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FileMaker Pro 13 for OS X review

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FileMaker Pro—the database application that has a user base ranging from individuals through corporations—has released FMPro 13. While there are the expected improvements to the application, this new release provides a whole new level of opportunities. Part of that includes a new release of FileMaker Go for iPhone, iTouch, and iPad to work with the new features of FMPro 13. And as before with version 12, FMPro Go is free from the App store.

Many of the new features circle around the implementation of HTML 5 and CSS3 for both presenting information in a FileMaker Layout, as well as the very exciting FileMaker WebDirect (a new technology to replace Web Publishing). In addition, there are more theme templates, easier development for FMPro Go layouts, more convenient field creation, “Popovers” to add more field access in one field to avoid having to constantly change fields, Slide Control (sort of like flicking past screens), customized keyboards for specific fields within iPhone and iPad, and…well, there’s lots more. But also note that there is a new pricing scheme for FileMaker; it’s been $299 for a new copy for years, and that’s been pushed up $30 for the standard version and $50 for the advanced. And there’s greater expenses for web access. More on that later.

[I need to also take a moment to mention the demise of Bento, FileMaker's simplified flat-file database that made database creation as simple as could be. As of September, 2013, Bento was discontinued. Despite having some wonderful innovations and a very large following, changes in FileMaker made Bento less of a value to iPad and iPhone customers (simply, FMPro Go gave more bang for the buck). Personally I think the limitations of Bento being a flat-file database created a wall for users who were expecting full (relational) database capabilities, and Bento just could not do that. For the Bento users upgrading to FileMaker, they will have a steep learning curve. But if they hang in there, they will probably be better off in the long run.]

Continuing the trend from FMPro 12, FileMaker has added features and dynamics to make your database look better. At the same time, this release does not introduce a new format, so FileMaker Pro 12 users can open FileMaker 13 databases. However, many of the new features, scripts, and some of the new graphic capabilities will not work in previous versions. As such, some settings in FileMaker 13 will simply not work at all, or be visually broken in 12. So, if your solution is going to be distributed to others who may not be updated, you need to test before releasing your solution. As such, design your databases in FileMaker 13 accordingly.

As I stated in my review of FileMaker 12, just because you can design a database does not mean you know how to make the database look nice. You are still on your own for the User Interface and performance, but at least it should look good using FileMaker Pro 12. Now, with v. 13, it can look better yet.

FileMaker WebDirect

I’ll get back to the improvements to making your database look better, but the big improvement is how FileMaker’s appearance is now rendered; FileMaker uses HTML5 and CSS3 for all rendering, including itself. This opens up many doors as to how things are displayed within FileMaker and, most importantly, opens up FileMaker WebDirect, replacing Web Publishing for getting your database on the web. Once you’ve completed making your solution, you can post the solution into a FileMaker Server, and, well, that’s it. Users can now simply direct their browser to the FileMaker Server and use the database pretty much as they would if they had FileMaker Pro on their computer.

Functionality wise, there are some minor limitations using WebDirect such as the database designer should use fonts that are likely to be on available in browsers. Similarly, there are design issues that limit what a browser can do as opposed to what’s common within FileMaker (e.g., type-ahead from FileMaker is not supported in Browsers, things like that).

The big bad news with this great technology is that it costs a lot to use it. To use FileMaker WebDirect you need to use a FileMaker Server: cost $1,044. But that only provides one connection (ostensibly to let the developer upload the solution and test it). After that, you need to purchase separate connections in blocks of five at a time. Each block costs $900, or $180 (per person) to let someone access your solution via a free browser.

Yes, $180 is a lot less than $329, but there are moments when five connections are not enough, and suddenly you need to jump up $900 extra dollars for the sixth person. That will make a few managers sit down and take a few aspirins.

While WebDirect is truly spectacular, you will have to pay quite a bit to take advantage of it.

New pricing schemes

Speaking of money, if you only plan on using FileMaker for a short time period, there are other pricing schemes where you can “rent” FileMaker for a short time period. For example, you can rent FM Pro for one year for $108. That’s considerably less expensive than an upgrade price…at least for the first year; by the 2nd year it’s less expensive to just buy an update. This is still more expensive than purchasing the upgrade price for every release, but if you only need a copy for a short time, this does provide additional options.

Speaking of money, there’s one other financial issue involved in FileMaker Pro 13: the operating system. If you are running FM Pro 12 with OS X v10.6.8, you will not be able to run FM Pro 13 until you update your OS. One extra issue here is if your computer cannot take Mavericks, it means that updating to (say) v10.7 a bit dicier in that it may be a bit difficult to find a copy of v10.7. And, just because Mavericks is a free update, v10.7 and/or v10.8 still must be purchased. If you cannot update your OS, your only other option is to update your computer. Either that or remain with FM Pro 12.

If it makes you feel any better, the Windows version can no longer use Windows XP as Windows 7 is the minimum OS for PC users.

New FileMaker enhancements

As far as design enhancements in FM Pro 13, three stand out: Slide Control, Object Visibility, and Popover windows. All of these originate from the desire to create space, and/or use space more creatively where there is none (or limited) on an iOS platform, and using it for all platforms.

Slide Control

FileMaker Pro 13Slide Control is a variation based on the Tab feature that’s been in FM Pro for some time now. In fact, it’s so close in structure that you’ll find it as a drop-down from the Layout Tools Tab icon as shown below.

Once selected, you simply drag out a marquee and then set your conditions in the semi-translucent Slide Control Setup window. Once you’ve established the number of slides, whether there will be navigation dots and if swipe gestures are allowed (and why wouldn’t you), you click OK and then move the desired fields into this rectangle.

FileMaker Pro 13

While I do appreciate the swiping capabilities, I’m not sure I appreciate the lack of information that the user is expected to know.

If you look below, I’m displaying two different presentations of the same data; the top one shows the new Slide Control feature while the bottom one is showing the previous Tab Control feature. In both cases, a single field is displayed. In the top one, if you look only at the top left image, there is no information presented to let the user know that if he wants to see a phone number, he needs to swipe to the left. However, in the bottom set, the contents of the various tabs is clearly shown in the name in the tab.

FileMaker Pro 13

I would have like it if FileMaker added the swipe dynamic to the tab feature; swiping is a very natural interface control on an iPhone or iPad. Tapping at tabs does work, but since there is no reason for the user to know that there are fields “out there” to access. As such, I feel that this feature is solely best limited to fields of images or variations of similar content.

While I like the theory of Slide Control, I’m not sure how or where I’d use it to enhance the UI beyond the current Tab feature (which I like and often use). For images though, this is a fine addition.

Object Visibility

This allows the user to establish what fields and/or objects are visible depending on other conditions in the layout. For example, If a business field is not filled out, there’s no reason to have a department field displayed in the layout unless there is a business listed in the business field. Likewise, you can have a whole collection of fields not showing if a condition hasn’t been met. So, for example, if the shipping address is different from the billing address, there’s no reason to display the shipping address’ fields unless a user checks off “shipped to a different address.”

Simply, there are many options and opportunities here.

Popover Button

The Popover Button feature provides different advantages and limitations.

FileMaker Pro 13

Just like the Slide Control is a variation on a previous tool, the Popover feature is an variation on the Button feature as shown at right.

Once selected, you can now marquee out the “popover target” in the layout. Once set, a new Popover window will appear on the page as shown below. On the left is the actual target, in the middle is the actual Popover (resize-able) and on the right is the Popover controls.

FileMaker Pro 13

The way it works is that when the user taps or clicks the target, the Popover will, well, pop up. So in this case, if you left instructions to the target, the user knows he can see more information when the popover pops up.

FileMaker Pro 13

The fields within the popover are just like any FileMaker field; you can add data, data from these fields can be seen/used elsewhere, the “Specify” button in the 2nd image above lets you set calculation fields in the Popover, and, as you can see (in the image at right), you can also establish Script Triggers to start up when PopOver regions are activated.

One special way I can see this as being particularly valuable is if you have created, say, a roster, and on the iPhone view did not want the user to scroll up and down to see the full address or working situation, one could create a popover of all that data that the user could bring up if desired. That way, the user may be content to just see a few phone numbers and other limited data but if she wanted to see a full address and other data, that could be contained within a PopOver. In addition, you can have a PopOver of a menu system to provide access to specific points of interest. For example, you could have a button called Help and various links in the PopOver to different sections of Help.

The Field Picker

While the new features are mostly good and certainly welcome, none of the new features surprised and pleased me more than the Field Picker. As shown below, its unassuming nature shows the list of fields in your solution so you can drag them to your layouts. So far, so good. FileMaker is obviously in a transition period and chose to have the new features sprout this semi-transparent charcoal look (which does make it easier to spot the new features). But ignoring that, this is one powerful sucker of a feature.

Gone is the previous Field Tool where you dragged a generic field to your layout and was then presented with the Specified Field window to select your field. You had a checkbox to select if there was to be a label with the field, and there was an option to open the “Manage Database” which allowed you access for new field creation. It all worked, but it was also rather clunky and sort of a hodge-podge assemblage of tools.

The Field Picker is thought out. Across the top shows the current Table you are in, allowing easy access to a different table from your database to pull fields from. And, as before, you can also access the Manage Database windows. But from the start, you now select the field you want and then drag that to your Layout. You no longer have to select labels one-at-a-time; you can pull as many as you want/need. Plus, if you look at the bottom of this window, you can see that you can place the fields either horizontally or vertically and define where the labels (if desired) are to be located.

FileMaker Pro 13

If you have a great number of fields, you can search amongst them. For example, try looking for fields with the word “name” in them—there they are. The “chart” icon in the upper right is a bit deceiving in that it looks like something you click on to arrange the list in ascending or descending order, but it’s not that at all. Rather, it lets you display the Creation Order, Field Name, Field Type, or Custom order.

But the jewel here is the option to create a new field right from this window. Simply click on the “New Field” option and a new field is there in the list. Right-click on the type of field it is and you can change it there on the fly.

FileMaker Pro 13

Changing the name is simply a matter of double-clicking on the name. Want to set the conditions and dynamics of the field, right-click on the field and you get that option (as well as the ability to delete the field).

FileMaker Pro 13

Is the Field Picker perfect? Nope. There has to be something for reviewers to complain about, but I do have a couple of valid complaints. First off, there’s no way to duplicate a field. If you’ve set up a complicated calculation that will have a couple of minor variations, you cannot duplicate the field, set up the variations, save them, and be done. Rather you need to formally go into the “Manage the Database” and work from there. My other complaint is that this window is not re-sizable. If you have a big screen and want to take advantage of it…well, you can’t.

But outside of these limitations, the Field Picker is a winner.

Visual Improvements

As I stated in the very beginning, some big changes have happened to make your database look better. When switching to Layout mode and opening Inspector, if you have the Inspector set to open in the Position tab, you will at first see no difference in FileMaker 12 or 13, but you will see a new tab: Styles. More on that later.

FileMaker Pro 13

The Data tab also shows some additions—all in the Behavior region. Specifically, you can now hide a particular field’s data inputted in other fields. For example, you can now have a questionnaire where fields will appear or not appear based on what was entered in other fields.

FileMaker Pro 13

FileMaker Pro 13If you look toward the bottom on the FileMaker Pro 13 Appearance Inspector, you will see an option called “Touch Keyboard Type.” If you press this dropdown menu, you see what is displayed to the right. What this allows is for your database for your device to display the keyboard relevant to the type of data to be entered. Thus, if you have a place to enter a URL, your iPhone, iPad, etc. will show the keyboard to enter a URL. Same with email, phone, or number fields. Below you can see the full range of potential options. The value of this cannot be diminished; any solution you create that will be used on an iPhone or iPad will look like it was properly designed. You will be hailed!

One of my complaints with the Themes in FMPro 12 was that you were handed a bunch of themes that could not be customized, nor could any changes you made be sticky within the same database. Thus, if a company wanted to use their corporate colors or fonts, they were stuck. Now, with FileMaker Pro 13, they finally have some limited customization and the ability to save regions of the style or save the changes as a whole new style.

As you look over the past version and the new version of the Appearance Panel, it looks like there are more changes from v12 than there really are. This is mostly due to better organization and a redistribution of the various tools, but trust me, there are a number of big changes. Starting from the top is the partial solution to my complaint from FM Pro 12; version 13 does let you have limited customization and create your own Themes. Unfortunately, as stated, this customization is somewhat limited.

FileMaker Pro 13

Just as one can make paragraph styles in Word or InDesign, now you can save component pieces of a theme. Once you’ve set out and saved this Style with its own name—as shown below—you can now save the original Theme as a new theme with a name of your choosing. This is done by pressing the little down-facing arrow. If the arrow is red, there is a potential “save” waiting for you. What’s curious is that they ordered the Theme before the Style. I state that this is curious because usually changes are done top-down or left-right. Since you have to change/save a Style before you can change/save a Theme, it’s curious that these are reversed in the layout. It’s admittedly a small point, but it got me stuck as to why I couldn’t change a Theme—it was because I had to save a change in a Style first.

FileMaker Pro 13

The other big addition in the Appearance Tab is the “Advanced Graphic” section. Here, we finally have two additions that have been sorely missed for many years. The first is Padding. Padding provides the ability to set a distance from the edge of a field to where text can be within that field. The web has had this for years. When FMPro 12 was released, it had the ability to round-over the corners on a field (and each corner independently set if desired). Unfortunately, that also meant that text could “leak” out of a field if the rounded corner intersected text.

As shown below, on the left is what happens if you have text filling a field. There are two things going on here. First, the text fills the field all the way up to the edge of the field. While this may be OK in some situation, it does feel cluttered and claustrophobic. To make matters worse, the rounded corners cause the text to be out of the box. On the right I’ve set the padding both on the sides and the top and bottom to bring the text within the confines of the edge of the field and provide a better visual sight. All that’s missing now is for the ability of the text to discern the true edge and fill the border in a more graceful way. Perhaps sometime in the future. Nonetheless, this is a significant improvement.

FileMaker Pro 13

I have been a user of FileMaker Pro since it was first released in 1985. Since then, through version 11, one could enhance a field by providing a “drop shadow” effect that looked, well, cheesy. Not finding the old style in v13, I looked for it in v12; it wasn’t there either. Amusingly, I do not know any reviewer commenting that it had been removed in FileMaker Pro 12. I certainly overlooked its removal.

FileMaker Pro 13Now in FileMaker Pro 13, we have real Gaussian blur drop shadows (courtesy of CSS3). As shown below, the effect is just as good as Photoshop.

The control of this is done from the Pencil icon to the right of the Outer (or Inner) Shadow checkbox. [Please note the use of the Popover within FileMaker for this feature.] The reason why this is just as good as Photoshop is because the range of controls is the same as Photoshop (or any other application that supports a good drop-shadow). I have two complaints, and one in particular goes with all of the controls of this sort within FileMaker—they do not support scrubby sliders. In addition, there are no slide controls or modifier keys to speed the process of clicking 5, 10, or 20 times on those little arrows. Also missing is a mechanism to control the horizontal and vertical controls at the same time. That means that if you want about a 20 pixel shift to the right and down, you have to click (or manually type in 20 into each field) into each direction. Despite the extra work involved in setting the fields, having a proper drop shadow is a welcome addition.

FileMaker Pro 13

Despite all of these customization improvements, there is still a lot you cannot do. At least not directly from the Appearance tab. For example, if you open the Change Theme window as shown below and love the look of the Bamboo theme but your company uses a different shade of green, forget about changing the green striped pattern. You may have a different green, but it will not look like the Bamboo layout.

FileMaker Pro 13

Another area where FileMaker just plain blew it was the addition of new Layouts. More specifically, it’s an issue of the pre-made layouts for the desktop where there is no comparable Touch layout to match that look.

Consider that in FileMaker 12 there were a total of 35 desktop layouts, and 5 of those layouts were designed specifically as touch layouts. In FileMaker 13, there are 42 desktop layouts, and yet only 9 touch layouts. I find this shocking and disappointing because if FileMaker is putting so much into the features of FileMaker Go, it seems to me that if there are 35, 42 or 60 desktop layouts, there should be 35, 42, or 60 touch layouts designed to coordinate with their desktop siblings.

Fortunately one can now import layouts; if someone at FileMaker choses to take advantage of this, there coulda/shoulda been a touch layout for each desktop layout, and hopefully soon.

New Script Codes

Pulling just two out of many new scripts, these two scripts in particular provide greater integration with iPhones and iPads.

The first script is called “Get(Device)” which will tell FileMaker Pro if the device running FileMaker is unknown, a Mac, a PC (running windows), an iPad or an iPhone or iPod Touch.

The other notable script is “Get(WindowOrientation)” which tells FileMaker if the device is in landscape or portrait view (or even if it’s in an upside down view of either). This script is excellent when used in conjunction with the new ScriptTrigger: “OnLayoutSizeChange.”

One frustration that I encountered with the “Get(WindowOrientation)” script is that if it’s used in a “Specify Calculation” window, you have to manually type in the layout you want to switch to. This full script with conditions is fairly straightforward and looks like this: “If ( Get ( WindowOrientation ) > 0; “iPad-portrait” ; “iPad-landscape” )”. [This is saying "check the orientation; if the number is greater than 0, use the Portrait view, otherwise use the Landscape view.] One of the powers of working within FileMaker is that as you need layouts, fields, script steps, whatever, you can typically just double-click the desired item within the Script Window or the Calculation Window. This helps avoid errors due to typos and mis-reading the item. However, you can’t access Layout lists from the Calculation Window. This is something  I’ve not needed before, and its gap within this window was glaringly obvious. Hopefully this will be addressed in the next release.

FileMaker support

It is important for a program as deep and rich as FileMaker to have good teaching materials provided to learn the program. FileMaker, not unlike Adobe, Microsoft and most other software developers tend to make poor quality documentation. This is a good thing for 3rd party sources—be it books, blogs or even Linda.com. What was odd this time around was that FileMaker provided a 1,300 page PDF for FileMaker Pro Help (yes, that’s 1,300 pages) along with a User Guide (166 pages), a Functions Guide (376 pages), a Web Direct guide (44 pages), a Scripts guide (296 pages), an ODBC and JDBC Guide (37 pages), an SQL Reference (37 pages), an Installation guide (28 pages), a Network Install Setup Guide (14 pages), and a Using a Remote Desktop Connection with FileMaker Guide (11 pages) for a total of 2,143 PDF pages of documentation for just FileMaker Pro (there are more PDFs for FileMaker Go, FileMaker Pro Advanced and FileMaker Pro Server) that—for many dynamics—are not all that helpful. The problem was finding the information that one needs. Admittedly, there is a certain amount of repetition within these PDFs, but that only compounds the problem.

[If you are curious, you can download these and a number of other PDFs for other FileMaker products from filemaker.com.]

As an example, I tried to find how to use the “Get(WindowOrientation)” script. Finding information wasn’t all that hard (thanks to the “Find” feature in Acrobat), but making sense of it was hard. What FileMaker provides is a cold “fact” on what the function is and/or does. But not how to use the function. While I can appreciate that it might be beyond the capabilities of FileMaker to provide the definition and use of every script step they have, when they introduce new scripts and features, it does behoove them to explain how to use and implement the script.

And yet, if you still want more documentation, you can get it. Here, you’ll download a 251 page PDF that is actually pretty good. This mini-book, FileMaker Training Series, Master the Essentials of FileMaker 13 Basics actually explains how to implement the various features. Unfortunately, as the title suggests, this only provides the “Basics,” and, as such, only gets you started.

FileMaker does have a couple of superficial video tutorials on their website.

All in all, if you are a recent convert from Bento, you might be regretting the Bento loss even more. My only suggestion is to hang in there; FileMaker does have some active Support forums.

FileMaker Pro Advanced 13

Let me also add here that the for the most part, FileMaker Pro Advanced 13 now has the new features within FileMaker Pro 13. However, if you want the new high-security features to protect your data, that must be done from within FM Pro Advanced.

FileMaker Pro 13 In Short

In my last review of FileMaker, I chose to admire the advances that FileMaker had made with the new release, but felt that the improvements in one’s database design appearance was not enough to warrant the update to a new format requiring everyone update to that new release. Now it’s been about two years since the format change (and four years since the introduction of FileMaker 12), and it’s time to look at the program itself and what’s provided.

I cannot tout the improvements to FileMaker WebDirect enough. But that must be tempered with the costs to run the thing itself. When I was being shown the improvements and new features of FM Pro 13, one of the things I quickly latched onto was that a user could devise an “App” that was actually nothing more than a FileMaker Pro database running in FileMaker Go. That was until I saw the price tag of making that happen. It ain’t going to happen; FileMaker’s pricing scheme is a bucket of ice cold Gatorade dumped on a chilly day for that idea.

Sadly, unless you are corporate, WebDirect is probably a non-starter.

Getting past that, though, there is a lot to like in FileMaker Pro 13. Once you get past the confusing and limited (albeit limitless) documentation, the powerful features within FileMaker Pro make the promise of databases on your devices via FileMaker Go a true marvel. This, even if you just have a database sitting on your device not talking to a server.

With the various new features and improved features from FM Pro 12, I’m giving this a guarded 5 “A” review. Nonetheless, I am enjoying FileMaker Pro 13, and I’m finding the features well worth using. Is there a single killer feature? It would be WebDirect, but I can’t afford that.

Appletell Rating:
FileMaker Pro 13 review
Buy FileMaker Pro 13

Provides: Database creation/management
Developer: FileMaker, Inc.
Minimum System Requirements: 64-bit Intel Mac, OS X v10.7+, 2GB of RAM (4 GB recommended).
Price: $19.99
Availability: FM Pro: $329 new, $179 upgrade from v. 10, 11,or 12 ($199 with CD). FM Pro Advanced: $549 new, $299 upgrade ($20 additional for CD).

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