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.