FileMaker Pro 4.0 Developer Edition
Friday 14th August, 1998
With FileMaker Pro 4.0 Developer Edition, Filemaker (formerly Claris) seems determined to stick to the dictum ‘a job worth doing is worth doing well’. It’s simple to use, and allows both experienced and not so experienced FileMaker developers to create cross-platform, standalone and, above all, royalty-free FileMaker Pro 4 database solutions relatively quickly. In fact, it’s possible to transform a well-written FileMaker database into a standalone package in just under 10 minutes.
The package itself consists of a pair of hybrid (Mac and PC) CD-ROMs. The Developer Edition CD contains copies of the FileMaker Pro 4 application, Home Page 3, the FileMaker Pro Binder (which turns FileMaker databases into standalone applications), details on FileMaker Application Programmer Interfaces (APIs), and a trial copy of the FileMaker Server, all for both Mac and PC platforms. The Tools CD is a slightly more haphazard grouping of example databases, clip art, pre-bound solutions, and a few interesting plug-ins.
The Developer Edition packs a double whammy. On the one hand, the Binder application takes standard FileMaker files and ‘binds’ them to a runtime engine. On the other, the APIs allow more experienced developers to create C or C++ plug-ins that add functionality to calculation dialog boxes within standard FileMaker or standalone FileMaker databases, or write Java applications that can interact with Web Companion, giving Java access to online databases. Examples of these Web databases are supplied on the CD, as is a copy of Metrowerks CodeWarrior Lite in which to write your Java or C++ code.
The Binding process is immensely straightforward and requires a minimum amount of preparation. Applications produced using the Binder have a number of advantages over standard FileMaker Pro databases. You can opt to specify another name for the Scripts menu itself, specify a script that gets called when the Help menu item is chosen, and permanently remove the Define Fields, Define Relationships, Scriptmaker and Access Privileges menu items. All the elements required for these features, with the exception of the help feature, can be added in a few minutes, and clear examples of how to create or implement any scripts are given in the remarkably straightforward manual. Even the help feature has been made easier to implement - FileMaker provides a template help file to which you can add your own help screens.
Perhaps most useful of all is the ability to run a Bound application in Kiosk mode, hiding all non-FileMaker interface elements such as the menus or desktop. However, to make the end-user interface work, all the features have to be achievable using buttons you create in your FileMaker solution, which usually requires more work on your part to spruce up the interface.
The APIs allow C, C++ and Java programmers access to some of the internal workings of FileMaker itself. Using C or C++, plug-ins can now be written for FileMaker databases that provide other developers with access to new functions within any of the Calculation dialog boxes, as well as within the Preferences dialog box. This may sound limiting, since at first glance it doesn’t give third-party developers much scope in terms of altering the end-user interface itself. However, a number of plug-ins are already available, some of which add to dialog box functionality and for the first time provide single record file access (control over reading, writing, deleting, copying and moving of files in the Finder or Windows 95 from within FileMaker), as well as context-sensitive pop-up lists and menus. All very exciting stuff.
As with any apparent panacea, there is of course a drawback to the Developer Edition. Understandably, Filemaker doesn’t want to lose sales of individual copies of FileMaker Pro 4 to third-party developers' royalty-free copies of FileMaker Developer Edition. To prevent this, the company has disabled the networking capabilities of FileMaker Pro solutions bound using the FileMaker Pro Binder app. In this case, the term ‘standalone’ really means ‘alone’. In turn, this means the Web Companion plug-in (which makes use of networking) can’t be used with a standalone solution, and neither therefore can the Java API.
While this decision is understandable, it is also lamentable. Perhaps a network licensing system can be implemented, or some other purchasing mechanism, so that developers can take advantage of the robustness that standalone applications offer, without eating too heavily into the manufacturer’s profits.
Technologically, we’re not being given anything that new here. Plug-in architecture is already built into Pro 4.0, as is a Java API for Web Companion. That said, Filemaker has produced a truly useful, well thought-out, off-the-shelf, developer-friendly product. Apple should take note.
Enables FileMaker developers to create standalone, royalty-free solutions in a matter of minutes.
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|Pros||Low-cost standalone solution ˜ Royalty-free ˜ Good documentation ˜ Simple to use|
|Cons||No networking option for standalone solutions|
|Originally Published||MacUser, Volume: 14, Issue: 15, p28|