Dyce & Sons Ltd.

Helping IT since 1993


Sunday 28th January, 2001

FileMaker Mobile is a ‘load & go’ utility, allowing you to download single-user, flat-file databases from your Mac or PC to a Palm OS device. This enables you to add or update records, and synchronise them with the original database back on your Mac. The utility has three parts: a FileMaker plug-in; a conduit for Palm Desktop; and a Palm OS application. The first two install automatically, but you need to manually install the Palm OS application using the HotSync Manager.

In use, Mobile is similar to FileMaker’s Web Companion. To move your data to your newly installed Palm application, you open the database you want to move and go to the ‘Sharing…’ dialog box. Check the box next to the Mobile plug-in in the Companion Sharing dialog box and click on the ‘Setup…’ button. The Mobile Settings dialog box lets you specify what data to transfer. You choose the fields you want transferred, whether the whole database or just the found set, and how conflicts between data on the Mac and data on the handheld are handled; duplicate the records, or overwrite the data.

Having closed the dialog box, you’re ready to synchronise. Pressing the Sync button on your Palm cradle activates the HotSync Manager. The FileMaker Mobile Conduit looks to see if any of the currently open files are shared. If they are, and no matching database exists on the Palm, it creates a new one with the data. If a Palm database already exists, it synchronises the data between the handheld and the Mac database according to your settings.

On the Palm, the application itself opens to a list of available databases, which you view by tapping. Depending on your font settings, your data is listed 10 records at a time with three fields across. The scroll button lets you move up and down the list, and there are on-screen scroll buttons to move across the fields. Tapping a record moves you to a form view, similar to the standard Palm address entry view. You can edit the text of any field using standard Graffiti techniques.

Tracking records

There are menu commands available for creating, duplicating, and deleting records. A simple ‘Find’ function lets you look for records, searching the contents of a single field selected from a pop-up menu. You can also sort records, ascending or descending, by either tapping on a single field heading in the list view, or via a menu command.

For a company that produces one of the best ease-of-use products in the market (FileMaker Pro), Mobile has a number of astonishing items missing from its features list. For starters, there is only one field type available. Mobile offers no support for number, time or date fields - data exports to your Palm as text. This makes sorting by date or cost an interesting excursion into the vagaries of ASCII; try sorting D/M/Y dates as text and see where it gets you. Strangely, for a stylus operated handheld, there is no support for either checkboxes or pop-up menus, and since the field types aren’t supported, the usual short cuts you’d expect for entering dates and times are also absent. Come on chaps, it’s not as if the Palm OS doesn’t offer built-in date and time entry interfaces.

Off limits

There are many other more subtle annoyances. For example, in List view there’s no way to adjust column widths, or the order of the columns across the page. There’s no way to freeze the first column (‚àö‚Ć la Excel), so having scrolled across the list you could tell which record you’re actually looking at. In-line editing would have been a nice touch, but would be pretty pointless given the absence of checkboxes and pop-ups.

Given the screen size, Mobile is limited to an excusable 20 fields. The same goes for the 5000 records limit. Who wants to scroll through 5000 records on a Palm III, given that you can only search and sort on one field at a time? You can even forgive the 2000 character (roughly 450 word) per field limit, since you can always work around it by splitting a FileMaker text field into smaller fields using a calculation, and export them instead. Right? Er, no. Mobile doesn’t allow you to export calculated fields. I kid you not.

And for those who want to create a bespoke Palm sales tool, due to the Sharing Companion approach, Mobile can’t programmatically differentiate between two different Palm users (read salesmen) on the same Mac; when they say single-user, they mean it. You could possibly write a script to handle this, but you then can’t invoke scripts from the synching process.

Of course, at £39 you might be forgiven for using the ‘So what can you expect at that price?’ excuse. But, strangely enough, the alternative third-party approach, J-File & FMSync, costs the same, solves all these problems, works with FileMaker Pro 3.0 or 4.0, and actually lets you create databases on your Palm and move them to the Mac. The verdict? Wait for version 2.0.


FileMakers ‘load & go’ utility

Get Further Info
Rating 2
Manufacturer FileMaker
Pros Easy to use + Access FileMaker data on the move
Cons Doesn't implement number, date, times or calculated fields + Poor GUI + No built-in multi-user synch support
Price 39
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 17, Issue: 02, p