Note: My friend Mark Chinsky has authored some popular articles for Gear Diary such as this LED Light Bulb review and the AeroGarden Pro 100. His day job is consulting on ERP accounting software where I know he’s an avid FileMaker Pro user so I’ve asked him to look at the upgrade that was recently released and provide some thoughts. What follows is his review and impressions of the new features in FileMaker Pro 10
In the beginning of the year FileMaker Inc, released FileMaker Pro Version 10.0 I’ve been using FileMaker almost since it’s original release back in the 1980’s. It originally started as a product written by Apple, and was later spun out into Claris Software which was Apples arm for software so as to not appear to be competing directly with 3rd party developers. Claris eventually killed off their products with the exception of FileMaker, which was by far the most successful, and the new company was named FileMaker Inc.
What started out as a flat file product for keeping track of basic lists of information is now a full powered relational database solution which is as comfortable on the Web as it is on the desktop.
FileMaker has always been an arch competitor to Microsoft Access. FileMaker by far sells more standalone licenses than Access but Access is basically given away as part of the Office bundle so it can name more seats. That being said, a very large percentage of those seats are what I call “shelfware” where the product was never used by the license owner.
FileMaker is one of the few cross platform database applications available and is virtually identical on Macs and PC’s. Neither is shortchanged or different, which means an application built for either will work on the other. It’s primary moniker is all about style and ease of use,and that is clearly where its Apple roots show. It has better form layout tools than many full time graphic applications and rivals those of dedicated mainstream report writers such as Business Objects Crystal Reports.
FileMaker is extremely accessible to a novice wanting to keep track of CD’s, yet at the same time is used for business class commercial applications. They can name many Fortune 500 clients. It’s the type of product that “sneaks” in because an end user creates a “quick and dirty” database to solve a problem, and before too long, people are sharing the data and it becomes a production application. Usually without the help of a programmer or professional.
Unlike Access, you can create databases and related applications with no knowledge of programming. You can automate processes by simply selecting from script steps and filling out information.
FileMaker uses its own database engine, and multiple users can share a file simultaneously or larger sites can purchase FileMaker Server which increases performance and scalability. At the same time, in newer versions it can co-exist nicely with “corporate” databases like Microsoft SQL Server wherein you can include SQL Server tables in your solution, extend them, and use them as if they were part of FileMaker.
My personal favorite is using FileMaker as an advanced report writer. I implement ERP solutions (Sage MAS90 and Sage MAS200) which are designed by programmers for specific functions. When we have clients who’s needs to always fit that design, rather than modify the ERP solution which is costly and makes future upgrades more difficult, we’ll often extend them with FileMaker. For example, if a customer has advanced sales commission needs, we can use FileMaker to extract the data via ODBC, massage it appropriately including using new screens and rules in FileMaker and then generate a report. It can even “push” manipulated data back into the application so rekeying isn’t required.
FileMaker 10.0 adds some new features and functionality to an already robust application. I’m not sure I agree that it deserves a full new “point release” version number, as the changes are incremental, not revolutionary. I personally feel “point release” numbers should mean the application has undergone a rewrite or has substantial new functionality.
The single biggest new feature (in my opinion) is the ability to now associate a script to an event. In the past Access fans have always dinged FileMaker because although the scripting was quite capable, you could only execute a script a few ways: Automatically when the file opens; when it closes, when you place a button on the form that needs to be pushed, or when you select the script from a menu. With 10.0 you can now associate a script with an event such as entering or exiting a field. When a certain field’s value changes. This means you can significantly simplify the user’s experience so that many logical things occur automatically. For example, when a field changes you could automatically execute a script to notify somebody by email to take action. For example, if you have an Order database, and an order is entered greater than $1,000, an alert email can be automatically sent to somebody.
The following are the events that can now trigger a script:
* After a field is entered
* When typing into a field
* After a value is changed
* Before data is saved
* Before exiting a field
* When a layout becomes active
* Before characters are typed into an active layout
* When navigating from record to record
* Before a record is committed
* When an uncommitted record is changed back to its original value
* When changing from Browse, Preview or Find mode
The possibilities are limitless, and this functionality gives FileMaker consultants and users a very good reason to no longer have to leave FileMaker and build in a complex expensive environment like Visual Studio for this type of functionality.
It now sports a new UI. It does away with the vertical bar on the left for navigation and moves toward a more Mac Centric customizable toolbar on top. You might say it’s a bit similar to Office 2007 as well. More functions are directly accessible via this toolbar rather than nested menus. Various other UI changes were made to make the product even more approachable and easier to use for both database creators and end users.
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Other less dramatic improvements include:
* Modify reports while viewing them rather than going back to design mode
* Saved Finds: Allows you to save search criteria for future use without the need for scripting
* New and improved starter sets, themes and templates. FileMaker comes with a variety of usable or extendable databases such as checkbooks, contact management, Donation tracking, membership solutions etc.
* Send mail via SMTP: You can now push mail out directly to an SMTP server rather than hooking into a local email application such as Outlook. This ensures all emails go out in real time and simplifies emailing when you have users with different email solutions and platforms. SMTP is pretty much universal
* There are a number of other minor improvements such as new included training videos, support for Office 2007 XML file formats etc.
Overall I would say this is a welcome release. FileMaker continues to improve the product and has been coming out with new releases every 6 to 12 months which is much faster than most competitors. The ability to trigger scripts on events alone is probably the deal maker for most existing users.
If you’ve ever needed a database and are using the wrong tool for the job currently (such as Excel), FileMaker is easily the best solution for solving those problems without engaging a programmer. It’s a solution also that you can grow into over time for more complex problems. Many of the simple web based databases such as Intuit’s Quickbase, may solve your immediate list management problem, but the functionality of those applications and ability to “walk users” through the appropriate business logic, makes them inadequate very quickly.
FileMaker databases can be published to the web with a few clicks and have most (but not all) of the functionality of the full program application.
FileMaker Pro 10.0 is available directly from the manufacturer and other retailers. The FileMaker Pro 10 upgrade is $179, and the full version is $299.