.com's web site. I immediately subscribed to their service.

Unfortunately, the search function at Ancestry.com assumes I am looking for a person. But they do allow a keyword search, which seems to work properly when searching a single source. I am unable to simply browse through the collections. Gone is the ability to print selected text (and search results) with citations, along with the photos.

Using the DUP collections at Ancestry.com [as of November 2010]:

Ancestry.com -> Search -> Card Catalog -> In the "Title" box, search for the title of the DUP collection, i.e., "An Enduring Legacy", "Heart Throbs of the West", "Our Pioneer Heritage", "Treasures of Pioneer History". (Save the URL web address as one of your favorite bookmarks.)

(October 2015 Update: Ancestry has announced that they will be deleting access to these DUP databases.)

(Read more at AncestryInsider.org)

(Read more at GeneaMusings.com)

The research into Folio and Infobases I did in 2004 made me pretty upset about the whole concept of entrepreneurs focusing on what they see as easy targets. In this case, it was a group of young entrepreneurs who also happen to be members of the LDS faith. They saw an opportunity of using Utah and LDS history resources as a revenue stream, using a proprietary file format. They then moved on to other opportunities without caring that they are walking away from their customer base.

The Back Story

Folio

In 1990, two BYU graduates by the name of Paul Allen and Dan Taggart created Infobases as a company, and began offering LDS publications on computer floppy disks. They chose to use the Folio infobase encryption and compression technology that Allen was familiar with, having worked at Folio Corporation since that company's founding in 1987. Folio was co-founded by Paul Allen's brother Curt Allen, and by his brother-in-law Brad Pelo, and using Folio technology seemed a natural way to offer LDS publications as a business venture.

(I have added some of what I found to the Infobases, and the Folio Corporationarticles at Wikipedia.)

Infobases was successful in the small but unfulfilled LDS consumer market with its LDS Collector's Library. By 1996 Allen and Infobases together were gaining national media attention as an up-and-coming company and its young entrepreneur CEO. By 1997, the LDS Collector's Library had been sold to thousands of trusting church members. These new buyers simply wanted to make their use of LDS scriptures and associated publications, using the combined benefits of Folio Bound Views technology, and Infobases' scanning of hundreds of books and documents, and publishing them as CD-ROMs. As a side note, apparently most if not all of the books and documents were obtained from the libraries of nearby Brigham Young University.

Throughout 1995-1997, Infobases continued to sell LDS publications on CDs, and worked with other organizations, such as Daughters of Utah Pioneers and Utah State Historical Society, to make their own unique publications readily available, and searchable, on CD-ROM. These new CDs were a wonderful resource that made the study and use of LDS and Utah history publications much easier. But it all changed in 1997, after a very brief three year span of success.

In February 1997, Folio Corporation, co-founded by Brad Pelo and Curt Allen, was sold to Open Market, a Boston-based internet company seeking to take advantage of the growing electronic commerce phenomena taking place on the world wide web.

Open Market struggled to integrate the Folio technology into its business model, and together with a growing sense of reality among investors and businesses of high tech internet-related stocks, the company was soon seeing serious decline in its fortunes. A change in management at Open Market, and a switch in technologies in mid 1999 saw the Folio technology licensed back to Pelo and a group of Utah investors that included Alan Ashton of WordPerfect fame, under the name of ABSB. (Open Market attempted to embrace at least two other content management technologies, but was never able to fully recover. In March 2003, Open Market declared bankruptcy. Its surviving technology is now controlled by FatWire.)

This new company, ABSB, very soon changed its name to NextPage, and embarked on an expanding effort to leverage the benefits of Folio technology into what was variously called Peer-To-Peer Content Network and eContent Network. Where Folio really shined was in its ability to index all document formats on a company's internal network, known as an intra-net, and make those documents readily available to all network users.

During the mid 1990s, Folio had expanded its technology to include indexing web-based documents and products, along with additional formats. NextPage continued to improve on its Folio technology, and in less than two years the technology was being successfully marketed as NextPage's NXT.

The benefit's of NextPage's former Folio technology saw Pelo give testimony before the U.S. Senate in October 2000 on the advantages of server-based peer-to-peer document management, in the Senate's hearings on the negative impact of Napster, a similar peer-to-peer technology that allowed users to share music (illegally) across the internet.

In early September 2004 NextPage, Inc. announced that Fast Search & Transfer (FAST), a Norwegian-based leading developer of enterprise search and real-time alerting technologies, had agreed to purchase the technology, product lines, and the over 500 customers and partners of NextPage's publishing applications business unit, including NXT, Folio, LivePublish, and GetSmart. NextPage's document management services, Chrome, was to remain with the company.

In January 2006, FAST announced the release of ProPublish 4.1, "designed specifically for premium content providers whose research-oriented users demand complex search and navigation capabilities." The relationship of the old Folio format, to this newer ProPublish format in not known, but the news release shows that ProPublish included "Enhanced support for Folio and NXT content types."

FAST is now a Microsoft Subsidiary. On April 25, 2008, Microsoft completed its acquisition of FAST Search & Transfer, in what Microsoft called "opening a new chapter in the ongoing evolution of search." They continue to support the Folio technology, but not the Infobases encrytion scheme.

In response to a query to Microsoft's FAST subsidiary, I have learned that the troublesome five-digit unlock code was not a feature of the Folio software. It was solely the choice that the now-defunct Infobases company made to protect its digital publications. Folio and its encryption technology is still fully supported. A Microsoft representative wrote, "The Folio product line continues to be supported through the many acquisitions; we are currently at version 4.7.1. While we are not actively selling the software any longer, we do continue to provide support services, including software patches, as necessary. The current versions of the software can open and read the older formats (back to version 3.1)."

Additional clarification was provided by Microsoft's FAST: "Folio is essentially a CD/DVD publishing platform. Publishers use the software to generate, secure, and distribute infobases (.nfos). They pay a royalty to distribute their publications with the software. The Folio organization (and its successors) have no control over their content nor any way to access their content without the appropriate access keys - which are controlled by the publisher, not by Folio."

So, it appears that the culprit here was Infobases as a publisher. As will be shown later, the rights and interests of Infobases is now owned and controlled by the LDS church's own Deseret Book Company.

Infobases

Rewind back to Infobases in 1997. Infobases founders Paul Allen and Dan Taggart, saw a need to embrace the growing use of the world wide web for the purposes of genealogy and family history research. They purchased Ancestry Publishing, a 13-year-old publishing house that specialized in family history materials, and converted it to Ancestry.com.

The growing interest in using the internet to research one's family history has seen an explosive growth in the potential market. Allen and Taggart saw this as an opportunity in 1997, and today, Ancestry.comis one of the most successful internet companies in the nation. (After November 1999, Ancestry's parent company was renamed to MyFamily.com, with Ancestry.com remaining as its most popular component company.)

With the success of Ancestry.com as an internet company, the CD-ROM compact disks sold by Infobases soon became just a sideline to the on-line internet products that Ancestry was offering. To provide content and to expand its customer base, in June 1997, Infobases bought Bookcraft Publishing Company, a publishing house that published LDS-related books that had been turned away by the church's own Deseret Book Company.

Bookcraft had developed an impressive catalog of print publications, and Infobases saw a potential source that would greatly expand its own catalog of digital publications published as CD-ROMs for use on personal computers. The two companies merged, retaining the Bookcraft name as the top-level company.

In this same late 1990s time period, the LDS church itself was becoming aware of the advantages of the internet and electronic publishing. Through its Deseret Book brand name, the church had published its own scriptures and related publications on CD-ROM, and soon the Deseret Book versions of the LDS scriptural material, under the GospeLink name, were in direct competition with what Infobases had been doing since 1990.

Rather than to continue to compete, in April 1999, the management arm of the LDS church, Deseret Management, bought Bookcraft, which included all of the electronic publishing efforts of Infobases. Now that the LDS church itself was in the electronic publishing field, in addition to the scriptural materials, it could make available the numerous family history databases under the FamilySearch brand name.

Deseret Book chose to continue using the Folio infobase technology, supplied by NextPage as successor to Folio. Starting in 2002, and still unfulfilled in mid 2004, Deseret Book continued to promise an internet-based version of GospeLink. The kinks were worked out and today the effort is known simply as GospeLink.com. However, this internet-based service still would not address the concerns of owners of Infobases-published works on CD-ROM.

It might be a fair assumption that those users who purchased Infobases CD-ROM products, are in many cases people who don't have much more than a beginner's knowledge of computer use, and are likely mystified as to why their Infobases CDs don't work properly on their new computers. Those users who are somewhat familiar with the use of computers, are most assuredly quite frustrated by the lack of upgrade patches and support for the old Infobases CDs. The loss of access to the extensive spiritual and historical CD resources originally published by Infobases is a fine example of the disadvantages of so-called "improving" technology. The customers who helped make the company successful, are simply left behind and technology moves on.

One of the possible obstacles may be the CD-based publications use 16-bit computer technology. As yet, there are severe limitations for users of Windows XP, which is a 32-bit technology. While the old Infobases CDs ran fine on Windows 98 computers, they are limited, and crash regularly, on Windows XP computers, which have been on the market since 2001. As more and more LDS users join the rank and file of personal computer users, the numbers of Windows XP users will continue to grow.

What To Do

The true travesty of this whole string of events is that these Utah Valley entrepreneurs have abandoned the Folio/Infobases text encryption and compression technology. A technology that was so successfully pushed on the unsuspecting consumer market, and users in the LDS and Utah history communities.

There were many, many books and other source materials made available in the magical 1995-1997 time period; quite literally thousands of books and documents. Several of the businesses started by these guys were voted as the "bright stars" and fine examples of the "new age" Utah business community. They have all espoused the faith and family values of their personal religion, each talking at great length in various interviews about the service they were doing by making all of this spiritual and historical material available to the masses.

But anyone today who tries to use any consumer-marketed Infobases CD-ROM product on a newer technology personal computer such as a PC with Windows XP or Vista, or any Apple computer, soon runs up against a brick wall of non-compatibility.

What is needed is a Folio-compatible viewer for the consumer market that allows the uploading of Infobase .nfo and their associated files from those old CD-ROMs, to today's massive hard drives. There is no need for this viewer to compromise Infobases' proprietary encryption and compression technology, but it must be able to view Infobases' version of the files created under all of the Folio formats after the initial DOS 2.0 version. This would include the earliest 3.1a version that was used so extensively in 1996-1997, and meant to be compatible with Windows 3.1.

These founders and co-founders of Folio and Infobases are all millionaires many times over. I would think that in their entrepreneurial philanthropy, they could at a minimum embrace an implied obligation to produce a viewer for their Infobases products for the consumers who are stuck with all of these encrypted document collections.

I know nothing about encryption and compression technology, but surely, someone knows the details of these old encypted Infobases text and index files to the point that a viewer could be made available. If not a viewer, than at least a conversion tool that reads an old infobase, and saves it as a group of web-enabled files on our hard drives, with full Digital Rights Management. No marketing or customer support required; simply make it available as a free (or low cost) download from the Ancestry.com web site, or because Deseret Book bought the rights to Infobases products, from the GospeLink.com web site.

In 2000 Deseret Book released its GospeLink 2001 product on CD-ROMs, as a suite of church-related publications (a combination of Deseret Book's previous GospeLink suite and Infobases previous LDS Collector's Library), using the then-current NextPage technology. By mid 2004, the program was up to version 2.20, but still with a copyright date of 2000. Apparently, new features have been added, and it does appear to install and operate with Windows. But it cannot be used as a viewer for other Folio infobases.

Deseret Book's decision to make available the GospelLink suite on CD-ROM implies full support of the current Folio standard from then-owner NextPage. For business reasons, this decision is intended to limit the program's usefulness to only the current version of the infobase technology. This seems a bit shortsighted given the overwhelming push that Deseret Book gave to earlier consumer products during the late 1990s. Not everyone can afford this constant push to upgrade-upgrade-upgrade, especially us lowly consumers.

A similar release of historical data on CD took place with Utah State Historical Society's Utah History Suite, but with a better result. Originally available in 1999 as the "Utah History on CD-ROM", and using older Folio encryption, the CD included fully searchable versions of the Utah Historical Quarterly, the History Blazer, the full series of Centennial County Histories, and Beehive History. The version released in 2004 (and still available in 2008) came from a mystery company known as Historical Views, and made full use of changing technology and included updated viewers for both Windows and for Apple Macintosh computers. In its "About" help screen the viewer identifies itself as Folio Bound Views, version 3.11.2, copyright 1992-1996. And yet, even with the old original version, the viewer installs itself, and is fully functional on a new PC computer, running Windows Vista.

One question begs to be asked: If Folio technology can be used convert the earlier infobases internally for release in the latest GospeLink for LDS publications, and for the Utah History Suite, why can't a solution be offered to convert the earlier Infobases CD-ROMs that apply to Utah history, and other historical works.

NextPage offered a single-license version of Folio View, for a mere $149, but only by a direct credit-card-in-hand telephone call to their Lehi headquarters. Unfortunately, a warning was given that this latest incarnation of the Folio viewer may, or may not, be compatible with earlier infobases due to varying levels of encryption and rights management. This would be minimally acceptable if it would at least import the older infobases and offer to convert and save them to the latest format, much like many "improved" programs do for older database formats offered by other software companies.

Am I whining? You bet! We consumers are more often than not, seen merely as potential revenue; that we have these overstuffed wallets begging to be emptied by the next bright young man who thinks he has a good idea. Obviously, America is a nation of consumers, but historical information, and access to it, is simply not on the radar of companies who feed the ever-changing herd of people who only want the latest mobile iToy.

As for using propreitary formats to protect your latest flash-in-the-pan idea, technology is moving way too fast to support such silliness. No technology is moving so fast that the developers can't at least give some minimal support to older versions, especially by the guys who developed the technology in the first place. As my Grandmother would say, "Shame on you!"

More Information

Folio Timeline

Infobases Timeline

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