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FileMaker Pro 5.5

Thursday 28th June, 2001

The big claim to fame for FileMaker Pro 5.5 is that it’s written to support the ‘Mac OS X environment’ and Windows 2000, as well as Mac OS 9. Indeed, there’s just one CD in the box, which is used to install a single copy on your platform. The key phrase here is ‘written to support’, which is code for a ‘Carbonized’ application as opposed to ‘written for’ - shorthand for a Cocoa-based application. As a Carbonized application, FileMaker 5.5 benefits from the new Aqua interface, but don’t expect to see the sort of speed increase associated with some Cocoa applications.

Web changes

Since version 4.0, FileMaker has included the ability to publish databases directly to the Web, without the need to get your hands dirtied with HTML. Version 5.0 upped the ante with the introduction of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to mimic user-layouts from your FileMaker files directly to the Web. So it’s no surprise that perhaps the most obvious visual improvements in 5.5 are in the area of Web support.

Version 5.5 ships with a much-improved, multi-threaded, and therefore faster, Web companion. Support for CSS has been enhanced, so layouts created in FileMaker and converted for the Web are both more FileMaker-like (closer to your original layouts) and more Web-like. Button objects on rendered Web pages now highlight on mouse-over and you can sort your table views (now rendered using colours in your original layouts) just by clicking column headings.

The souped-up Web Companion also deals with scripts better. As well as adding to the number of single script steps that can be imitated on Web pages, you can now use multi-step scripts (well, three-step scripts) as actions for buttons on layouts. Provided you’re using steps that are capable of being translated to Web functionality (there’s a list of compatible functions) you can attach scripts to buttons on FileMaker layouts and have them mimicked on your Web site.

This is especially useful given Web Companion’s other new trick. When loading a Web-published site for the first time, FileMaker will look through any startup script set in a FileMaker document’s preferences and, where possible, interpret it in terms of the Web site. The main benefit is that by using a ‘Toggle Status Area[Hide]’ step in your script, you can turn off the default interface frame that FileMaker puts up for auto-published databases. So you’ll need all that new functionality to allow users to search, view and edit via buttons you add to your layouts.

By the way, if you’re more graphically orientated, then version 5.5 also has improved QuickTime support, especially if you are running OS X. And since the new operating system supports PDF as a native file format, you can now import Acrobat PDF documents into container fields.

The upgrade is not merely cosmetic. The bulk of the changes to the application itself are under the hood, and more likely to be of interest to a developer or whoever builds the databases in the first place. The most powerful new feature for designers and administrators is record level security. The passwording mechanisms in FileMaker have long been a thorn in developers' sides, so much so that even the Web Companion provided an alternative.

Password protection

The triumvirate of password, group and access dialogs is still there, but the Password dialog now allows you to define dynamic calculations for checking if a user can browse, edit and/or delete a record. Using a standard calculations window to say who can do what on a record-by-record basis has removed the need for whole swathes of scripting.

That’s not to say there aren’t inherent problems, but FileMaker does it’s best to warn you if, for example, you set things up so a user can delete records they can’t view. What’s more, if you’ve created passwords for your Web-shared files, record-level security also operates on your FileMaker hosted Web site. Password settings now also include options for allowing users to alter their own passwords, and avoid being disconnected from a server after their idle time limit.

For day-to-day work, developers will be glad that even more dialogs have been made resizeable and that FileMaker remembers the size and placement of dialogs, so there’s no more guessing what was in the layout you were working on.

New developer-oriented features now include validation by field length, script steps for toggling the toolbars and setting serial numbers for reserialising records. The option to ‘Save Relative Path Only’ means no more faffing with the alias manager, while FileMaker’s arcane file location rules over which version of a file is opened. Scripting possibilities have been improved by 10 new status functions, including ‘CurrentODBCError’, ‘CurrentView’, ‘CurrentFieldContents’ and ‘CurrentWebSharing’. ODBC has also been beefed up, with dynamic updating from FileMaker to remote ODBC sources. The fly in the ointment is that it doesn’t work when running on OS X.

Bigger picture

FileMaker’s latest flagship release is more of a tune-up than a redesign. By retaining file compatibility with version 5 - files can be shared by the two versions, and 5.5 will connect to the version 5 Server - FileMaker isn’t forcing the issue in the way it did with the 5.0 upgrade. Version 5.5 is worthwhile for security-conscious users, businesses that make use of Web serving and anyone making heavy use of ODBC. Developers will probably want to hold off until Developer 5.5 is released. But there’s still no copying and pasting of scripts and no separation of data and code. Roll on version 6.

NEEDS: PowerPC (G3 for OS X), 32Mb RAM (128Mb for OS X), Mac OS 8.1 or higher


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Rating 4
Manufacturer FileMaker
Pros Improved Web publishing + Record-level security + Mac OS X compliant
Cons Design management still poor + No ODBC under OS X
Price 219
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 17, Issue: 12, p23