The first thing you notice about the new FileMaker Pro 11 relational database software is the redesigned start-up screen which gives you four options to get started. Create a new database from scratch; convert an existing Excel, Bento, tab delimited or comma separated file; or use one of the 30 templates.
The latter cover a wide range of uses: asset and contact management; libraries for documents movies and music; product and photo catalogues; inventory and personnel records.
Or if you want to open an existing FileMaker database your document library is waiting onscreen. There are also links to instructional videos, hands-on tutorials, other resources and the FileMaker Forum.
Of course, if you’re an old FMP hand you can uncheck this window and get started in your own fashion. But for users with less experience this is a great way to start. And it underlines the thrust of the main improvements in FileMaker 11 – improved ease of use, especially for beginners, and having more operations easily accessible without needing to work through the traditional Manage Database dialogue box.
Some of the new features are:
Quick Find. Rather than having to specify search fields, you can now interrogate the entire database and save the results of your search. It’s a useful feature, especially when using large databases.
Layout Folders. As your FileMaker collection grows you may want to organise a large number of layouts and this feature helps you do just that.
Inspector. A floating palette where you can modify every aspect of your database layout. The Position tab allows you to micro-tune the physical layout of your fields. The Appearance tab gives you control of text styles, stroke and fill attributes, text alignment, tabs and indents. The Data tab allows you to specify the source for field data and to control its appearance. A nice feature is the ability to have more than one inspector open at a time.
Quick Reports. A neat way of modifying your database while still in Browse mode. Click the ‘Table View’ icon and + signs appear at the end of your last column and row. Click on the column + for a new field; click on the row + for a new record. You can make changes to the format and appearance of your data at the viewing level without needing to drill down to the Manage Database functions.
Improved Layout/Report Assistant. This tool helps you organise your data for presentation quickly and easily. Using a simple dialogue box and elegant templates you can create stunning reports in a flash.
Charts. Improved appearance and more customisation. Pie, bar and area charts can be set up on the fly and dynamically linked to the data they represent. An excellent attribute for quickly demonstrating changes over time. Hover your mouse over a chart item to get a pop-up value.
Portal Filtering. This allows you to set filters to create a custom display of records from related databases.
Snapshot Link. A little like Time Machine, this allows you to preserve a found set of records from a search as it was at the time of the search. These records can then be sent to anyone else using FileMaker 11.
Recurring Import. This feature lets you link your FileMaker database dynamically to an Excel spreadsheet.
Impressed? Other advantages worth considering are the fact that FileMaker is cross-platform, it has been around since 1985 with an extensive user base, and it is extremely user-friendly for such a powerful tool.
If you’ve been using FileMaker’s little brother, Bento, to manage your personal data, FileMaker Pro 11 now offers you similar ease of use but vastly more power for business-level data control.
An Advanced version offers even more tools for database pros. There are also two server versions. See www.filemaker.com.au for information on system requirements and pricing.
This article originally appeared in the May issue of Australian Macworld magazine.