Thursday 5th December, 2013
FileMaker are making a clear effort to rehabilitate that unlucky number, 13. Their latest version offers new features, improvements to existing features, and solid solutions to nagging issues that reamined unresolved in version 12. Oh, and some seriously useful eye-candy.
You probably don’t remember when Word got ‘styles’. For word processing and page layout they’re a given, because, well, building complex documents without them isn’t worth thinking about. FileMaker has finally got styles - fully customisable styles - for any layout object; buttons, portals, fields, text, web viewers, and even tabs. Edit a style, and all the styled objects (across all layouts) will be updated too. The trick that makes it particularly worth the wait is that styles are implemented as part of the existing themes tools, which yes, are now customisable too. FileMaker’s built-in themes can be edited, duplicated, and imported into other files. You can create a corporate theme and quickly apply it across all your solutions. Given the manual nature of creating layouts, the time saved might be measured in days. Layout-meisters will also appreciate the new conditional display function. Select an object, and you can specify a FileMaker calculation to determine whether or not it should be displayed. Beginners can now create complex layouts that change as you edit a record’s data. They can also take advantage of the new pop-over tool that offers hidden in-layout sections, or use the slider control as an alternative to the existing tab control, without a line of coding required.
The free iOS client naturally benefits from all these improvements, as well as a few of its own. You can now navigate between records using gestures, and developers get an ‘onLayoutSizeChange’ trigger that means screen-rotation can be handled programatically. There are a couple of interesting iOS-only features: built-in bar code scanning negates the need for iOS url callbacks, and (finally) you can take advantage of 7 iOS keyboard types, specified on the layouts. The big change, as far as iOS users are concerned, is that whilst the app itself remains a free download, and standalone use also remains free, using an iPad or iPhone as a data entry device for a server-based solution will cost you. There is now only one version of FileMaker server, but each iOS and web client will now require one concurrent licence slot - purchased in packs of 5. Think swings and roundabouts.
If concurrent licencing is the roundabout, then the web client improvements and server pricing are the swings. FileMaker’s first foray into web-publishing (v4!) required arcane programming (CDML anyone?) and a strong stomach. With v12 we reached the point where you could hit a button and have your standard client software UI appear in a web browser: the web client looked just like the desktop client. With v13 we’ve arrived: FileMaker’s “Webdirect”: the web client acts like the desktop client. (Almost. There are a few tiny caveats.) In general, your layouts, scripts, and even script triggers now work on the web without any coding required. The web view also benfits from live data update (no more page refreshing), and container fields in the web client now handle drag & drop file uploads. You could call FileMaker a web-app development tool, with a totally straight face. And mean it.
Developers have their fair share of goodies to play with as well. For corporates, in-file database encryption (albeit a non-performance draining AES256) is a nice to have. For those of us still smarting from the lack of a built-in iOS synching tool, new script steps for HTTP post and built-in functions for Base64 encoding/decoding mean that a roll-your-own solution is now possible, without resorting to expensive 3rd party tools. Other tasty tidbits include calculation-based dialog buttons, tab control labels, access to metadata, and wait for it - layout change undo - after saving. You can change a layout, save it, view it in browse mode, drop back into layout mode and undo the change. Hear that? That’s the sound of a thousand FileMaker developers sobbing with relief. Oh, and the server backend? The recent conflict between Java security updates and the FileMaker admin console can finally be declared over: Server admin is finally fully web based. (And yes, that was the sound of a thousand FileMaker admins joining in.)
FMI clearly want businesses to move to a subscription model, the Annual Volume Licence Agreement. Whether or not users will remains to be seen, but having just one version of server, and pricing concurrent iOS and web-client connections as required is a sensible, affordable way to go. With a minimum 5 item model (4 clients and server say), and despite the increase cost of client, AVLA does seem to be a bargain for the small business with web aspirations.
There’s plenty to admire in the latest release. Version 13 may turn out to be lucky for FileMaker; no longer tethered to the desktop market, it’s a truly cross-platform solution for tablet and web users.
[ In case you were wondering: 13, buttons, swallowing (tablets), spiders (and webs), anoraks, lawyers, and making a decision… ]
Get Further Info
|FileMaker Pro 13|
|Price:||FileMaker Pro Client - Purchase £239, Updgrade £131, Subscription £6.50/month; FileMaker Pro Advanced Client - Purchase £379, Updgrade £197, Subscription £10/|
|Requires:||Mac OS X v10.7+, Intel-based Mac, 1 GB, iOS 6 & 7.|
|**Pros: **||Interactive Web UI (Drag & Drop etc.), Layout improvements (Pop-overs, conditional display), web admin (no Java!)|
|Cons:||Still no syncing|