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FileMaker Pro has been around for decades, and it’s become the de facto standard in Mac database applications. While databases certainly aren’t the most captivating of apps, FileMaker manages to pull off its data-crunching with a bit of true Mac style.
For the uninitiated, FileMaker Pro is a relational database designed to be approachable to data monkeys and mere mortals alike. Solutions like Bento or Excel are fine for simple data, but the minute you need to combine different sets of data from different sources, you hit a brick wall. Luckily, you can use Filemaker Pro as a simple flat-file database like Bento--or Apple’s old AppleWorks suite--adding new tables and relational links as your expertise develops.
With FileMaker Pro anyone can create customized data input forms, reports, and lists. Version 11 adds charts, Snapshot Links, and other productivity enhancements.
Building a FileMaker database is as simple as a couple of clicks. And if you prefer to get a jump-start design-wise, the app offers dozens of ready-made templates for everything from personal contact management to small-business invoicing. The pre-made templates can be a little plain, but they’re great jumping-off points for custom solutions.
FileMaker Pro 11 also boasts a number of additions and enhancements over its predecessor. These include a new Charts tool for turning bare data into meaningful graphics--bar graphs, pie charts, and area graphs, for example--with some rather nice 3D shapes and subtle shading effects. You can now produce spreadsheet-style Quick Reports using grouped data and subtotals. There’s an enhanced Layout and Report Assistant, which is perfect for quickly summarizing gobs of information. But our favorite new feature is the Snapshot Link. Pare your data down to a specific subset of records by searching, and the Snapshot Link allows you to send a link to let another FileMaker Pro user to access the same subset of records. As the underlying data gets updated, the Snapshot Link result will always display the most current information in those records. It’s a great way to share live data without having to create duplicate copies, which inevitably fall out of date.
FileMaker Pro 11 starts you off gently with a selection of ready-made Starter Solutions for home, personal, and business tasks.
The Recurring Import feature lets you import data from an Excel worksheet on a continuing basis so that FileMaker Pro refreshes the data each time you open the file. So even if there is important data stored outside of FileMaker itself, you can rest assured that you’ll always have access to the most current information without having to re-import. There’s also a new iTunes-style Quick Find box for fast searching, and the application now sports an Inspector that groups together layout and object properties in a single, multi-tabbed palette. Taken together, the new enhancements really beef up Filemaker’s utility and usability.
For serious database developers, FileMaker Pro 11 offers tools to produce sophisticated custom solutions. New additions include the ability to organize layouts into folders, improved scripting and variables, and portal filtering to display search-based related records from other tables in the database. It’s powerful stuff that allows you to create industrial-strength data-management solutions.
Compared to the likes of Bento, FileMaker’s consumer database solution, FileMaker Pro 11 looks expensive and perhaps a little bit old-fashioned. But if you need a serious tool, this is it.
FileMaker Pro still ends up looking fresh with each new release. It makes relational databases comprehensible to the rest of us, yet still has the raw power for high-end business needs.
FileMaker Pro 11
PRICE: $299; $179 upgrade
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.5.7 or later, Intel processor
New Charts & Quick Reports help you do more with your data. Snapshot Links enable easy, real-time sharing. Quick Find box for fast searching.
Expensive for home use. Starter Solutions are powerful but plain-looking.