FileMaker Pro 11, the latest update of the venerable database software, improves on version 10 with several more features such as charting, "recurring import" to automatically update a database from an Excel or text file and a "Quick Find" search box.
Version 10 of FileMaker had already improved on previous versions, including saved searches, triggers that launch scripts based on certain events, and a major revamp of the interface. The opening QuickStart screen of FileMaker Pro 11 is straightforward enough, letting you create a new database from scratch, from a template or by importing via another file. This is helpful if you're unfamiliar with the interface; it can be turned off if you are.
Once you've set up your tables and imported your data, you can edit both the structure and appearance of your database in several ways. A new feature in FileMaker Pro 11 is the "inspector" panel, which offers a single place to tweak layout, structure and field behavior.
It can be a bit confusing finding the inspector panel if you're in a table layout, since it isn't readily available. Specifically, when we were in a table view, the "modify" button offered access to just a few change options; we needed to be in a list or form view to see the "edit layout" button and inspector access. We would have preferred an obvious way to jump to layout editing even when in table view. Once we got there, though, FileMaker Pro 11's new inspector panel was a useful addition to zero in on any editing need - look and feel or data structure.
The new Quick Find search box looks through all fields in all records and is a handy addition to FileMaker Pro 11, allowing users to quickly find a key word or phrase without having to guess which field it's in. This would be a useful feature in the database-driven application we use for story planning, for example, where a key phrase might appear in the headline, description or comments fields.
FileMaker Pro 11 offers flexibility in field definition for users who don't want to write their own SQL or code their own front end. The program offers an easy way to display data from related tables, such as showing a customer's name, address and phone number based simply on adding the customer ID to that record - no SQL inner join statements required. It's also quite simple to create views where some fields are read only and others are editable.
The report option felt needlessly complicated, with numerous dialog windows that we were required to click through, explaining what to do; yet when we tried to follow the directions, the options we wanted were grayed out. The problem may well have been user error - still, after going through eight windows, some with multiple options, we felt the process should have been a bit more foolproof.
Doing basic grouping of data in a table view, much like grouping similar entries in a spreadsheet (such as all entries by state), was a lot easier in FileMaker Pro 11.
The new charting option was simpler than creating reports and worked as advertised, even when following relationships across three tables. We tried adding one table of categories, a second table of companies where we assigned them to categories, and a third table of announced layoffs by companies. The chart popped up with layoff numbers properly grouped by category.
Views can now be sorted in folders in FileMaker Pro 11, which becomes important if your application mushrooms to include dozens of customised displays.
"Snapshots" offer a way to freeze (and share) the results of a query at a point in time, as opposed to a saved search query, where the number of records can change as the database does. In the snapshot, which records are included doesn't change; but data within those records can be updated. This seems a bit esoteric, but we suppose there are scenarios where that would be useful.
Recurring import is a rather slick way to use FileMaker Pro 11 to parse data from another source. Pull in your text or Excel file and choose "make recurring import," and then you can update the database by clicking on a button at the top of a view. This is nice if you have a spreadsheet and want to perform more sophisticated queries than Excel will support, or if you need to keep one table in your database in sync with another external data source.
Note that this is only one-way. You can't update records in the database and then sync back to the original source. In fact, you can't modify data pulled in this way at all; it's read-only. And your data must reside locally or on your network - you can't pull it from the web.
What application update in 2010 would be complete without a mention of social media? FileMaker Pro 11 lets you easily add a "Web viewer" field to any record layout and then pull in a window for Twitter or Facebook viewing. This is also useful for adding a Google map view to an address within a record.
Other new FileMaker Pro 11 features include filters for FileMaker Pro portals (displaying records from multiple tables) and some scripting improvements, such as allowing variables for find requests within scripts.
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