Thoughtful, detailed coverage of the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, plus the TidBITS Content Network for Apple consultants.

FileMaker 13 Gains a Smooth New Web Presence

Some of us at TidBITS have been using FileMaker for over two decades, which isn’t something we can say about many software products. Apple subsidiary FileMaker, Inc. has now released version 13 of its eponymous database tool, focusing heavily on mobile integration (with the free FileMaker Go apps for iOS) and a completely revamped Web publishing approach.

If pushed, I’d say that the focus for FileMaker 12 was its vast improvement in design tools for building attractive and navigable database user interfaces, and the theme for FileMaker 13 is making the database accessible everywhere.

FileMaker on the Web -- Since the very beginning of the World Wide Web, we’ve wanted to publish our databases on it, and for the first few years, getting FileMaker data onto Web sites required creative scripting with WebSTAR, or using third-party tools like Lasso. With FileMaker WebDirect (available in Filemaker Server 13) replacing the company’s previous Instant Web Publishing solution in the latest release, FileMaker has built a completely new tool for making databases available in a Web browser.

Making a Web interface behave more like a desktop interface was a major goal for FileMaker 13, FileMaker senior product manager Eric Jacobson told me, and perhaps the most dramatic example of that is the ability to drag images or other content into suitable fields in a database layout, right in your Web browser, eliminating the need to select a field, click an upload button, and navigate around a file selection dialog. That may sound like an obvious feature, but it’s one that the company added to the desktop version of FileMaker only last year.

Even better, and more important, is that a change to data anywhere in a FileMaker database is instantly transmitted to, and reflected by, views of that database on any platform. Edit a record at home before leaving for work, and that change is pushed right out to everyone viewing that record in the field, whether they’re accessing the source database via the FileMaker Pro desktop application at the office, a Web browser while on the road, or an iOS app on the train.

FileMaker acknowledges mobile Web support still has a way to go. WebDirect officially supports Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer, but not mobile browsers at this time. The company says there’s no reason you can’t access the Web version of a FileMaker database using a mobile browser, but it has put its energy thus far into compatibility for desktop Web browsers — and iOS app support via FileMaker Go. Full mobile browser support will come in a future release. Similarly, FileMaker says you can use Mozilla’s Firefox on the desktop, but it’s not certified to be fully compatible.

Handheld Data -- FileMaker Go, the iOS app for iPhone and iPad for accessing and updating FileMaker databases, became free last year with the release of FileMaker 12; FileMaker rightly saw the iOS app not as a separate product, but as a vital avenue for working with databases (see “FileMaker 12 Adds Power, Clarity, and Free iOS Apps,” 4 April 2012).

Mobile layouts must still be designed on the desktop; FileMaker Go is not a standalone development tool. But database developers now have a suite of new pre-designed mobile layouts at their disposal, and these layouts can be added to a database in any of several pre-designed shapes, such as iPad and iPad mini, 3.5-inch iPhone (iPhone models through the iPhone 4S), and 4-inch iPhone (the iPhone 5 and later).

Layouts designed for the iOS apps are as resolution-independent as it’s possible to make them; FileMaker says text will always be rendered at the highest resolution of the device you’re using, and images stored in the database will be rendered at resolutions sufficient for Retina displays, assuming there’s enough data present in the original. At the other end of the spectrum, FileMaker has taken care to leave buttons, links, and fields in their mobile layouts big enough, and spaced widely enough, for a fingertip, rather than the pinpoint accuracy of a mouse pointer.

One nifty new capability of FileMaker Go 13 is by no means revolutionary, but it’s a nice touch; FileMaker Go can now scan just about any type of bar code as an aid to data entry. Doing inventory? Just aim your iPhone or iPad camera at a UPC code, or a QR code, or whatever similar printed-but-scannable data is in front of you.

Other Improvements -- FileMaker 13 may not be as focused on design as version 12 was, but FileMaker has added new templates, new themes, new styles, and a layout tool that’s especially attractive: a field picker. Instead of having to select the fields for a new layout all at once when creating it, or adding one field at a time after the fact, users can search their databases for fields, select as many as they need, and drag them right to a layout, complete with labels and spacing suitable for the target device.

Especially as more and more database access leaves the relative safety of the corporate network, what with Web access and handheld apps, I’m glad to see some extra attention to secure transport of information between user and server. FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced now offers AES 256-bit encryption from end to end, even when you’re using an iOS app to access or update your database.

FileMaker 13 is available immediately, either via traditional purchase or monthly license model along the lines of Adobe’s controversial Creative Cloud (see “Adobe Flies from Creative Suite into the Creative Cloud,” 8 May 2013). New copies of FileMaker Pro 13 costs $329, whereas FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced is $549, and FileMaker Pro 13 Server starts at $1,044 for one connection; additional concurrent connections cost $180 each, in bundles of five. Upgrades cost $179 for FileMaker Pro 13 and $299 for FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced. If you’re more interested in the monthly licensing approach, it will set you back $9 for FileMaker Pro and $15 for FileMaker Pro Advanced, and starts at $29 for FileMaker Server with one connection; additional concurrent connections each cost $5 per month, in bundles of five. The FileMaker Go apps for iPhone and iPad remain free. A 30-day trial version is available.


Backblaze is unlimited, unthrottled backup for Macs at $5/month.
Web access to files means your data is always available. Restore
by Mail allows you to recover files via a hard drive or USB.
Start your 15-day trial today! <>

Comments about FileMaker 13 Gains a Smooth New Web Presence
(Comments are closed.)

Charlie Hartley  2013-12-09 18:10
You probably will want to make it clear that WebDirect is available on the Server edition, rather than on the basic edition of v13.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-12-10 08:09
Good point - I'll add a parenthetical to make that clear.
Tom McIntosh  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2013-12-09 21:58
While I like the idea of the new features, I find the upgrade cost of over 50% of the purchase price to be excessive. l would like to see the upgrades cost less than 25% of the purchase price.
Other forums have many postings expressing similar concerns about the cost.
I have been a Filemaker user for decades and will be staying with FM12 Advanced unless FM announces a more reasonable upgrade cost.
Miro Lucassen  2013-12-10 00:15
The new WebDirect feature shines on the server edition, but for folks with less ambition there is no alternative anymore. Instant Web Publishing certainly has drawbacks, but it is now pulled from the standard and advanced FileMaker versions. Pity.
James Wilson  2013-12-11 04:37
Grateful for clarification: If I read the above comments correctly, in v13 the ONLY way to make databases available via the web is now via the server version... Standard and advanced versions have no web publishing capability.

If this is the case I am not quite sure what I would achieve through the upgrade from v12 (Adv), apart from a step backwards.
Tommy Weir  2013-12-15 14:50
I bought v.12 in October. Being faced with a 50% upgrade cost under two months later was alarming.
It's the first version I've bought in about 15 years, the last time I needed it for work. I've been really enjoying making databases again and sharing them, the iPad being a key player there in both my motivation and others usage.

My other thought on using it was the Web, that there must be some way to share these online, the Instant Web Publishing option in v12 is very, very ugly but handy as a fallback... so I was excited to see there was new options and thought maybe, even with a painfully short upgrade timeframe, the 180 bucks would be worth fuller online abilities. But a price of nearly 1200 to get the Server edition is quite another matter.