Last year, when FileMaker Pro moved up to version 10, it acquired some fundamental improvements, such as script triggers and the ability to save search criteria. In version 11, the main emphasis is on getting things done and making life easier.
Foremost in this is the introduction of charts. Previously, you’d need to buy third-party plugins or export your data to a spreadsheet or specialist graphing program. Now, it’s all built in. You get a choice of bar, line, area or pie charts, plus a few optional variations such as 3D and line smoothing. That won’t be enough for more demanding scientific and financial users, but it should cover the majority of typical business needs.
Charts exist as single objects that can be given a layout of their own or embedded into reports or records. From there they can be copied into other applications. You can also publish charts to the web using FileMaker’s Instant Web Publishing tool. Visually, FileMaker charts work well, although there are some formatting limitations. You can’t move the position of a chart title or vary the colours of data series outside the 20 predefined colour themes that are provided. The themes are well chosen, however, and the formatting controls are intuitive so you can achieve stylish, if somewhat predictable, results quickly.
Another new feature that comes into its own when deadlines are looming is the ability to produce dynamic reports directly from a Table layout, without having to switch to Layout mode or use the Manage Database window to create new fields. One click on a column header lets you define it as the field for grouping data, another click lets you create a total or other sub-summary for any field. All you need to do then is sort the records to create the report. It’s fast and effective. There’s just one flaw: you can’t format the sub-summary data that’s been created in this way; you have to accept FileMaker’s default choices. If they won’t do, you’ll need to revert to the traditional way of defining summary fields and laying out a report.
Apart from reports, the new emphasis on interactivity in the Table view brings the ability to quickly create new fields, redefine field types, change field options and hide or show any field while still in Browse mode, without having to switch to the underlying layout. In many ways, this makes the Table view feel more like a spreadsheet rather than a conventional database. That’s no bad thing, especially since many people choose to use a spreadsheet for the sort of tasks that belong in a database because they feel it will be faster and easier to set up.
Layout design has been streamlined by a new Inspector window that brings together all the formatting, layout and field options in a single floating panel. This replaces the old Object Info box and includes many of the items that used to be in the Format menu. Layout management has also been improved with the ability to group layouts into folders.
Developers and more advanced users will welcome the addition of some new script triggers as well as the new portal filter. This lets you define criteria for filtering the related data that’s displayed inside a portal without altering the underlying relationship between tables.
Among other novelties, there’s now a Quick Find feature that lets you search across all fields at once. Also new is Snapshot Link, which allows you to grab the current state of a set of records and save it or email it to anyone else who’s using FileMaker Pro 11. Any changes made to the snapshot will be reflected in the database, but not vice versa. This could be useful if you want someone to view or work on a subset of records without giving them access to the whole database.
The Recurring Import tool, meanwhile, lets you import records in read-only form from an external file, such as an Excel spreadsheet. The import can be updated manually at any time or automatically each time you open the database. Meanwhile, the file format remains unchanged, with both backwards and forwards compatibility (without access to the new features) remaining intact, although you can lock a file so it can’t be opened by earlier versions.
With a long list of other small but useful additions and improvements, this is one of the most feature-packed FileMaker Pro upgrades we’ve seen in a long time. It takes an already good product to the next level, and offers genuine productivity improvements.