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Troi Ranges

Sunday 14th January, 2001

Troi Ranges is yet another useful FileMaker Pro plug-in from those clever chaps in Holland. The plug-in lets you create a return-delimited list of incrementing values between two endpoints that you specify. You can choose the format of these ranges (numeric, EC Date, or US Date), whether or not the incremented values are padded (that is, 0001, 0002, 0003… instead of 1,2,3…), both a prefix and suffix for the values, and whether or not you want a final return at the end of the list.

The entire package costs $169 for an unlimited single-platform developer licence. As well as the plug-in, you also get a single-page HTML help file explaining the syntax of the plug-in, a very slick calendar solution (which can be integrated into your own files), and a demo file showing that you can use the plug-in to search for, and summarise records from, larger files based on date information. You may have noticed the careful use of the word ‘that’ in the previous sentence. You see, nowhere in the 2691-word HTML documentation does it show you ‘how’. It alludes to it, certainly, but there’s a tacit assumption here that the user already understands multi-key relationships and how FileMaker bends the relational database rules (that’s Third Normal Form to the techies out there).

Creating lists

In essence, FileMaker views a text field as containing values separated by returns, with each value acting as a separate key, linking one record to lots of other records in a relationship. For example, suppose your Sales database contains a text field ‘PartNum’, which is the key field that relates to records in your Parts database. If one of your records had the value ‘001 & return & 002’, then this would relate to records in the Sales database for both parts 001 and 002. Indeed, you could use it the other way round, storing both your company’s part number and the supplier’s part number, using either to locate the part; pretty powerful stuff. Given this, you can see why a list of dates delimited by returns in a field might be useful: you could use it to show records matching each date in turn. This makes diary and calendar solutions a real possibility in FileMaker without the need to use heavy-handed scripting.

Admittedly, this concept may seem a little technical and it certainly deserves more than a single paragraph to be explained. Grovelling over the innards of someone else’s code is sometimes the best way to learn, although you would expect a product which relies entirely on a particularly technical concept to explain it at least once.

The documentation quality of Troi Ranges is very poor for Troi. The HTML document does cover the syntax, but doesn’t give an example in use. This is especially odd given that the syntax is slightly different to other Troi plug-ins. The package includes two sets of example files, but using one sometimes causes the other to malfunction.

Developers will find Troi Ranges useful, but Troi has done itself, and its reputation, no favours with this release. Let’s hope that the price hike (the equivalent File and Dialog Plug-ins are between $20 and $89 cheaper, arguably providing 20 times as much functionality), poor-quality documentation and confusing demo files are not the shape of things to come for Troi.


FileMaker plug-ins

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Rating 3.5
Manufacturer Troi Automatisering
Pros Provides useful range generation + Includes re-usable calendar solution
Cons Expensive for single user + Examples confusing to new developers + Poor documentation
Price 169
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 17, Issue: 01, p36