Talking about Databases can be a real lackluster experience. Talking about Filemaker Pro 10 changes all that. First and foremost, Filemaker’s main strength has always been the ability to provide businesses, organizations and individuals with a powerful customizable database tool that is relatively easy to use. Secondly, Filemaker Pro has always included a handful of professional looking sample templates which I have always found to be helpful and motivating towards taking the first step into the world of personal database creation. Thirdly, Filemaker is cross platform with internet savvy, providing the ability to communicate, access and share database information and templates on Apple Macintosh computers, Windows computers as well as on the World Wide Web. In Filemaker, while there are a few road blocks to perfection, no other database product that I know of will get you up and running as elegantly, as easily and as personally as Filemaker Pro. Here is my report on the most recent release: Filemaker Pro 10
The definition of a database is a collection of ‘like’ information with underlying attributes. We use databases everyday, in the form of address books, spreadsheets, even google, perhaps without even realizing it. A database stores, indentifies and sorts data in ‘Fields’ for easy retrieval at some future time often in the form of what is called ‘Records’. Filemaker has been around for well over a decade and was one of the first database programs to offer an intuitive interface that is simple to use, easily customizable along with powerful reporting capabilities.
Originally exclusively designed for the Macintosh, Filemaker Pro 10 is today available cross platform for Apple Macintosh or Windows computers. Mac and Windows Filemaker Pro users on the same network can open and use the same database files simultaneously. Being able to create a database on one platform, then able to open and use the same database on the other platform is of tremendous convenience particularly in the business world or within organizations that have several departments using both Mac and PCs.
Filemaker Pro is, what is called a ‘relational database’, which basically means that related values can be stored and linked to other files. Additional Filemaker features includes the ability to ad content from the web into your Filemaker layout, such as websites and on-line maps. Information can be worked with and organized in many different ways. Images, video and music can also be incorporated into the body of the layout created in Filemaker Pro. Filemaker’s greatest single attraction is its ability to be able to provide the tools with which to create a fully functional and powerful database application without having to know very much about computer programming. With a little computer experience and relatively little database knowledge, people can design useful Filemaker Pro Databases, and share them with others.
The Filemaker QUICKSTART SCREEN is the first thing you will see upon opening up the program. From this screen you can create and name a new empty database. New to Filemaker Pro 10 is the ability to create a database from an existing file including Excel, Text and Bento. Dragging these other file formats onto the Filemaker Pro 10 application file will also automatically convert the source file to a Filemaker Pro 10 database file. The Quickstart screen also allows you to create a database using what is called a ‘Starter Solution’ or from an existing database. There are several resources available from the Quick Start Screen including videos, hands on tours, tutorials as well as an online Filemaker resource centre to assist with the understanding and learning Filemaker Pro 10.
New FileMaker Pro 10 Status Toolbar
One of the big improvements in Filemaker Pro 10 is the Toolbar. Experienced Filemaker Pro users will immediately notice and appreciate the newly styled ‘Status Toolbar’ along the top instead of on the left side as in the prior versions. The new positioning of the Status Toolbar which includes‘Show all Records’, ‘Delete Records’, ‘Find’ and ‘Sort’ is much better placed along the top than on the side as it was in those earlier versions. The convenience of accessing commonly used actions on the top edge this Status Bar previously only available from MENUS selections is a very welcome enhancement. This newly styled Status Toolbar itself is customized by going to the ‘View Menu’ and selecting this new option called ‘Customize Status Toolbar’ which will open up a dialogue box that accommodates the ability to drag and drop icons to add or delete many of these most commonly used features in the Browse mode and the Find mode. And of course the Status Tool Bar can be hidden from view when it is not needed. Filemaker Pro 10 looks a little more ‘new age Mac’ than before and even includes the animated ‘poof effect’ Mac users are familiar with as when dragging items off the Apple ‘Dock’.
A key concept towards understanding how to use filemaker, is to realize that there are Four main MODES: Browse Mode, Find Mode, Layout Mode, Preview Mode and that in each one of these modes the Status Toolbar takes on a different look and feel. The buttons on the status bar will change according to the particular mode you are in. In prior versions of Filemaker Pro in which the status area was on the left side, there was only an area of 30 pixels wide for the names of layouts. These layout names would usually be truncated, allowing you only to see the first part of the layout name in the drop down menu. The newly positioned Layout and Formatting Bar Filemaker Pro 10 positioned along the top allows more room to work thus providing the ability to fit a lot more information in a larger space.
My Filemaker Alert report: The use of a template which you may have created prior to using the Leopard OS and in an older version of FileMaker Pro, can cause an error stating that “The Date And Time Formats Associated With FileMaker Applications Are Different Than The Current System Settings”. To eliminate this annoying Alert Dialogue Box from appearing each time you launch that older updated file, here is what you need to do: Once the FILE in question has been launched, go to FILE > MENU > OPTIONS then choose the TEXT Tab and Select – Always Use Systems Settings
As far as roadblocks to perfection, a question I have always had about Filemaker’s ‘Find’capabilities is how to make the ‘search’ function perform a ‘Phonebook type’ of search such as what is found so commonly in most P.I.M.s (Personal Information Managers). Recalling the old Palm units or imagine for a moment where you are viewing your contacts listed in alphabetical order on the screen and you looking at last names starting with ‘A’s. To view a name starting with ‘S’ for example all you do is type the letter ‘S’ into the search field and the list instantly scrolls down for you to all the last names starting with the letter ‘S’. I have never been able to figure out how to create a template that could perform this simple commonly used sort method. Over the years, my contacts at Filemaker, have consistently told me this ‘Phonebook Style’ sort method is in fact possible to accomplish. But I truly wonder… If that is the case then it is difficult to understand why FileMaker not does include this ‘Phonebook Style’ type of template along with the sample templates provided. In the meantime, if anyone comes across a template that can perform a ‘Phonebook type’ of search I would really like to hear about it. ‘Phonebook Style’ scrolling is one limitation of this database program that you will just have to live without.
Filemaker Pro 10 is the standard level version of a user friendly database system that allows you to easily create and modify your own databases. Filemaker Pro 10 Advanced costs a little bit more as it additional functionality over Filemaker Pro 10, such as additional tools for developers. There is Filemaker Server 10 which is an application which is installed on a server and is used to share all the files you create with many different users all at the same time and offers the ability to publish your databases to the web. Filemaker Server 10 Advanced supports instant web publishing or hosting.
Scripting, defining formulas, setting relationships, and some template design intricacies can sometimes be daunting and there certainly are some limits as to what the regular person can accomplish on their own when designing custom styled databases. The best way to get up and running on Filemaker Pro 10 is to take advantage of available Video Tutorials both on the Filemaker site and from other reliable tutorial makers. For anyone curious yet undecided, feel free to download Free trial versions of the product from the FileMaker Pro 10 website. The ease of making your first working database and seeing it come to life will probably provide enough of a thrill to actually help you go ahead and make that Filemaker Pro 10 purchase decision.
Filemaker is available in numerous retail configurations:
Filemaker Pro 10 $419.95 CAD
Filemaker Pro 10 upgrade $249.95 CAD
You can also find Filemaker at Apple.com US Store:
Filemaker Pro 10 $299.00 USD
Filemaker Pro 10 Upgrade $179.00 USD