New out: FileMaker Pro 12 and FileMaker Go 12
- — 04 April, 2012 22:00
With new versions of its entire FileMaker product line (FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Pro Advanced, FileMaker Server, FileMaker Server Advanced, and FileMaker Go), FileMaker, Inc. offers improvements for every type of FileMaker user: end users both in the office and out, and developers of every level of ability, from amateurs to aces.
We outline the new features of FileMaker Pro 12 here, and on the next page, those of FileMaker Go 12. New Zealand pricing is at the bottom of the page.
Extreme makeover done extremely easily
The most obvious improvement in FileMaker Pro 12 is its library of 40 fresh layout themes. A theme controls the initial appearance of objects on a layout: the color scheme, the shape and style of buttons, the text formatting and borders of data fields. I never made use of FileMaker's themes in the past; the old themes were somewhat homely, and a theme could only be applied at the moment a layout was created and couldn't be changed. However, I may reconsider my avoidance of themes. The new themes in FileMaker Pro are fairly attractive, and it is now possible to switch to a different theme later. You can even start a layout without a theme and apply a theme afterwards -- that's what I've done with some of my own old databases. It's a quick and remarkably effective way to perform a facelift on your databases. My one regret -- one I suspect a lot of developers will share -- is that it is still not possible to define and save custom themes.
The new themes library includes a number of boffo themes designed specifically for use on the iPad and iPhone. The interoperability with FileMaker Go is the most exciting part of the FileMaker 12 release, and with the themes for iOS, even beginners can create great looking apps for the iPad and iPhone.
The snazzier aspects of the new themes are made possible by new layout options, such as the ability to add gradients to almost any layout object, the ability to change the look of buttons by controlling corner radius precisely for rounded buttons and the ability to highlight buttons differently when users mouse over or press them -- behaviors we all expect from well-designed websites. There are many other new design enhancements in FileMaker Pro 12, and one of my favorites is the option "Delineate fields on current record only" in the Layout Setup dialog. You can highlight the selected record in a list simply by putting a check in a box. In the past this required advanced techniques (capturing record ID with a script trigger and using conditional formatting based on a calculation).
Two other changes in layout mode may seem awkward to experienced developers for a while, until old habits give way to new. Layouts in FileMaker Pro 12 now have explicit widths and expect to be used within windows of a certain size. This change is part of FileMaker Pro 12's much better support for different types of displays (desktop computer, iPad, or iPhone, and iPod touch) and is complemented by the new screen-size guides or "stencils" that make it easy for you to tell if a particular layout will fit on a particular screen.
As a longtime FileMaker developer, I found it difficult to adjust to the new way objects are selected in layout mode. In the past, you drew the selection rectangle completely around the object (say, a field, or field label, or button) to select it. In FileMaker Pro 12, objects are selected if the selection rectangle touches any part of the object. The new behavior is consistent with Apple's user interface guidelines -- it's how selection works in the OS X Finder, for example. And whether you're an old hand or a tenderfoot, the new behavior certainly makes it more difficult to select one object in a crowded group. Fortunately when you really need it, the old behavior can be recovered by holding down the Command key while selecting.
FileMaker Pro for amateurs
What about the database amateur, the non-developer or the person who just doesn't have a lot of experience creating databases? Too timid to enter layout mode? Not to worry. FileMaker Pro 12 still has lots to offer you, too.
There are starter solutions: 16 diverse, professionally designed, ready-to-go databases for inventory, to-do lists, personnel, scheduling, time and billing, research notes, and more. The starter solutions make use of the new themes and include layouts optimized for FileMaker Go on iOS devices, as well as layouts for desktop computers running FileMaker Pro. These solutions are fairly generic, of course, but the ones I have played with are pretty slick. If you are in need of one of these solutions, you can get it at no extra charge. They come with every copy of FileMaker Pro 12.
And you might become a developer yet, or at least a dabbler. They're called "starter solutions" for a reason -- you're expected to tweak them to suit your own needs, and if you can resist the temptation, you're stronger than me. Want to learn your way around FileMaker Pro in a hurry? One of the best things you can do is take a starter solution apart.
Interesting odds and ends
FileMaker Pro 12 contains scores of enhancements that are beyond the scope of this review--new functions and script steps and many other improvements. But there are a two items that deserve special mention.
Container fields in FileMaker Pro 12 are greatly enhanced. Some of the improvements are a bit esoteric (scripted handling of the installation of plug-ins) but one that many will appreciate is the ability to handle certain kinds of dynamic content. You can now read a PDF right in a container field, moving from page to page, even searching, without having to extract the document from the field.
The Chart Setup dialog has been improved and several new chart types have been added. Saving a chart still requires developer access to the file, but it's now possible for ordinary end users to create ad hoc (temporary) charts, even without any special privileges. Sweet.
What's the catch?
This is a major upgrade loaded with improvements to a product that was already best in class, so you will want to place your orders immediately, right? Right, but there is a catch: The file format for FileMaker Pro databases has changed.
The last five versions of FileMaker Pro, since the release of FileMaker Pro 7 in 2004, have used the same file format, distinguished by the file type extension .fp7. For almost eight years, it's been possible to open any FileMaker Pro database with any recent version of FileMaker Pro, or even to open a new database with an old version, provided the database didn't make use of features introduced after the release of the version of FileMaker Pro used to open it. All this backwards and forwards compatibility was great while it lasted.
FileMaker Pro 12 has a new file format with the file type extension .fmp12. The new format was necessary to support the new themes technology. If you want to use an old database in the new version of FileMaker Pro, the file will have to be converted to the new format. (Conversion is a breeze and is done right in FileMaker Pro 12.) If you work by yourself, by all means, upgrade. But if your databases are shared -- with 100 other users or just one -- be aware that it will be necessary to upgrade to FileMaker Pro 12 on every computer that must access the files. iOS users of FileMaker Go must upgrade to FileMaker Go 12. And if the files are shared with FileMaker Server, you'll have to upgrade that software too, to FileMaker Server 12 or Server 12 Advanced.
New Zealand pricing
FileMaker Pro 12 is NZ$499. The upgrade is NZ$299.
FileMaker Pro 12 Advanced is NZ$ 799. The upgrade is NZ$499.
FileMaker Server 12 is NZ$1,800. The upgrade is NZ$1,080.
FileMaker Server 12 Advanced is NZ$5,500. The upgrade is NZ$2,475.
FileMaker Go 12 for iPad and FileMaker Go 12 for iPhone are free from the iTunes App Store.
FileMaker Go 12 is the best thing to happen in the FileMaker world in a long time—certainly since FileMaker Mobile was put out of its misery in 2007. While Mobile was flawed, I’m having trouble finding something to dislike about Go. With FileMaker Go 12, you can now take your FileMaker Pro database with you everywhere—down the hallway, across town, or even out-of-town—and you can interact with the database almost exactly as you would if you were using it on your desktop computer back in the office. Not to mention that FileMaker Go 12 is free: its predecessor sets you back $20.
For this review, I tested FileMaker Go 12 on an iPhone 4S, an iPod touch, an iPad 2 and a new third-generation iPad. FileMaker Go 12 is compatible with any iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or higher.
Go and Pro
FileMaker Go has two versions for iOS—Go for iPhone (or iPod touch) and Go for iPad. These two are identical in functionality, differing only in their expectations about the hardware they run on (mainly, the screen size).
The FileMaker Go app runs FileMaker Pro databases on your iOS device. You cannot create a database in FileMaker Go or modify its layouts, scripts, or data structure. So, Go needs Pro—or at least a Go user needs to get databases from someone who created them with FileMaker Pro.
Go 12 looks and acts like its predecessor, FileMaker Go 1.2, but with two noteworthy improvements. FileMaker Go 12 can export data to half a dozen file formats including tab-delimited, .csv, and .xlsx. (As a cool example, I exported a data set from FileMaker Go 12 in .xlsx format and opened it in Numbers on my new iPad.) And printing from Go is greatly improved. You can print straight to your AirPrint-enabled printer or use a third-party utility like Printopia (which is what I do).
And did I mention that FileMaker Go 12 is free?With the release of this new version, FileMaker Go on an iPad looks more and more like a viable replacement for FileMaker Pro on a laptop computer. Additionally, FileMaker Pro 12—Go 12’s parent software—makes it easy to create great looking databases optimized for iOS devices.
There are three common ways to access a FileMaker Pro database using FileMaker Go. If you don’t need to share the database, you can just use iTunes to copy the database to your iOS device.
If you do need to share, host the database on a desktop computer running FileMaker Server. Users will then connect to the database over a Wi-Fi network. This will easily work inside your home or office LAN, but it can work outside the LAN—say, from the airport, the public library, or your favorite café’s Wi-Fi hot spot—if you configure FileMaker Server for remote access.
Finally, with an iPhone or cellular-enabled iPad, you can connect over your network from your tent in Yellowstone National Park, from your car or anywhere else on the fly. While cellular access may be a bit less responsive than Wi-Fi access, it’s certainly liberating.
Small is beautiful (but takes a little work)
There are a few inevitable differences in the behavior of databases on iOS devices (especially on the iPhone) and on desktop computers, arising from the differences in physical design, for example, the fact that the iPhone display is so much smaller than the display of a desktop computer.
FileMaker claims that you can open any FileMaker Pro database in FileMaker Go and expect it to work, and I found this to be mostly true. But using it can be compared to opening a website in Safari for iOS that hasn’t been optimized for mobile access. At first, layouts will be too small to be readable or useful, and after you expand the page, you’ll have to scroll in all directions to see the whole thing.
To fix this, you can design special layouts for iOS devices—at least for the iPhone or iPod touch—and use FileMaker Pro 12’s scripting tools to take mobile users to the optimized screens. Layouts originally designed to take advantage of an iMac’s wide and tall 1920x1080 screen resolution will want to be redesigned to fit in the iPad 2’s 1024x673 screen, or the iPhone’s 320x385 screen in portrait orientation. You’ll also want to make fields and buttons a bit bigger and more carefully spaced in order to work better with a touch interface.
Bit of a challenge? Yep. But FileMaker Pro 12 provides a lot of help. Go 12 supports Pro 12’s new themes technology, which includes a number of themes designed specifically for iOS. Another option is to use Pro 12’s new “stencils” feature, which shows developers the size of the displays on the iPad and iPhone.
Finally, FileMaker Pro 12 has changed its basic measurement unit from pixels to the resolution-independent points. This means that a layout designed for an iPad works and looks the same on a new iPad as it does on an original iPad or an iPad 2, despite the new iPad’s much higher pixel resolution.
Skip the menus, go à la carte
The second big difference between Go and Pro is that Go doesn’t have menus in the desktop sense, so a database that relies on old-fashioned menus (whether FileMaker Pro’s standard menus or a custom menu set) will be handicapped in Go. The solution here lies with using buttons (and the occasional script trigger, if you speak geek).
Watch out for ad-libs
The final issue that FileMaker Go developers should keep in mind is the possibility that the user of the device might ad lib—that is, do something unexpected while a script is being executed. If a complex script is, say, importing the new price list from the Internet, and the user hits the device’s Home key or an iPhone receives an incoming call, the script might be interrupted. I’ve been developing for Go since 2010 and this hasn’t been a problem in my databases very often, but it is something to keep in mind.
There are a number of other limitations in FileMaker Go, but there aren’t very many and the limitations are minor. For example, autocomplete doesn’t work in FileMaker Go, so users will have to type out “Knickelhausen-Ortiz” in full. Life is hard.
All in all, Go 12 is great. And it’s free. Jeez, I almost forgot to mention that.