FileMaker Pro 10 Gets New Look

For years, FileMaker has been the database of choice for Apple users. With the release of FileMaker Pro 10, the company wants to go after Microsoft Access users.
Desktop database supplier FileMaker is trying to make a comeback on the Windows desktop after 20 years as a distant No. 2 to Microsoft's Access. FileMaker Pro is consistently the preferred database of Macintosh users. Now it wouldn't mind gaining market share back from Microsoft Access.

FileMaker released FileMaker Pro 10 Monday, its first upgrade since July 2007. The database software that has sold 14 million copies over the last 20 years now boasts a slick, new user interface. It's currently selling at a rate of about 1 million copies a year, said Ryan Rosenberg, FileMaker's VP of marketing. FileMaker is a software subsidiary of Apple.

Version 10 of FileMaker Pro incorporates "the biggest user interface change in over a decade," said Rosenberg in an interview. FileMaker has dispensed with the kludgy ruler gauge across the top of the page found in Version 9 and sought to adopt a cleaner look, while exposing the maximum amount of information to users. While adding a status toolbar at the top, it's kept all its existing menus and keystroke commands intact, allowing power users to work in their accustomed manner, Rosenberg said. That's different, he said, from Microsoft's approach to Office 2007, where the new ribbon tool bars "blew away much of what existing users knew about how they preferred to work." FileMaker watched the user reaction and learned from it, he said. With the status tool bar, a number of frequently used tools is immediately at hand, such as "New Record" or "Delete Record, "all the basic things you want to do with data," Rosenberg said. At the same time, clicking on "Find" opens a set of tools for finding the information you need and saving it. By giving a name to the search, it becomes a repeatable Find that will be put on a list of such efforts.

Users may obtain three different views of data simply by clicking on one of three closely grouped icons: form, list, or table. With earlier versions, the user had to leave one mode of viewing data and enter another before the revised presentation could be brought up.

The toolbar comes with a slider that the user positions according to where he thinks the record is that he wants in a retrieved set -- near the beginning, in the middle, or near the end.

FileMaker Pro 10 uses a query-by-example where a user may augment an existing query by adding search categories to it. "Making information available to people, that's what we specialize in," said Rosenberg, conceding that FileMaker Pro isn't used for high-volume transactions purposes.

A new dynamic reporting feature allows users to view a prospective report and change it before locking the information in place.

Version 10 has also added script triggers, where various software events can be used to trigger a script that automatically does something in response. For example, if a user fills in a ZIP code field on a form, FileMaker can trigger a script that validates the data. It will need to check that it's a five-digit number and not a street address filled in by mistake.

FileMaker Pro 10 includes 30 "starter" templates that make it easier to build basic database applications.

It also included a new PHP Web assistant that allows FileMaker Pro information to be published to a Web site.

With updated SQL support and support for working with data from Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server or open source MySQL, FileMaker Pro 10 can take data from all three and build a combined report.

The software can also send out batches of e-mail directly through a named SMTP server instead of needing to clog up the users local Outlook or other e-mail server, Rosenberg said.

FileMaker retails for $299 a seat. It's available in a server edition for workgroups or departments at $999. FileMaker also supplies a $49 Bento end-user database for low-end users.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer