FileMaker updated to version 7

FileMaker is releasing a revamped version of its database software this week, adding full relational capabilities, more security functions, and tools to make it easier to put a Web interface on a database so it is accessible by a browser.

FileMaker 7 is available now in several configurations, marketed in feature-identical versions for both Windows and the Macintosh, as with earlier releases. FileMaker Pro is priced at US$299 (US$149 as an upgrade from an earlier release), and FileMaker Developer costs US$499 ($US399 for an upgrade), after a US$100 rebate for US customers. As in the past, runtimes can be distributed royalty-free.

Scheduled to ship in June are FileMaker Server 7, priced at US$999 (US$499 as an upgrade) and Server 7 Advanced, at US$2499 (US$1499 upgrade). With the release of FileMaker 7, the Filemaker Pro Unlimited edition is being replaced by FileMaker Server 7 Advanced. Also scheduled for summer release is FileMaker Mobile 7 for PDAs. It will run on either the Palm OS or Pocket PC ( Windows Mobile) OS, and will cost US$69 (US$35 for an upgrade). FileMaker is also readying FileMaker Pro 7-compatible versions of its applications, with Tasks and Meetings planned by May, and Donations and Recruiter planned for summer. The database program was last updated in mid-2002.

FileMaker plans to ship FileMaker Pro 7-compatible versions of its add-on applications, for release in the next several months, according to the company.

Broader File Formats

The revamped FileMaker accepts a variety of file formats, from PDF to Microsoft Office documents, and notably supports multimedia files such as images, video, and sound, according to Marc Dubresson, product manager.

Image file support is a plus for Mark Sarpa, president of Progressive Solutions a FileMaker user since release 2.0.

"That could be the biggest benefit for us," Sarpa says. His small business runs its printing, mail service, and fulfillment operations on FileMaker, and the new fully relational capabilities will make it easier to manage and generate complex queries.

Sarpa describes the parts manufacturer's database as "a very complex inventory model," needing to track parts in many different configurations and from many sources. Customers access it online by browser, and Sarpa says FileMaker 7 will enable him to offer greater customization for each user.

"We have a lot of complex situations that adjust over time, but when the new version is built, it will be much easier," Sarpa says. "Previously, it was hard to create an inventory model fast enough to use over the Web." The company manages about 350MB of FileMaker data on a Macintosh server, and powers its Web site with a Windows 2000 server. He says about a dozen customers access it daily, and twice that many use it at least monthly.

The database file format changes with this release, Dubresson notes. FileMaker 7 can automatically convert files created by previous editions, and can import earlier formats to FileMaker 3. Users still running FileMaker 2.1 can convert those files to FileMaker 6 format and then import the data to the latest version, he adds.

A database can also contain significantly more information. FileMaker Pro 7's data capacity is 8 terabytes per file.

Relational Power

The new, fully relational architecture is among the biggest new features, Dubresson says. Users can organize information in multiple tables within a single file. Also, they can now open several windows in the same database to have different views of the information.

"People who want to do a simple database still can," Dubresson says. For example, FileMaker 7 features a relationships graph that maps the database. Users can click to define additional tables, and can chart and view relationships among records graphically.

"It's a significant step forward for FileMaker to be truly relational," says Chuck Gathard, technology director for America 24/7, based in Sausalito, California. "I think this version has really moved much closer to being a tool that has the full application capacity for smaller businesses and developers," he says.

The update also enhances FileMaker's security, says product manager Dubresson. Database managers can designate several levels of passwords and privileges, such as by user type or group. The same security functions are available on local or Web-accessed databases.

That improved security makes Web access more feasible, according to Gathard. The longtime FileMaker user oversees a database that manages photography projects involving hundreds of contributors across the country, and they can use either Macintosh or Windows systems to securely access the data. He has been building FileMaker databases since 1988.

"Creating Web-based applications based on FileMaker applications is so much easier" with FileMaker 7, he adds. Previously, it was possible with some tweaking, he adds.

Developers' Tools

FileMaker product managers are emphasizing the ease of use of the new version, even with its more powerful features. The database program still offers a number of customization options for developers.

Developers will find the update simply easier and quicker, suggests David Knight, managing director of The Support Group, a consulting organization that develops FileMaker applications and provides training and support.

Although developers built applications under earlier versions of FileMaker that could manage multimedia files, for example, the databases were sometimes fragile, he says. "Now, you can do things in one or two steps that used to take five or ten," says Knight, who has worked with FileMaker since version 2.0. "You can do far more development using far simpler techniques."

He also counts among the major improvements FileMaker's enhanced relational capabilities, its easier integration with enterprise databases, and its deeper security. "The entire product got boosted up," he says.

The enhanced Web publishing tools will help keep it easy for customers to use, he notes. "In the past, any customized look and feel or complex data management required a lot of extra development," he says. "We anticipate drastically reducing that with FileMaker 7."

Like Gathard, his clients include users of both Macintosh and Windows systems, so the database's cross-platform compatibility is key.

"I develop with both (platforms), and I've never seen any application be spot-on virtually identical like FileMaker," Knight says. "It's hard to grab almost any other tool and build something as rapidly. It's such a nimble product."

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