The venerable Mac database solution, Filemaker Pro, has received a whole new look for 2009. I have had a chance to kick the tires a little prior to release and this is certainly the biggest visible change to Filemaker in years.
Filemaker Gets a Facelift
The first thing that you’ll notice with the update is that the familiar left-hand sidebar is completely gone. Now there is a whole new Status Toolbar that runs across the top of your database window. Because this is a standard Mac interface toolbar, buttons can be customized and rearranged as you like by command-clicking and dragging them around. Toolbar sets are configured for each mode, so that the appropriate buttons show up as you move into Find, Layout, or Preview mode. You have to give up some vertical real estate on the screen for the new horizontal toolbar, so layouts may need to be redone. You can hide the toolbar completely if you like, but I bet most users will welcome the changes once they get used to the new buttons.
The net result is an interface that feels a lot more current and more representative of what a Mac application is supposed to look like. From an interface perspective, Filemaker has finally entered the 21st century.
Bringing New Users Into the Fold
According to Rick Kalman, the Filemaker Pro product manager, one of the key goals was to bring the power of Filemaker Pro to more people. The new interface makes Filemaker Pro more accessible to new users and some new features make it easier to get started working with your data. New for version 10 is the ability to import Bento 2 files and a prompt to create a database from an existing Excel file (which was somewhat hidden before). The Bento 2 support is a boon for users that started in Bento and now want to move up to Filemaker Pro. This also provides a sort of backdoor that can be used to bring Address Book and iCal info into Filemaker Pro. I had been hoping that this functionality would be incorporated into Filemaker Pro itself, but the cross-platform issues put this feature on the chopping block.
The Starter Solutions have also been updated with a completely new look that is just a night and day contrast to the old look. They have been updated with advanced Filemaker Pro features like integrated Web Viewer for Google Maps and label printing. These updates make the Starter Solutions a much more useful resource for learning how to use these features in your own databases.
Not Just a Pretty Face
This update is not just cosmetic, though. There are a number of new features and scripting functions that make Filemaker more powerful. Script Triggers are a fantastic new addition. This feature will fire a script to run when a user performs one of 12 different actions (click in or out of a field, save a record, enter a mode, etc.). This provides new flexibility in programming Filemaker that wasn’t there before. For example, you could run spell check when a user tabs out of a text field. I can already think of several uses for triggers that will provide a much cleaner way to do what could only be accomplished with tricks or hacks before.
Find is also improved in Filemaker Pro 10. You can now pull up recent searches and save regularly used finds. This will be a great boon for Filemaker power-users that don’t want to write a script to perform a particular search as part of their daily workflow. The Find “pie” shows the percentage of records that you have found and clicking on it toggles between the found set and the excluded records.
The other major new feature is Dynamic Reports. All views, including sub-summary groupings, are “live” and editable. If you change the value in a grouped field, the record will move to the appropriate group. Along with Dynamic Reporting, table view allows you to add and remove fields from the table without having to drop into Layout mode first.
While developers will appreciate the power of the new scripting functions and script triggers, users are going to really appreciate the changes to finds, reports and table views because it will be much simpler to keep working in browse mode and do more simple ad-hoc reporting without going into layout mode or writing scripts.
What Else is New?
- Direct SMTP support for sending email
- Direct import of Bento 2 files
- New Resource Center with video tutorials
- Excel 2007 support (.xslx files)
- More SQL Database support
- File Recovery Enhancements
- Set Field by Name script function
- IPv6 support
I think anyone’s immediate reaction to the new Filemaker Pro is going to be a strong “wow!” for the new look. Other Filemaker Pro developers I know are cautiously optimistic about the new scripting features, and power-users are going to love recent and saved searches, Dynamic Reporting, and the flexible table view. After that excitement has worn off, I think most will say this is a decent update, but maybe not earth-shattering in the way that Filemaker 7 was. Frankly, I was really looking for more features from Bento to work into Filemaker Pro (particularly the layout tools and Address Book linking), but I understand that supporting cross-platform compatability with Windows users limits some of what can be done.
The user interface changes are a big deal, but this is going to create some tension in the Filemaker community. The new Status Toolbar makes Filemaker Pro look like a current Mac app, but it’s also going to cause a lot of relearning for existing users. At the end of the day, the UI updates are necessary but don’t advance the state of art beyond what’s expected of any current release.