Filemaker Pro 9.0

Alpha Five offers more choices for extending functions with scripts and Web software, but most users will likely want to spend the extra money for the more-intuitive FileMaker.

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Filemaker Pro 9.0
  • Filemaker Pro 9.0
  • Filemaker Pro 9.0
  • Filemaker Pro 9.0

Pros

  • Browse and edit live SQL data, Send Link, conditional formatting

Cons

  • More expensive than Alpha Five

Bottom Line

FileMaker's ease of use, rich template library, instant Web publishing, and designer-quality layout tools make it our choice for typical home and small-business users.

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FileMaker Pro 9 does a good job of helping ordinary people create useful and good-looking database applications. Both FileMaker and Alpha Five Version 8 Professional let you create desktop and Web databases for everything from e-mail marketing campaigns and online storefronts to media libraries and Christmas card lists. But the programs have different strengths: FileMaker is more intuitive, while Alpha Five offers more extensibility via scripts and Web apps.

FileMaker Pro 9's biggest addition is direct integration of SQL data sources within forms and reports. You can now browse and edit live SQL data just as easily as you can native FileMaker data, after creating a one-time link to the SQL data source. Workgroups can then easily access and update central SQL databases, such as for inventory or personnel data. The new version also offers a friendly splash screen that links to excellent tutorials and help files, as well as to templates and recently used databases.

I particularly liked the new Send Link feature, which adds a link to your database within an e-mail message whose body text instructs the recipient how to access the database over a local network. No more futzing around figuring out IP numbers — just click.

The new conditional-formatting feature makes it a snap to call attention to significant data points or trends. You can use it to define different fonts, sizes, styles, or colours that will be used based on certain conditions. For example, an inventory field could display in large red type when the number drops below a specified level, alerting you to order more of that item. Other useful goodies are the autoresize tool, which lets you create layout objects that resize automatically to fit different screen resolutions or paper sizes; multiple undos and redos when editing field text; and field-level spelling checking, so you can turn checking off for fields containing proper names, for instance.

Additionally, you can publish forms to the Web with one click, so others could use a browser to view, for example, updates to an ongoing project or a customer feedback form.

The dozens of included templates should cover most common database needs, such as expense reports, personnel records, and inventories. Several add-on template packs are also available. Everything is compatible across the Windows and Mac platforms, too. Plus, you can benefit from the third-party ecosystem that has built up around FileMaker. Turn-key solutions for vertical markets such as real estate offices, nonprofit organisations, and healthcare management are readily available, and developers are available to build custom projects that you can then tweak and manage yourself.

Overall, Alpha Five is less expensive than FileMaker, but its high-end versions are especially so. Comparing list prices, Alpha Five Enterprise version with SQL support costs only $US349, compared with $499 for FileMaker Pro Advanced (however, even the $299 FileMaker Pro 9 offers SQL support). If you require many people to pitch in on the design of your database, you'll need FileMaker Server to get more than nine simultaneous client connections. Alpha Five's Application Server is more of a bargain at $399 for the basic version, compared with FileMaker Server's much heftier price tag.

FileMaker's somewhat easier learning curve, rich template library, SQL capabilities, and instant Web publishing make it the better choice for typical home and small-business users. Also, businesses in need of SQL support could benefit from that feature's presence in the Pro version. But Alpha Five has the clear edge in extending basic functions via script building and Web application development tools, and its lower cost of ownership makes it an attractive alternative.

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