FileMaker Pro 9, Pro Advanced, Server, and Server Advanced

FileMaker Pro 9, Pro Advanced, Server, and Server Advanced

Scripters can finally, finally, work on more than one script at a time.


In what’s shaping up to be a summer tradition, FileMaker recently released new versions of its well-known line of database products. It didn’t exactly create a media frenzy - we are talking about a database, after all - but behind this quiet launch are some radically new capabilities that could change the database landscape.


FileMaker Pro and Pro Advanced are products for creating and using relational databases. Leading up to version 9, they offered a very mature feature set including GUI tools for creating tables, fields, layouts, and database automation through a tool called ScriptMaker. The key new feature in FileMaker 9 is External SQL Sources, or ESS. With ESS, FileMaker can effectively become a front end to SQL databases. SQL (structured query language) is perhaps the world’s most commonly used database technology. By adding seamless integration between FileMaker’s relatively easy toolbox and the pervasive SQL, vast new possibilities open up.


In our testing, ESS worked as advertised. FileMaker claims that you don’t need to be a SQL programmer to use ESS, and while that’s true, we found that it definitely helps to know a little about SQL. Even the most seasoned FileMaker jockey may find the world of SQL and ODBC, with its drivers and data sources, a frustrating experience. For instance, FileMaker 9 supports just a few flavors of SQL, and you have to buy driver software from a third party. Even so, the technical barriers to accessing external data have never been lower.


If you never use external data sources, FileMaker Pro hasn’t left you out of the feature fest. Conditional formatting is a new trick that allows you to change your layout text formatting based on data. We created an invoice layout that displays the invoice status in bold and red when the payment is past due. We found this approach much easier than the old way, which required “shadow” fields to be layered atop one another. Nice as this feature is, we would have liked to see contemporary layout tools like layers, guides, and palettes.


FileMaker 9 can be an effective front end for SQL databases.


Also new is the Append To PDF function. Mac OS X users have taken PDF output for granted, but FileMaker 9 adds a nice touch: It can add pages to an existing PDF. We set up a reporting system that obtains three different sets of data on different layouts. Using the Append To PDF feature, all three components of the report came out as a single PDF file and not three, as the Print-dialog technique would require. Our only lament was the time it took FileMaker to build the PDF. The operation felt a trifle pokey on our 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro.


Professional FileMaker developers will appreciate the remodeled ScriptMaker. FileMaker’s scripting environment allows users to create automated actions (along the lines of macros) of considerable complexity. Script-editing windows have always been modal, meaning you had to click Save and close out of ScriptMaker entirely to test your scripts. Not anymore. ScriptMaker and individual script-editing windows now behave like standard document windows. It took us a few days to get acclimated to this change; we kept looking for the Save button after each edit. Once we broke that old habit, however, we began to wonder why it hasn’t always been this way.


If you use FileMaker Pro enough to get excited about nonmodal script windows, FileMaker Pro Advanced is for you. Advanced has everything you find in FileMaker Pro, and adds high-end tools like a custom function editor, a custom menu editor, and copy-and-paste support for tables and scripts. FileMaker Pro Advanced hasn’t changed much in version 9, apart from a new look to the script debugger and an improved data viewer. Still, we wouldn’t try developing without it.


The bottom line. We found FileMaker 9 to be the most compelling update in years. The new features are thoughtful additions and well executed. The ability to interact with SQL data sources is unprecedented. Best of all, the file format hasn’t changed since version 7, so you can dive in fearlessly.


COMPANY: FileMaker


PRICE: $299 Pro ($179 upgrade); $499 Advanced ($299 upgrade)

REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.4.8 or later, 256MB RAM

SQL front end. Simplified scripting. Conditional formatting. Enhanced PDF handling. Universal binary.

Stale design tools. No way to group or manage layouts. SQL drivers must be purchased separately.



Read the FileMaker Server and Server Advanced review on the next page...




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