Thursday 14th December, 2000
One of the biggest problems faced by FileMaker developers is screen real estate. End users ask for the fields to be in the largest possible font so they’re easy to read, and at the same time they want as many fields on a layout as possible to save them switching back and forth. Setting the balance between these contradictory requirements is an art.
‘Pal-It!’ is a straightforward answer to this; it lets you create floating palettes for your FileMaker solutions. And in solving the real estate problem, StepUp software have come up with an answer to two more subtle functionality questions: a way to provide centralised control across different files; and to reduce the number of layouts your solution actually needs.
StepUp’s solution comes in three parts: the builder application; a generic FileMaker plug-in; and an applet containing the solution-specific floating palettes. These last two items are freely distributable, and are installed by simply dropping them into the end-user’s FileMaker extension folder.
You need to have your FileMaker solution open and running before you can start work. Once you’re up and running, you can fire up the StepUp Pal-it! application, and begin laying out your palettes. On opening, you’re presented with an empty (resizable) palette and a toolbar. It works like any other standard drawing application, with tools for shapes, text, colours and fills. Drawn objects can also be grouped, and you can drag-and-drop pictures onto your palette if you wish. Having created your button objects, you simply select each one in turn and set its properties using the Object Attributes command. Using two pop-up menus you specify which FileMaker database and script you want the button to call.
Buttons on your palette can be active or inactive (there is no rollover state), so you can also use drag-and-drop to provide a picture for the inactive button. By default, each button is active when the palette opens, but you can turn this off. You can change the default number of the object - useful since this is how you refer to buttons in your FileMaker scripts. There’s even a text box where you can add ‘tooltips’ to your button. In addition, each palette also has global properties (palette title, orientation, and whether there’s a close box) which can be set using the Window Attributes command.
Once you’ve finished laying out your palette you’re ready for the Build Pal-It! Applet command. Each applet can contain up to eight separate palettes (and you can have more than one applet open at a time), so to start with you’re asked to select which palettes you want included in the applet. Finally you’re then asked where you want to save your compiled applet.
In general use, the editing environment is a little idiosyncratic. Copied and pasted group objects can’t be ungrouped, lines and fills can be applied to multiple objects, or set to defaults. Occasionally the text tool misbehaves, and bizarrely you can’t create a palette and call it ‘Tools’ (possibly to do with a conflict with the application’s own tool palette - but these are the sort of annoyances you can expect to be fixed with a minor upgrade.
Having built your applet, installing it is simplicity itself; first drop it, and a copy of the Pal-It! plug-in, into the FileMaker extension folder. Now, in your solution add a start-up script that calls the external OpenApplet function with the name of the applet. Once it’s up and running, all the palettes in your applet that are set to open by default will pop up and hover over your FileMaker windows. The Pal-It! plug-in provides a complete set of external functions for opening and quitting applets, as well as showing, hiding and toggling palettes, and enabling or disabling objects (buttons). In other words, you can turn buttons on palettes on and off based on, for example, which layout you’re in, the identity of the user, or the number of records in the current set.
In terms of scripting, integrating a palette into your solution is pretty straightforward. With the exception of occasional problems hiding palettes, the external function calls worked like a charm.
The beauty of the StepUp approach is that, since it’s an external applet, the buttons on each palette can activate scripts from different files from within your solution. This reduces the need to switch back and forth between files from the users point of view. And although it may require a little more thought on the part of the developer (‘As a script in File B, I need to know which records are current in File A!’) the overall effect will be an improved look and feel. Dumping the buttons onto the palette gives you more layout space for fields, and since you can hide and show palettes or enable and disable buttons, your solutions should need fewer layouts altogether. There’s no longer a need to have one layout for editing existing records when coming from another file, and one for creating new records within the same file.
Given the constraints (the only way to provide this functionality is via an external application) the implementation is fairly quick and functionally comprehensive - OK, so there’s no button rollovers, but tooltips are an added bonus. The pricing may look steep, but for a developer this is a one-off purchase that, given the reusability of the palettes, should reduce the time spent faffing with layouts. Pal-It! is yet another excellent FileMaker extension that every serious developer should have in their toolbox.
Simple-but-effective plug-in that lets you create floating palettes and a clutter-free work space.
|Get Further Info|
|Pros||Easy to implement ˜ Good manual ˜ Markedly improves end-user solutions|
|Cons||No button rollovers ˜ Editor idiosyncrasies|
|Originally Published||MacUser, Volume: 16, Issue: 25, p36|