FileMaker Pro has been around in one form or another nearly as long as the Macintosh itself. In the rather dry and mundane world of databases, it’s one of those rare programs that started off great and simply got better. The secret of its success and longevity is simple. Although it’s simple enough for novices, it also supplies sophisticated, higher-end features that will suit even the most demanding database veterans. For example, version 6 provides new integrated XML support that makes it easier to share FileMaker data with grown-up enterprise applications, as well as ease-of-use enhancements.
FileMaker Pro 6.0’s installation process is relatively simple and follows all of the familiar software setup steps. You get a 17-digit installation code on three sticky-back stickers that you must enter during installation or the software simply will not load. So don’t lose them. Creating, searching and sorting databases remains remarkably easy, and version 6 provides enhancements to FileMaker’s traditionally unparalleled design functionality. You can do useful things like converting restrictive Excel files into functional, modifiable solutions that allow you to sort, search, report and track information in full-database mode. It’s fully relational, offers virtually limitless data exchange and is about as intuitive as a database can get. For all you gadget freaks, there’s also a separately sold, slimmed-down version for Palm OS PDAs. However, if you’re using OS X, you’ll notice a few small anomalies, and version 6 does not support toolbars, the status function, or the Dial Phone step.
In keeping with Steve Jobs’ Digital Hub approach so visible elsewhere in Apple’s product line, FileMaker Pro’s data can be of many file kinds, including images direct from digital media sources, such as a digital camera. This useful facility extends to a batch import of multiple text, graphic and video files. There are loads of tweaks in this latest release, including contextual-menu sorting, even in the Form view, and changes to the way dates are handled. For example, for years stored as two digits in the range ‘90’ -’99’, 98 is assumed to be 1998 through December 31 2009. However, ‘83’ would be shown as ‘2083’. Don’t ask.
There are also improvements to dialog boxes and password-format data entry, and you can now add to a found set of data, or indeed, remove records from it, based on additional criteria and perform global database-wide string substitution.
Version 6 can import a folder of files in a single operation, and if you’re running OS X you can import photos from a digital camera simply by connecting your camera and downloading directly into your database. It will even import photos from memory-card readers. Formats in building layouts have been improved, a few keyboard shortcuts have been changed, and there are new templates and themes to enhance presentation. AppleScript support has also been enhanced. But apart from the usual ease of set-up and use, smooth and user-friendly integration with Web publishing remains a key selling point of version 6.
Version 6 now includes a built-in XML parser so that data can be imported and exported in that format using XSLT transformations. The new totally integrated XML import/export feature permits users to exchange data in formats that are native to the sort of applications that their co-workers and customers might normally use. XML data exchange is made possible in FileMaker Pro 6 by XSLT stylesheets which are selectable at Import/Export. This essentially transforms XML data into or out of a grammar that FileMaker Pro 6 uses and can understand. XSLT stylesheets are also used during export to perform a variety of transformations of XML data into other specified text and graphic formats. In version 6, FileMaker has developed what promises to be a growing and vibrant XSLT stylesheet library online along the lines of its many templates for design and layout, and part of a wider XML support section of its Web site. The only problem with this is that FileMaker does require incoming XML data to be in a very particular XML format. This means that in most cases, users will need to write XSLT templates. Data is also exported using this FileMaker format and many users may find it overly complicated.
Version 6 does an impressive job of generating HTML versions of forms. You don’t lose your design, and they look pretty much the same as native FileMaker versions and allow a full range of data entry and search features. However, a long-standing problem where Web-user activity changes the current record for a local FileMaker user without warning hasn’t been fixed. This means that you can’t really use the same database from the Web and through FileMaker at the same time.
FileMaker Pro 6.0 lets you manage vast quantities of information, and also allows you to share it quickly with other applications. It works seamlessly across platforms, and Windows users will find it’s easier and more economical than Microsoft Access. Apart from a few flashy colour and design changes, the nice thing about version 6 is that it still works essentially in the same way as FileMaker has always worked.
The file format hasn’t really changed from FileMaker Pro 5.5, and FileMaker Pro 6 will work with FileMaker Pro Server 5.5, so there shouldn’t be any interoperability problems. With its familiar and robust interface and flexible design, it really lives up to the hype. With this app, you can do just about everything you’d ever want to.