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Filemaker Pro 5 Review

Saturday 26th May, 2001

Filemaker Pro 5.0 truly deserves its numerical label. It’s a completely re-written application that has cast aside the legacy code from previous versions in favour of a more robust, more easily maintained and updatable C++ code base. The upgrade supports a new set of toolbars (making it more attractive to the average Microsoft Office user), and it imports Excel Workbooks more efficiently. It also sports an updated Web Companion that understands HTML Cascading Style Sheets, and can put them to great effect in directly copying the majority of elements from layouts you create in your FileMaker files, dynamically displaying them as an interactive Web site.

Version 5.0 also allows you to import script steps from other FileMaker databases and provides stretchable dialog boxes for most important cases (File, ScriptMaker, Define Fields), which makes for a better working environment. It also supports the use of relations for creating value lists for pop-up menus, radio buttons, checkboxes and the like - choosing a value in one field changes the choices available to you in another - and ScriptMaker scripts now print out in a readable format.

But apart from a few minor improvements to button definition dialog boxes, file sharing options and esoteric Web security, even the most ardent FileMaker fan would have to agree that that just about covers the main benefits of version 5.0. So why bother bringing out an upgrade at all? The reason is that FileMaker (the company) needed to ditch its legacy Pascal code, so it had to rewrite the software. Along the way, there were probably any number of smaller fixes that the company been wishing it could sort out for while, which in themselves hadn’t justified changing the file format.

In addition to the code, ever since it was cut loose from Claris, FileMaker has had a few sales and marketing ‘inconsistencies’ to address. Upgrade revenue is the life-blood of any software company, but there was little incentive to move from FileMaker 3.0 to 4.0 or from 4 to 4.1. Few Mac users felt the need for ODBC (which, in any case, only worked as an import in the official version of version 4.1), and even fewer - certainly in the UK - made use of FileMaker’s Web-sharing capabilities to drive Internet Web sites. The predominant use of Web sharing in the UK was to drive intranet sites, the sharing of database information within a company. And here FileMaker was losing out: why buy each member of the company a copy of FileMaker, if you can buy just one copy and then access its data from your free Web browser?

Version 5.0 addresses this problem by preventing more than 10 different IP addresses from accessing a Web-enabled database in a rolling 12-hour period. Instead FileMaker has announced a new product called FileMaker Pro 5.0 Unlimited which will allow you to Web-serve files to as many clients as you like - with a suggested retail price of £799. This is in line with what rival database vendors Omnis and 4D have recently done, with a similar price. What isn’t clear is whether the FileMaker Unlimited Web server will provide multi-threaded Web access. If it does, it’s a legitimately new product; if it doesn’t, it will make FileMaker’s pricing policy look awkward compared with its multi-threaded competitors.

Since the new file format precludes running a mixed network of FileMaker versions (although version 5.0 can convert 4.0 files, version 4.0 can’t open 5.0 files), if one person upgrades to five, so too must everyone else. But remember there’s currently no server version (Server version 5.0 is set to ship by early next year, priced £99), and version 5.0 only runs on PowerPC-based Macs.

Another anomaly is the change of networking protocols available. Previously, Mac users had the choice of AppleTalk, TCP/IP, and IPX. IPX was useful because it enabled you to connect PCs to your FileMaker network without having to set up TCP/IP (in other words, individual IP addresses) on your network. However, it’s no longer available to Mac users.

Seeing FileMaker roll out version 5 is like watching a mate go for a bungee jump - you can understand why they might want to go there, but you’re not sure whether you’re quite ready to follow them. Don’t misunderstand: FileMaker 5.0 is a good product, and it’s not the equivalent of Microsoft’s Word 6.0 fiasco. But at the same time, until the dust settles following the release of the Server, Unlimited and Developer versions, there seems little real incentive to upgrade.

Get Further Info
Manufacturer FileMaker
Pros Imports scripts, New Report Assistant, Improved Web publishing, Microsoft Office-friendly.
Cons No cut and paste of script steps, Network incompatibilities, Non-customisable toolbars, Not backwards compatible with FileMaker 4.1, No 680x0 support.
Price £199 (£233.82 inc VAT), FileMaker Pro 5 (Mac/NT/Win95/98); £115 (£135.12 inc VAT), upgrade (Mac/NT/Win95/98).
Needs Server: Mac OS X; Client: G3 or G4 running OS.
Originally Published MacUser, Vol 15 Issue 23