FileMaker version 12
Heaps of new features; simpler and better looking than ever; 16 templates; 64-bit Server versions; Go 12 apps are free
.fmp12 files are not backwards-compatible
Pro 12, $419 (upgrade $249); Pro 12, Advanced $669 (upgrade $419); Server 12, $1429 (upgrade $839); Server 12 Advanced, $4339 (upgrade $2609); Go 12 for iPhone or iPad, free. (All prices are estimated retail)
FileMaker today released its latest product range comprising FileMaker Pro 12 and FileMaker Pro 12 Advanced, FileMaker Server 12 and FileMaker Server 12 Advanced, FileMaker Go 12 for iPhone and FileMaker Go 12 for iPad.
In this review I’ll be looking at the main new features in FileMaker Pro 12. The Advanced version adds a number of features for developers and seasoned users to streamline application development. Bento 4, the personal database for Mac, iPhone and for iPad is not involved in this new release.
When you first open up FMP 12 the QuickStart screen lists your recent files and favourites and provides links to video tutorials, hands-on tutorials and the FileMaker forum.
It also offers you three choices to open or create a file. The first option is to create a database from scratch. Not overly difficult, but you would need some experience in creating and defining fields. The second option allows you to create a FileMaker database from an existing Excel, Tab Delimited, Comma Separated, Merge or Bento file. Choose this option, find the file you want to base your new database on and presto, you have an FMP12 version.
If you’re opening a file created in a previous version (.fmp7) FileMaker asks you if you want to convert and then saves it as .fmp12. You can then do a makeover if you wish using one of the new layout themes. I tried his with an old inventory from FMP 10. It converted in seconds and I prettied it up with a new style – Bamboo – which is becoming my favourite.
One caveat – although my original still exists, my converted file will now only be compatible with FMP12 or subsequent versions.
The third option is to use one of the 16 new Starter Solutions. These are predesigned templates from a typical list of database genres – contacts, event management schedules, inventories, invoices, personnel records, product catalogues and projects.
Make your choice and FileMaker instantly presents you with the first record in your new database, professionally laid out and tastefully designed. And with the fields you’re most likely to need in your selected category.
A ‘?’ button gives helpful information and tips on how to use the Solution you have chosen. Each Solution has separate iPhone and iPad layouts optimised for touchscreens for linking to FileMaker Go 12.
If you want to make any adjustments, change to Layout view, select Change Theme from the Layouts menu and make your choice from 40 new customised themes.
If you’re still not satisfied, you can adjust, add or delete fields, change colours, fonts and so on by hand. Perhaps boost your brand recognition by using your company’s individual font and colour specifications using the floating Inspector palette.
You can now control the appearance of button states – normal, focus, hover, pressed. New design tools include dynamic grids and alignment guides and image slicing to keep everything firmly in place. Gradient fills add a nice touch of sophistication.
The charting feature of FileMaker has been a strong point in recent versions. Version 12 now offers five new styles – stacked bar, stacked column, bubble, positive/negative and scatter. Simply drag the Chart button to create a new field, choose a chart style, select the data you want to display and how you want to display it and voilà, stunning chart. Again there is an extensive range of customisation options.
In response to the growing proliferation of multimedia files FileMaker 12 has beefed-up container fields into which you can now drag and drop video, audio, photos and videos, as well as Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files. These fields can be made interactive, say if you have a PDF that you want to scroll through, zoom in on or copy text from rather than view as a static image. Or a high-def video you want to stream on the fly if you are running FileMaker Server.
And if you choose to link to external files rather than import them directly into the database, FileMaker now arranges these for you and generates thumbnails automatically. This ‘offsite data parking’ speeds up data flow markedly and is a significant new feature.
To complement these changes FileMaker Server versions are now 64-bit which allows for greater RAM cache which, in turn, speeds up access to data. This gives a significant speed bump over wide area networks especially handling large databases with streaming multimedia content.
FileMaker Go 12, separate apps for iPad and iPhone, are free (that’s right!) from the App Store and can link your iOS device to any database you have created in FileMaker Pro 12 so you can take it with you on the road.
I dropped a contacts database I’d created on my Mac on to my iPad via iTunes. It was very easy and there are a number of other ways of doing it. iOS integration is a key to the future and making Go 12 free (the previous version was $41.99) makes a lot of sense.
So much for the new kids on the block. If you’re thinking of joining the family, let’s meet the parents. FileMaker Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple Inc. The company was founded in 1998 although the software itself has deeper roots.
It is the leading easy-to-use database worldwide and has currently shipped around 18 million units. Due mainly to this usability, the fact that it runs on both Mac and Windows and is a unified platform which speeds development, it has turned a profit in every quarter of its existence.
Its user base includes 70 of the Fortune 100 companies, 10,000 schools worldwide, and 50 of the largest US universities. Forty percent of FileMaker users come from the small business sector, over 4000 government departments are on board and it has a significant stake in the growing not-for-profit (NFP) sector.
As a FileMaker user you will have access to a worldwide network of independent developers who have engineered over 1300 solutions across a wide range of industries. The FileMaker Community includes technical network members, Business Alliance members whose main focus is FileMaker products and services, training companies and user groups.
There is an Annual Developer Conference and 20 independent FileMaker websites with resources for all members of the community. So if you are new to FileMaker or considering switching, you will be moving into a very stable, well-supported global environment.
I joined the family way back around the time of FileMaker 4 in 1997. Even in those days it was delightfully easy to use, so when a colleague complained about her cataloguing software I suggested FileMaker as an alternative.
The package she was using was very expensive, Windows only, and with an extremely complex and quirky interface. This was a major problem because she relied on volunteers to do the majority of the data input and the interface was basically turning them off. Within an hour with FileMaker we had a simplified data entry layout with restful background colours, larger readable fonts, drop-down menus and simple tabbing from field to field. The volunteers returned.
We often form judgements about a database after the data has been entered and forget that ease of data entry is very important – especially in the NFP sector which relies heavily on volunteers. Simplicity and amenity are critical, which is where FileMaker has long excelled. The new layout features in version 12 are a continuation of this successful tradition.
But does this emphasis on elegance and style contradict the view that databases are utilitarian and don’t really need to look beautiful? Of course it does. As all Apple users know aesthetics are a key component of the brand. Just as elegant hardware enhances the user experience so does smoothly functioning, pleasant-looking software. Because something is utilitarian it doesn’t have to be ugly. If you want ugly please go elsewhere.
Another key FileMaker advantage is its unified and simplified development environment which significantly saves time and costs compared to traditional fragmented development tool sets. Somewhat similar to the previous discussion on aesthetics, there is a persistent school of thought in the IT industry which equates difficulty with value.
The harder something is to use the better it must be. Ease-of-use is dismissed as an indication that a software package is not designed for serious application, completely disregarding the elegant and complex design processes that have produced such a product. Simplicity is often more difficult to achieve than the alternative.
Macworld Australia’s buying advice.
By further simplifying the creation of even more beautiful and powerful databases in the hands of ordinary users FileMaker’s release of the version 12 product suite is a significant new milestone along an already impressive journey. And it ain’t over yet.