FileMaker’s upgrade to version 9 brings new features and capabilities across the whole range from FileMaker Pro to FileMaker Server Advanced, making this what the company describes as its “most dramatic new offering in years”.
One of FileMaker’s strengths has always been its emphasis on easy-to-use design tools for creating screen and print layouts, and no upgrade would be complete without some additions here. This time, the one that’s bound to grab most attention is the new Auto-Resize option – apparently the feature most requested by users. This allows you to create layouts that can adapt to differently sized screens. How objects move or scale is controlled through the Object Info window, where you can choose whether to pin an object’s position relative to one or more sides.
While that works smoothly, there are some limitations. In particular, it isn’t possible to pin objects to each other, even if they’re grouped, so a field and its label may end up overlapping when the screen expands. Where it’s most effective is with simple layouts that need to work both on traditional and widescreen monitors: more complex layouts and two-dimensional resizing are less likely to succeed. However, the principle is excellent, and the prospect of creating a one-size-fits-all layout is tantalising.
Another welcome new option is Conditional Formatting, which provides an elegant solution to the problem of how to modify the formatting of fields or text objects in response to data values. Previously, this involved the use of calculation fields and sometimes even multiple layouts. Now, it’s all much simpler and will save considerable time and effort. Tabbed layouts have been improved, too: you can now set the tab width and specify which tab is to be foremost by default. Scripting improvements include the ability to open multiple windows, which makes it easier to copy and paste between scripts, and you can also now group scripts into virtual folders, so you don’t have to scroll through long lists of them every time you open ScriptMaker.
In a move that’s clearly aimed at broadening its acceptance in the enterprise market, version 9 now allows much closer links to SQL databases. Previously, you could only import a static snapshot of the data from an SQL table. Now, SQL tables can appear in the Relationships Graph just like native FileMaker tables. This allows users to set up relationships between the two databases and combine dynamic data from the external tables with local FileMaker data. You’ll need to be running Oracle, MySQL Community Server or Microsoft SQL Server for this to work. Also, it’s important to note that FileMaker isn’t acting as a front-end to the SQL database; you can’t modify the SQL schema, only the data, so indexing, for example, needs to be set up on the SQL side before it can be used on the FileMaker side. However, where the needs are predictable and well defined, all this should provide an effective way for FileMaker users to combine workgroup and corporate data.
There’s also a clutch of smaller features aimed at making life easier for end users. These include a Quick Start window that provides faster access to commonly used databases when you first launch FileMaker, field-level spellchecking and an improved method for creating PDFs. In earlier versions, data saved as a PDF always produced a new document. Now, the Save As PDF script step offers the option to append to an existing PDF, which means that multiple reports can be consolidated into a single document.
FileMaker Server also deserves a brief mention. Apart from a redesigned interface, its big new feature is PHP Site Assistant, which guides you through a number of options and then automatically creates a PHP website (or, at least parts of it) to publish your database. There’s a selection of layout themes and styles to choose from, and it aims to be usable even by someone with no PHP programming experience.
Version 9 retains the same file format as versions 7 and 8, so there’s no need to rebuild files except, of course, to use the new features. It’s also the first version specifically designed to work with Vista, although a Vista-compatibility update for version 8.5 was released in March.
Whether it’s really FileMaker’s most dramatic new offering in years depends on these new features being what you’ve been waiting for, but there are certainly many useful improvements across the board. Most of the more significant new features are quite specific, though, so not all users will benefit equally from an upgrade. As such, it’s a recommended purchase, but not an essential upgrade for everyone.
This Review appeared in the December, 2007 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing