With the release of the FileMaker 12 suite of software, FileMaker, Inc. is reinvigorating its venerable database platform with robust new versions of Mac and Windows applications, 64-bit server software, and updated iOS apps, now free to download. The new versions are available immediately.
The company has clearly invested considerable effort in developing comprehensive design tools that will enable users to implement clean database interfaces without needing much in the way of design skills. FileMaker Pro 12 offers an expanded and improved collection of “starter solution” database templates users can adopt as is or customize as needed, and 40 different themes to provide a rich and professional-looking visual impression with little additional time or energy on the database designer’s part. Many of the themes offer layouts designed specially for use on an iPhone or iPad.
FileMaker Pro 12 is available for both Mac OS X and Windows for $299, with a $179 upgrade price, and FileMaker Pro 12 Advanced is available for $499, with a $299 upgrade price. FileMaker Server and FileMaker Server Advanced cost $999 and $2,999 respectively, with upgrades priced at $599 and $1,799. Upgrade pricing is available to owners of FileMaker Pro or Server 9, 10, or 11. Owners of FileMaker Pro/Server 8 or earlier versions will need to purchase the full product, and FileMaker Pro/Server 9 users are eligible for upgrade pricing only through 27 September 2012.
In the Palm of Your Hand -- We’re not surprised to hear from the FileMaker folks that iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad access to FileMaker Pro databases has become a big deal since the release of the FileMaker Go applications (see Steve McCabe’s “FileMaker Go Brings FileMaker Databases to iOS,” 9 February 2012). These iOS apps, geared toward portable access to databases developed on the desktop, become free with the release of FileMaker Go 12. New versions are available now in the App Store. (The paid versions of FileMaker Go 11 will remain available in the App Store for those who want to continue working with FileMaker Pro 11 or FileMaker Server 11.)
In line with one of Steve McCabe’s criticisms, FileMaker Go 11 users, especially on the smaller iPhone screen, often found themselves pinching and swiping quite a bit to zoom and pan around layouts designed for use on a laptop or larger desktop screen. For version 12, FileMaker has done that extra work for us; the provided themes, which can be applied even to existing databases with a couple of clicks, not only turn jumbled rows of fields into tidy layouts for the bigger screens, they also seamlessly deliver handheld-sized and tablet-optimized screens — complete with the bigger spaces and controls that come in handy when you’re interacting with a form using your finger, and not a mouse or trackpad.
At the same time, FileMaker has added a richer array of iOS-specific features to the FileMaker Go apps. Database developers can take advantage of iOS location capabilities if allowed by the user, users can record audio and video directly into a database with multimedia fields, and multimedia playback supports AirPlay streaming to devices like the Apple TV.
We’re pleased to see the company has also addressed one of our longstanding frustrations with FileMaker Go. Better wide-area networking support in the software at both ends means iOS users can now access databases that are being served just about anywhere. Earlier versions of FileMaker’s iPhone and iPad apps could only open databases hosted on the same local network, or while using a VPN connection to a remote network.
FileMaker’s layout features have been changed to reflect spacing and sizing based on points rather than pixels, important in a Retina display world where pixel size can vary enormously from device to device. (The company says the apps don’t automatically deliver different graphics optimized for the Retina display in current iPhone and iPad models, but the resolution independence will allow that in the future. In the meantime, text and certain other visual elements drawn by the apps will take advantage of the Retina display.) The iOS apps now even have their own capability to export data into Excel, CSV, and tab-delimited text files, which can be emailed directly.
While the FileMaker Go 12 apps are available at no charge, the average user won’t find them useful in a vacuum; databases accessed via the apps must be created or hosted by FileMaker Pro 12 or FileMaker Server 12.
On the Desktop -- The core desktop version of FileMaker Pro hasn’t changed too radically, though there are some nice additions. When working with media, users can now drag images, video files, or documents such as PDFs to the corresponding container field in the database window, rather than having to go through the multiple clicks of selecting the field, navigating around the file selection dialog box, then selecting and attaching or uploading the file. Media incorporated by users in local databases can be stored within the database file or linked to the original on the user’s hard drive.
FileMaker Pro 11 introduced some basic charting capabilities, and the company says the feature proved so popular that in FileMaker Pro 12 they’ve added a Quick Charts tool and several new types of charts, including bubble, scatter, and stacked bar or column charts.
Power to Spare -- At the far end of the FileMaker spectrum, the company has revamped its FileMaker Server and FileMaker Server Advanced products to run in 64-bit mode. The company says the resulting access to additional memory can boost performance for large databases. At the same time, FileMaker 12 sports a re-architected Web publishing engine that provides better performance when delivering FileMaker data embedded within Web pages or to users accessing the databases directly via a Web browser.
FileMaker 12 Server and Server Advanced also gain the capability to serve streaming multimedia to database users. Image, audio, and video files can be centrally managed and encrypted, and the content delivered as needed over the available network connection.
Taking the Plunge -- We’re more impressed with the progress and improvements we see in this latest FileMaker incarnation than we have been for a few releases, and we think most serious FileMaker users, especially those using the accompanying iPhone and iPad apps, will want to upgrade. It is important to note that FileMaker 11 and FileMaker 12 databases aren’t cross-version compatible, so organizations will need to upgrade all at once, from the handheld to the desktop to the server.