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FileMaker Server 5.0

Monday 14th February, 2000

Back in the good old days of FileMaker Pro 3.0, if you happened to be sharing a large number of databases between users, you could opt to have them served from a dedicated server application. By doing so you noticeably improved network performance, reduced the likelihood of damaging a database when one Mac crashed, and provided centralised automated back-up services. But it was optional.

For groups of 10 or more users, FileMaker Server 5.0 (the Pro has been dropped to differentiate it from the single-user version) is not optional. As with version 3.0, running existing single-user built databases is transparent - simply drop them into the FileMaker Server folder (or inside a folder within the server folder), and when you fire up the Server application your files will be available to users across the network. And as you’d expect, Server 5.0 will serve these files to users working on Windows 95/98 and NT as well as Macs.

In terms of operation, version 5.0 is very similar to 3.0. The monochrome System 6.0.7 look of version 3.0 has been replaced with a tabbed, Mac OS 8 look. Performance statistics are now in a separate window, and the Preferences dialog box has more options. Apart from that it runs in just the same way.

The main interface changes are in the way remote administration is performed. Instead of hard-coding bits of interface into the user version, remote admin is provided via three shared databases which the server creates automatically whenever you turn the remote admin option on.

If you just want to see what’s going on with the server, you log into the server as before through the Hosts dialog box, and up pops a database showing who’s logged in, which files they’re using, and what the current stats are. If you want to control the server remotely you’ll also need to install a plug-in (from the Server CD) that provides some communication services. Once installed, you can open and close files on the server, send messages to other users, and so on. Building new functionality into FileMaker databases is such a nice idea, you wonder why the company didn’t bother providing better development tools in the single-user version.

FileMaker has opted to shed a couple of ‘legacy’ platforms: Server version 5.0 only runs on PowerPC-driven Mac OS and Windows NT. Added to this, the minimum Mac installation requirement is Mac OS 8.6; it’s optimised for G3 but will run on any Power Mac. In terms of bums on seats, the spec accommodates up to 250 simultaneous guests (you’ll probably need to be running that new G4 at that point), but only when connecting via TCP/IP; AppleTalk only supports 124 guests. If you’re the administrator of a large Mac-only network who hasn’t yet switched to IP, this may force your hand.

Talking of big numbers, version 5.0 does support up to 125 simultaneous open files, although any user can only have 50 files open at once. To deal with the extra workload this might generate, and as well as being optimised for PowerPC (at last), version 5.0 has optimised multi-threading and asynchronous I/O. What this means to the user is a very noticeable improvement to performance.

This latest version also boasts a few other new features. You can now set an idle time limit for guests; dog-in-the-mangers who overstay their welcome are shown a warning dialog before being disconnected. The Server can now host files in single-user mode: you no longer have to launch the file in a single-user version of FileMaker Pro before the server will open it, and when open, only one user is allowed access at a time.

For those running your Server on a machine with multiple network cards or multiple IP addresses on one network card, Preferred IP Addressing lets you specify an address or network card of your choice. This is a useful feature, but a little odd given that (a) FileMaker recommends that you don’t run the Server on the same box as an AppleShare server, and (b) the Server does not provide direct Web connectivity, and FileMaker recommends you don’t run a copy of FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Server on the same machine.

The preferences in the Mac OS version also include a Maximize Performance option. Essentially, this tells FileMaker to hog the processor cycles, making any other applications you have running on the box run slower - useful when you’re just running the server alone.

Given the disappointing feature additions to the user version of FileMaker Pro 5.0, it would be easy to take pot-shots at the Server version. However, it does include some new and useful features, and the performance is a visible improvement over the previous (3.0) version.


Database upgrade with some great features for remote administration but no IPX support.

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Rating 3.5
Manufacturer FileMaker
Pros Easy to install ˜ Simple interface, easy to administer
Cons No IPX support ˜ Advised not to run on the same server as AppleShare
Price 799
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 16, Issue: 03, p34