FileMaker Pro adds a window to the Web

More and more, the source for a lot of the data we care about--maps, prices, pictures, definitions--is the Web. The new version of FileMaker Pro gives your databases a window on that information and does it with the program's signature ease and elegance. Aside from that big advance, though, there's not a lot that's new in the Windows version of FileMaker Pro 8.5 (US$299, US$99 upgrade from version 8). The company has added a few features that make automated scripts easier to write, but that's about it.

FileMaker's developers have programmed in hooks to popular and open Web databases like Google and Google Maps, MapQuest, FedEx's package tracking database, and Wikipedia and its associated reference sites. Just specify where in your database to find, say, a street address, and voila, you'll receive a map of that address. Change the information, and the page you see changes.

You can also add pages from sites that FileMaker hasn't included in its programming. It's simple to have a data block that shows the page associated with a URL in your database. In addition, you can construct a specialized URL based on the information in your database to get a particular page on a Web site, but you have to learn the correct way to format the URL.

FileMaker calls the new feature a "Web viewer," and the name points to its weakness: Though you can view Web data, you can't truly incorporate it into your database. While the Web viewer will show you the FedEx tracking page displaying the date your package is expected to arrive, it can't extract that date, compare it with the date you expected the package to arrive, and tell you whether the package will be late, for instance. You'll have to make those kinds of calculations yourself.

That said, this is a nifty addition to an already strong database app. If you don't already own FileMaker, version 8.5 is a worthy purchase. If you have version 8.0, you'll have to decide whether getting a view of the Web in your database is worth US$99.

FileMaker Pro 8.5

New version adds a useful Web page viewer to your databases.

Price when reviewed: US$299, US$99 upgrade from version 8.0

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