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FileMaker Pro Server 5.5

Friday 28th September, 2001

Filemaker released its flagship client product earlier this year and is now following it with updates to the rest of the range. Second off the starting blocks is Pro Server 5.5, with the Web-serving Unlimited and Developer 5.5 versions which is expected to follow by the end of September.

FileMaker Pro Server 5.0 already handles connections from 5.5 clients, so what can FileMaker do to persuade people to buy the £399 upgrade to this latest edition? For the average Mac punter, there are just three features. Firstly, it has increased platform support. Mac OS X and Windows 2000 are now supported, as well as Mac OS 8.6 to Mac OS 9.1 and Windows NT. And, since OS X is based on Unix, FileMaker has gone the extra step and provided support for the Red Hat flavour of Linux.

Users with OS 8.6 to OS 9.1 will notice little difference in the way the server works. It runs as a standard Mac OS application, with a dialog for monitoring open files and connected users.

There’s a separate window for monitoring the usage statistics (disk access, cache hits and general throughput) so you can figure out whether or not giving the application more memory might improve performance. If you’re not getting around 90% cache hit, then you definitely need to boost the memory allocation.

Silver service

Running Server under OS X is a different experience, although anyone who’s used Server under Windows NT will be in familiar territory. Under OS X, Server runs as a service. There’s an Admin application that lets you start and stop the server process and provides a rudimentary menu bar. However, don’t be fooled into thinking the ‘Open’ command is there to open files on the server. You’ll need to have the remote Admin plug-in installed on the client machine to perform administrative functions such as opening and closing files, messaging and disconnecting users, or monitoring usage statistics.

As with version 5, all clients can log into the server application itself (provided it’s been enabled, and they have the correct password) rather than just files on the server. Doing so causes the server to create three administration files that mimic the interface of the Mac OS 9 version of the server proper.

However, this is just a passive view of the server. In order to perform any actions on the server, you will need to have the remote Admin plug-in installed on the client machine. Once that’s done, the Open, Close, Send and Disconnect buttons become active.

Here’s where the second feature comes in handy. Provided you’ve allowed for it in the client’s application preferences, Server 5.5 clients can download plug-ins from the server automatically, when they are required or when an upgrade becomes available. So if you haven’t already installed the remote Admin plug-in and you log in to remotely administer a server, the plug-in can be installed across the network for you automatically.

This is quite useful if you’re serving a large number of FileMaker users and it will make keeping track of plug-in updates transparent. But it’s hardly an earth-shattering feature addition. However, it is a gentle step towards the 4D/OMNIS model of code/data separation, where the codebase needs to be updated on client machines.

New spread

As far as Mac users go, there’s one final feature that the new version brings to the table; support for the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP ). You can now have your FileMaker server listed in Unix-style directory services.

If you’re using Server in a mixed environment, then Windows users will benefit from access to the Services, Event Viewer and System Monitor windows from within the FileMaker server console, as well as by using the Start menu.

There’s also an useful additional security feature which enables the FileMaker server to insist that users are within the same domain as the Server.

One change worth noting with the OS X server version, is that it only supports connections over TCP/IP. If you’re on a mixed OS 9/X network, then you will need to use TCP/IP as the network protocol for all clients.

This wouldn’t be too much of a problem, except that in tests under TCP/IP, the OS 9 version server occasionally failed to show up for OS 9 clients set to TCP/IP. If you’re running two servers on different platforms on the same network, be warned.

Matched pair

Whether you upgrade or not really seems to depend on whether you want to run FileMaker Server on OS X or even Linux. Version 5.5 clients and servers are interoperable (so 5.5 clients work fine under server 5.0) and there’s almost nothing in it in terms of performance.

MacUser speed tests (record creation, deletion, two-field sorting and searching) of Server 5.5 against 5.0 on OS 9.1, and Server 5.5 on OS 9.1 against Server 5.5 on OS X (10.0.4) run on the same G4 yielded surprisingly similar (+/- 3%) results. Given the now legendary 10.0.4 problems, this may translate into a slightly improved performance under 10.1, but there’s no guarantee.

Is this a disappointing upgrade? Not really. FileMaker has had a busy time with this one. Moving an application to a new operating system is a tough job. It’s just especially unfortunate that users don’t seem ready yet to move their servers to OS X.


Moving an application to a new operating system is a tough job. It’s just especially unfortunate that users don’t seem ready yet to move their servers to OS X

Get Further Info
Rating 3.5
Manufacturer FileMaker
Pros Mac OS X and Linux support + Plug-in updating + LDAP support
Cons TCP/IP only under OS X
Price 799
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 17, Issue: 18, p24