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Back when the Mac first came out, when screens were only black and white, when graphics had no transparency, no gradients, not even textures, we had pattern fills. They were rudimentary tools for giving 2D, black-and-white graphical objects some flair. Phased out from just about every software product by the mid 1990s, those patterns persisted in FileMaker Pro and became emblematic of the long-neglected interface tools known as the “design surface.” With version 12, FileMaker finally ditches the ’80s patterns and gives users the tools for making good-looking databases in no time at all.
A layout this refined used to take hours. FileMaker’s new Theme feature, coupled with modern design surface tools (visible in the inspector, above at right), bring good database design within reach of almost everyone.
The simplest way to see FileMaker’s new clothes is to try out the totally rebuilt Theme feature. FileMaker calls the screens you create for displaying your information Layouts. In past versions, Layout themes were little more than color schemes applied at the time of creation. With FileMaker 12, themes contain a full set of design elements like fonts, field shapes, and background colors for the various layout sections. The product now pays attention to whether you’re editing the header or the body of a given layout and automatically applies the appropriate formatting. Upon creating a layout, you must choose one of the 40 themes available, but should you later decide that Ocean is preferable to Onyx, you’re free to change it at any time.
Of course, it wouldn’t be FileMaker if you couldn’t tweak your layouts in painstaking detail, and version 12 delivers many inviting new possibilities. Objects now have customizable states giving you control over how they appear when the cursor is hovering above, while being clicked, and while in focus (for example, when you’re typing in a text field, that field is “in focus”). Rather than being simply solid, transparent, or (God help you) patterned, items on your layouts can have gradient fills, image fills, and transparency. Rectangular objects such as fields can sport custom-rounded corners. Experienced and determined FileMaker developers have dreamed up techniques for achieving, or at least simulating the capabilities above, but those workarounds generally require hopping between FileMaker and a separate graphics program. Having the tools at hand will be a welcome timesaver.
FileMaker Pro 12’s 16 new starter solutions let you leapfrog the learning curve and get straight to managing information. They also happen to be the best-looking templates FileMaker has included in years.
With the new FileMaker Pro come updated versions of the companion iOS product FileMaker Go. While Go offers remote access to almost every aspect of a database, you still have to use Pro to create that database. A few refinements to FileMaker Pro aim to ease the challenges of designing for iOS devices. Layout Stencils place guides showing the usable space in a layout for the intended device, thus making it simple to keep everything within the screen boundaries of, say, an iPhone in landscape mode or an iPad in portrait. Several layout themes are also optimized for touchscreen use.
FileMaker Pro 12 offers 40 themes, including several optimized for use with the iOS companion product FileMaker Go.
Perhaps the most powerful new feature, the ExecuteSQL() function may also be the most arcane. This gives database developers the ability to apply SQL commands against the data of the current FileMaker file. While that may seem to violate FileMaker’s “anyone can make a database” legacy, it brings a heap of advanced features to those willing to learn some SQL. Other welcome offerings include an improved chart creation interface with a handful of new chart types, improved container field management for storing images or other embedded files, and a concurrent release of FileMaker’s server product with a native 64-bit codebase and improved WAN performance.
The bottom line. FileMaker’s design surface has finally caught up with its mature data management, calculation, and scripting engines. Like a smart professor who finally cut the rattail hair style and ditched the parachute pants, FileMaker Pro has looks to go with those brains.
FileMaker Pro 12
Intel processor, Mac OS 10.6 or later, 2GB RAM
Scads of new design features. Enhanced themes. Improved WAN performance when used with FileMaker Server.
No significant drawbacks. We dig it a lot.