Filemaker Pro 8.5 / Filemaker Pro Advanced 8.5
Sunday 9th July, 2006
Historically, FileMaker have an uneven method for numbering their upgrades. Some deserve a full point, and some don’t. FileMaker Pro 8.5 offers relatively few features for a half-point upgrade - but when you take into account the improvements they offer to end users solutions, it’s more than warranted.
New iMac and MacBook owners will be pleased to know that 8.5 is an Universal application. FileMaker insist that Intel-based Macs will notice a 50% - 100% speed over their PowerPC brethren. FileMaker have also seen fit to release Universal updates to their server products. (Apart from supporting for 8.5 clients, their lack of new server-specific features means that they’re being released as Server and Server Advanced 8.0v4.)
The main difference that 8.0 users will notice is the inclusion of Web viewers.
If you know where on the page to expect the data you need, FileMaker can even grab it from the contents of a web viewer: great for automating stock portfolio solutions.
FileMaker are pitching these as the ‘reason-to-upgrade’ feature - layout objects that let you view web pages from with your FileMaker documents. You create a web viewer much like you would a related records portal: draw the bounding box in layout mode, and then specify the set-up in a resulting dialog box. The web viewer dialog box lets you specify a URL, either as a fixed plain-text start point, or as a calculation using values from fields from within your FileMaker tables. There are also a number of default site setups, which let the novice user create web links to popular info sites: FedEx, Google, Google Maps, MapQuest and various Wiki sites. Each default offers up to five text fields that you complete via straight field data or calculation. For example, FedEx lets you fill in the tracking number, whilst the Google Maps UK template has slots for address, city, postcode, and country. Developers can even add their own defaults using XML. Once you’ve entered your web viewer URL settings, switching to browse mode immediately causes FileMaker to attempt to load the page. If you’ve tied your viewer to FedEx say, via a field called ‘Track This’, when you type a new tracking number into the ‘Track This’ field, up comes the FedEx result - no need to swap back and forth between FMPro and your browser.
Behind the scenes, FMPro is making use of Apple’s Webkit framework. (On the PC, it’s using Explorer - no surprise there.) In essence the web page is being rendered by the same code used by Safari and iTunes. The difference is that, apart from a very simple contextual menu, there are no controls visible on your embedded web page. However controls within pages - forms, http links, ftp download links, PDFs, Java applets, and Flash movies - work just as you’d expect.
FMPros scripting prowess means you can display data as formatted HTML tables using the new Web Viewers.
From the developer’s point of view, FileMaker have added some script steps and functions designed to make interaction with web viewers easier. Most importantly though, is the fact that layout objects (including web viewers) can now be named via the object info palette (renamed from the size palette). With this change in place, a new script step lets you ‘Go to Object’, so you can now for example programmatically select tabbed panels, or tab to the specific field. You can even get hold of all the named objects (as a return delimited list) on a layout using the LayoutObjectNames function, and thanks to the GetLayoutObjectAttribute function, you can figure out the properties of the various named objects (for example portals, fields, buttons, web viewers) on your layout, and a Get(ActiveLayoutObjectName) function can even tell you which element a user is currently working with.
Using GetLayoutObjectAttribute it’s possible to grab the textual content of a web viewer - so you can process a web page that the user is viewing, and strip out some required information from it. Sadly, it’s just text - you can’t save the rendered image of a page, or grab the page and stick into a container field (roll on version 9?) You’ll also have to do the parsing the hard way, as there’s still no support for XML functions.
Your shipping solutions can now automatically display the whereabouts of a customers order.
Developers can directly access named web viewers via the Set Web Viewer script step; this lets you reset the web viewer to the layout-specified start URL, reload the page, go forward, go back, or go to specific URL. As a helper, there’s a new text function - GetAsURLEncoded - that can coerce text to a URL compliant format, and a List function that concatenates values from all the field repetitions, matching related records, or a set of named fields - a souped-up version of Troi’s sumText function. In effect, FMPro is now a browser database, greatly expanding the abilities of your database solutions.
FileMaker are obviously keen to encourage upgraders: the web viewers offer a compelling to upgrade, and for once both the concurrent availability of server products, and realistic pricing mean you shouldn’t need to think to hard before you do.
Get Further Info
Mice 5 Pros Puts web pages directly into layouts, object naming, online help center, Universal Binary. Cons Can’t screen-grab Web viewer content. Price FileMaker Pro £219 (£129 from version 6 or 7, £69 from version 8); FileMaker Pro Advanced £329 (£199 from version 6 or 7, £69 from version 8). £35 Upgrade to Server 8.0v4 and Server Advanced 8.0v4. Needs G3 CPU with 256MB RAM, Mac OS X 10.3.9 or 10.4.