A Closer Look at FileMaker Pro 10 Advanced

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

With the release of FileMaker Pro 10, FileMaker aims to breathe new life into the relational database market by incorporating Web-centric features and improving ease of use.

Whether you are a first-time user or intimately familiar with previous versions, FileMaker attempts to keep things as simple as possible. The product is installed via a wizard and doesn’t require any special considerations, except that Apple’s Bonjour file-sharing service must be installed for the product to function; luckily a copy of that piece of software is included and auto-installs.

When launched for the first time, users will be presented with a splash screen that aims to keep everything as simple as possible. New users will appreciate the introductory video tutorials, visual product tours and in-depth "how to" examples. All of which strive to eliminate the need for a manual or printed reference material. If new users are willing to invest the time, the included training/tutorials/examples could potentially save countless hours for first-time users and even teach old pros a few tricks about the updated product.

While the product does offer some 30 example applications, users probably will look to those applications only as examples on how to do certain tasks. The real magic of FileMaker Pro 10 Advanced starts with the database itself, not the various forms, menus and lookups. Users will want to approach creating a new database from a "data dictionary" point of view; basically, a user will create an empty database and then define tables, fields, keys and so on. Then users will go on to create relationships between the various tables by linking fields together.

Creation of a new database is surprisingly easy. When defining fields, it is a simple matter to add validation rules, default values and so on. That ties all of the basic requirements of data entry to the field and not so much the entry form that will be created later. To speed up the creation of fields in a table, FileMaker only offers very basic elements when adding a new field—such as field name, type and a comment. Users can only add the other elemental field properties after creating the initial entry. Luckily, that’s quite simple—all it takes is a double click on the newly born field to add or change all of the properties associated with a field.

Creating additional tables is easy as well; all it takes is another click to add another table. Most users will appreciate the functionality behind linking tables. Here, two fields from separate tables can be linked to create a relationship between those tables, FileMaker offers a graphical representation of those links and auto-creates all of the necessary logic behind that relationship. Users can add validation rules and other aspects to the relationship and also define lookups that will populate one field with the data of another during the record selection process. Relationships include one-to-many, many-to-one, one-to-one and so on.

While many of those features are rather pedestrian in the world of advanced databases, what’s important to recognize with FileMaker Pro 10 is the auto-creation of the logic behind each field and the ability to create data validation rules at the field level. That alone will save hours of manual programming or scripting when it comes to creating entry and edit forms. It’s features like those that make the product foolproof for most newbies and also save time for seasoned coders, who no longer have to worry about the little things when it comes to database and field validation rules.

While creating and designing the relational database is the foundation of any FileMaker application, it’s only one step in the process. Users will also need to create ways to input, access and use the data. To do so, they will turn to FileMaker’s Layout design tools. Layouts are a representation of the data and are available as a record table, record list or record detail (form) views. Those familiar with other databases (and rapid application development tools) may find FileMaker’s approach a little confusing, since a record table, record list and a record detail are all part of the same layout. Other products usually treat those three elements as separate entities, a concept that many find more desirable. That said, FileMaker diehards have come to love the layout structure offered by the product. It all comes down to a matter of taste.

All layout elements can be quickly populated with fields and designed with simple click and drag options. Users can also embed scripts or access additional field properties with a right click. The options offered on a field are extensive, and, in almost all cases, users will not have to write a single line of code or script entry to accomplish any given task.

The idea is to "paint" the forms and tables and have the logic behind them controlled by the properties associated with fields. All in all, it works very well for both the novice and the expert. FileMaker Pro 10 Advanced makes it very easy for end users and developers looking to create robust databases. While the product is unique in the way it accomplishes that task, the end result remains the same—an easy-to-use database.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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