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FileMaker Pro can organize any data in your home or work life: mailing lists, DVD collections, expense reports, personal budgets, and more. Since it scales up to business users, home users can be challenged by its slightly obtuse—although improved—interface. Thankfully, tutorials and more than 40 templates introduce the essential features; with just a little persistence, you can build complicated databases that automatically relate and organize data.
If I had $10 million, I'd buy you this house.
Home users might be familiar with Bento, FileMaker’s personal database software. Compared with that tool, FileMaker Pro adds features that are critical for some situations: outgoing email within databases, networking and Web publishing, and open-ended commands that can fit practically any situation.
Unfortunately, FileMaker Pro gives up Bento’s support for Apple’s simple staples—Address Book and iCal—for higher-end Office, PHP, and SQL tools. This means FileMaker Pro can still manually import from almost any spreadsheet or exported contact file, but it won’t dynamically read changes from Address Book. We wish FileMaker Pro could work with all of these tools, especially since Apple’s basics are so deeply tied to the iPhone. Plus, Filemaker Inc. is an Apple subsidiary, after all, and we can’t think of a good reason for a pro-level app to have less functionality than it’s lower-cost sibling.
When getting started, we had no problem importing data from standard spreadsheet formats and Bento databases. But FileMaker Pro doesn’t keep Bento features, such as layout or pop-up menus intact, adding only those data fields. So expect to put in some scut work if making an upgrade; you’ll still have to spend time rebuilding Bento database features.
However you build a database—from scratch, using a template, or importing—FileMaker’s power comes from the ways it relates and reorganizes data. In just a few hours, we built a database to track various homes that are for sale in the area. We included simple checkbox fields to quickly identify positive and negative features, a radio button to track if we’d visited an open house, and even an automatic map to its location.
Then we easily added new ways to view our data, such as showing only the places we had visited in order of price. And when we made edits within those reports, such as if a list price changed, FileMaker Pro immediately re-sorted everything.
Just a few clicks activate the Web publishing tool, letting others edit or just see databases in a browser.
These multiple ways to view and relate data have broad applications. You could create a special layout for printing envelopes that’s different from your standard contact view. You could merge live data from a contact database with a party database to see who’s attending your event from the contact view or see the contact details from the event view. And edits to a single field can update the original data, wherever it’s stored.
Network and online features give even more ways to use FileMaker Pro. Up to five people can concurrently connect to a database through a Web browser. Just by activating this option, we remotely edited and viewed live databases, even from an iPhone. And outgoing email options let you send customized form letters and other batch emails based on database settings.