FileMaker Pro 5.5

The raison d’etre for the release of FileMaker 5.5 is to make it compatible with the latest operating systems from Cupertino and Redmond. But aside from the Mac OS X support (and Windows 2000), there’s little here to make to make it worth laying down £125 for. Having said that, FileMaker remains a fine product, and for Mac users just about the only option – with the notable exception of 4D (see page 55). FileMaker’s emphasis on building neat interfaces for record-entry and updating makes it an ideal tool for creating catalogues and other records. There are thousands of people happily using FileMaker, and constructing complex data structures, who wouldn’t touch a relational-database application with a ten-foot pole. Embarrassing relations
FileMaker became a relational database with version 3, though I’ve always regarded this as a bit of a kludge, given that each table in the relationship is stored as a separate file – even a simple look-up table such as company departments or product categories. Let’s face it – FileMaker is never going to be the fastest database on the block, but it is arguably the friendliest. Most of the new features in 5.5 are functionality enhancements at the periphery of the application, such as scripting improvements, and minor security enhancements: you can restrict access on a record-by-record basis. FileMaker has improved the data import and export capabilities of the application, offering better integration with Microsoft Excel – you can now import named ranges – and extended ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) and SQL (Structured Query Language) functionality. The SQL support is only really applicable to import and export data, or for working with external data-sources – you cannot use SQL queries to search FileMaker databases, which seems curious. FileMaker’s ODBC support is not currently supported in Mac OS X. FileMaker’s Web integration is well implemented, and simple for the non-technical user. The Instant Web Publishing features allow you to export the database as a static read-only database, or as a dynamic database. With the dynamic database, users can update records and add new records through a Web browser using a middleware application, such as the included Web Companion. This is quick and easy to set up, and you can see a Table View page for working with several records at a time, a Form View page for viewing and editing a page, as well as search and sort options. All that’s needed is an active TCP/IP connection. Security features allow you to limit access to certain IP addresses, use the FileMaker Pro Access Privileges, or the Web Security Database for greater control over restrictions. Online database publishing has never been so easy. The new version is faster, and now supports HTTP 1.1 as well as 1.0. Still, while FileMaker has made large strides in turning FileMaker into a Web-friendly application, for high-volume Web applications you will want to use something leaner and meaner. Similarly, the lack of enterprise-level security features, such as transaction locking and rollbacks, make it unsuitable for certain tasks. As well as Web-based database publishing, you can also share databases over a local network or workgroup using the built-in FileMaker Server. One machine acts as a host into which guest computers connect –- although all computers need to have the FileMaker application installed. The great thing about this with FileMaker is that it will work with both Macs and PCs, all connecting to the same host and sharing data. The new access restrictions that allow locking on a record-by-record basis add greater flexibility to these small-scale workgroup databases. FileMaker can connect to external data-sources to share data using ODBC, which has been significantly improved to increase compatibility with SQL databases, such as Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle. Searching data in FileMaker is fine for simple options such as matching entries on one field, but more sophisticated queries can take some getting used to. To modify data based upon certain criteria, you’ll also need to use the ScriptMaker tool. A script consists of a set of commands, with various conditional statements and other clauses to extract and manipulate the data. Advanced users can quickly build scripts to clean up imported data.

OUR VERDICT

FileMaker 5.5 works well in OS X, and contains a number of minor functionality enhancements. But this will hardly catapult it to the top of your must-buy list. FileMaker’s strong points, such as the excellent layout control and ease of use, remain its key strengths, while its relatively slow speed and complex query tools remain its main weakness.

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