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FileMaker Pro 11 Promises Welcome Enhancements

Apple subsidiary Claris brought FileMaker Pro 1.0 on the market 20 years ago, but even that 1.0 version was years into the story of FileMaker, the quintessentially Mac-like database tool that gave ordinary computer users an easy interface for making and maintaining databases. FileMaker Inc.’s recent release of its FileMaker Pro 11 suite of products marks the addition of welcome capabilities while retaining the software’s trademark elegance.

I’ll start with the welcome news that FileMaker Pro 11 for Mac is finally a purely Cocoa-based application, rather than the Carbon and Cocoa hybrid of FileMaker Pro 10 and the Carbon architecture of a few versions before that. This change sounds fairly geeky, and indeed it’s one of those under-the-hood things most users will never notice, but it offers the potential for better performance, stability, and compatibility with future versions of Mac OS X. (The company simultaneously released Windows versions of the cross-platform FileMaker Pro products, but I’ll leave discussing those to others.)

FileMaker Pro 11 also ships with a larger variety of premade templates to get users started. And FileMaker Pro 11 Advanced, geared more toward developers, offers an improved custom menu interface and improved script debugging.

Four new capabilities in FileMaker Pro 11 that caught my attention are a new charting feature; a scriptable QuickFind tool that acts like the search capabilities of iTunes and Mail; a “Snapshot Link” means of handing another user a particular view of your data; and automatic recurring import, perfect for working with external data that might change.

Charts — One feature with broad appeal is the new charting capability built into FileMaker Pro 11. Charting has long been largely limited to spreadsheet applications, which means that, until now, FileMaker users have had to export their data and import it into Excel in order to produce even a simple pie chart. FileMaker Pro 11’s new charting and reporting features work throughout the application; a chart that’s always based on the latest data can be added to any layout, and it can feature information from any data field or take full advantage of FileMaker’s calculation engine.

QuickFind — It’s hard to remember a time before iTunes, Mail, and every Web browser on the planet gained that ubiquitous search field in the top right corner of its window, but previous versions of FileMaker Pro still required the user to specify an individual field to search. Now, this QuickFind search field helps users search throughout the database.

Snapshot Link — I’m intrigued by the countless potential uses for this feature, which enables FileMaker Pro 11 users to send a colleague a specific view of the database, displaying specific selected records in a particular layout, for example. While it’s long been possible to send a colleague a PDF showing data in a specific format, this new Snapshot Link feature is actually a view of the database itself, and recipients with sufficient privileges can update the live data, modify the search, and so on. Unlike with a PDF, of course, the recipient won’t be able to view the data if he or she isn’t both online and authorized to access the database.

Automatic Recurring Import — This new “recurring import” capability allows FileMaker Pro 11 to work with the contents of an external file, such as a separate database or a spreadsheet, and automatically recognize any changes to that data. The example the FileMaker folks gave me was an external spreadsheet of county sales tax rates; a customer invoice database could refer to that spreadsheet to look up the sales tax rate for a given customer each time an invoice is created. Since sales tax rates can change, keeping this data separate works well.

Pricing and Upgrades — The software is available now, at $299 for FileMaker Pro 11, $499 for FileMaker Pro 11 Advanced, $999 for FileMaker Server 11, and $2,999 for FileMaker Server 11 Advanced. Upgrade pricing is available for licensed users of Filemaker 9 and 10, and, for those still using FileMaker 8 and 8.5, through 23 September 2010. Upgrades cost $179 for FileMaker Pro, $299 for FileMaker Pro Advanced, $599 for FileMaker Server, and $1,799 for FileMaker Server Advanced.

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