A year after the launch of FileMaker Pro 10, the Apple-owned database company is back to debut the latest version of its franchise product. FileMaker Pro 11 introduces long-awaited features and builds on the interface and engine improvements to create new capabilities. I have been taking the product through its paces for the last few weeks and I am left with the impression that this is what FileMaker Pro 10 should have been because the changes made to the interface and the scripting engine are really evident in 11. The update includes a variety of improvements that will benefit both users and developers.
A New Start
When greeted by the redesigned Start Screen, among the starter solutions offered as a template is a new Invoices solution. This solution allows you to track customers, products, and invoices in a single database. Invoices implements multiple tables and relationships on multiple keys and provides a great introduction to a moderately complex database. I recommend peaking under the hood to get a feel for how things are done if you are new to FileMaker. Beyond the starter solutions, you can also create a new database by starting with data from Bento, XML files, Excel spreadsheets and other sources.
Once you are up and running in a database, there are a few interface changes that will jump out at you immediately. First up is the new Quick Find feature. Quick Find adds a Spotlight-like search field to your toolbar that will search through multiple fields on the current layout.
This feature is handy if you are looking for something like a phone number, but are not sure if the number is in the home, office, mobile, or fax fields. You can set which fields are included in the Quick Find index to limit the search and the size of the indexes. Quick Find works like an “AND” search across multiple fields and matches on the start of strings only. It does not do partial string matching so a search on “maker” will not match “FileMaker” at this time.
One small refinement is Text Highlighting. You can mark text with a yellow background in a field to bring attention to the highlighted section. More significant changes have been made to improve the ease of working with layouts. The new layout assistant makes setting up table-based report layouts a breeze. The assistant walks you through choosing fields, setting the sort order and adding sub-summaries. In the table view itself, you can now directly add fields and records with convenient + buttons and change the sort by clicking on column headers. Layouts themselves can now be organized into layout folders to make it simpler for both users and developers to work in a database with a large number of layouts.
Another layout option is Portal filtering. Portal filters allow you to limit related records that are displayed in a portal by either fixed or calculated criteria.
When designing layouts, new Inspector palettes grant immediate access to common formatting functions and settings. The Inspector has three tabs, but you can open up multiple inspectors and have each tab visible. The addition of the Inspector may seem a minor change, but it does bring the database product into better alignment with the iWork applications. Inspectors are packed with detail that might be overwhelming to some users, but they do add a bit of convenience and expose some features to discovery that may have been hidden deep in menu options.
The biggest visual change to Filemaker Pro 11 is the addition of the new charting feature. You can create pie charts, bar charts (vertical and horizontal), line graphs, and area charts and include those directly in your layouts. The charts provide an opportunity to not only create better reports but also design completely new interfaces for dashboard views and other ideas.
Another new user-focused feature that takes a bit of explaining is Snapshot Links. You can take a snapshot of the current records that you are viewing and send those to a co-worker with access to the same database. The snapshot includes the current found set, but also remembers the selected record, the current layout, the focused tab on a layout and other information. Previously, you may have printed a report to PDF or saved a search in FMP 10. The problem with those approaches is that the PDF is completely static and the results of the saved search may change between the time you look at the records and send those to someone else. The snapshot link always shows the current information in the database, and keeps the found set intact even if the underlying data changes. It took me a while to fully grasp the implications, but the more I think about it, the more uses I find to use this feature in a workgroup environment.
Recurring import will watch an external file like an Excel spreadsheet and update the data in FileMaker as the watched spreadsheet changes. You can set script triggers on this file as well to have it update every 15 minutes or some other interval.
You can copy and paste scripts to make it simpler to bring tricks over from other solutions. External file protection improves the security of Filemaker databases. The server version has new diagnostics to help find out which user has issued the query that is bringing the system to a crawl. Filemaker Pro 11 Server Advanced also removes user limits in this version.
System requirements are substantially the same.
All FileMaker 11 products are immediately available. FileMaker Pro 11 is $299/$179 upgrade (U.S. suggested list price) and FileMaker Pro 11 Advanced is $499/$299 upgrade. FileMaker Server 11 is $999/$599 upgrade and FileMaker Server 11 Advanced is $2,999/$1,799 upgrade.
For a limited time, FileMaker extends upgrade pricing to licensed users of FileMaker 8 and 8.5 products. This offer expires September 23, 2010, and details are online.
There is something for everyone in this update to FileMaker Pro. Users will love the convenience of Quick Find, the visual enhancements in charting and layouts, and sharing snapshots. Developers will love the Inspector for quickly making layout changes, the scripting improvements, and the flexibility of using portal filtering and charting to create great layouts and reports without extra plugins.
I see great possibilities to use these new features to create solutions with FileMaker Pro and I am probably more excited about the future of the product now than I have been over the last few years. It feels like the investment in previous versions has paid off and everything is firing on all cylinders to move ahead.