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FileMaker Pro 13 review

SoftwareReviews
9/10
by Samara Lynn, 07 Feb 2014Reviews
FileMaker Pro 13 review
Best Buy

FileMaker Pro 13 is here, and it brings more than 50 new features into the FileMaker ecosystem, which includes FileMaker Pro, Advanced, and FileMaker Server. FileMaker always delivers a beautiful aesthetic to database design, and now the new features lend tighter security and the ability to create uber web-friendly custom apps. My one issue is that there seems to be little concern with supporting Android and Windows Phone, although the ease with which you can create apps that run directly in a web browser bypasses many OS compatibility issues.

Installation

FileMaker comes in Pro, Advanced, and Server editions. Advanced includes all the features in Pro with the addition of developer tools. Server is for sharing databases over a network and the web.

A 1-4 user license of Pro is £287 (list price). The Advanced version costs £455 for up to four licenses, and a single Server license is £864 plus a £24 per month licensing fee. In short, since version 12 prices for full versions have gone up a little.

FileMaker is supported on OS X version 10.7 and up, as well as Windows 7 and Windows 8. OS X Snow Leopard and XP users are out of luck (and there is no mention in the specs about Vista support).

Windows installation requires Bonjour, which is done automatically. Just a couple of clicks for the install, and the program opens to a home screen. You can take a guided tour of FileMaker or read various guides on getting started and creating solutions.

Experienced users can dive right in and create a new database or use one of the many database templates. These templates, called "Starter Solutions," are pre-designed database apps that include apps for event management, product cataloguing, time billing, and more. You can use the solutions "right out of the box," or customise them for your business or personal needs.

One caveat about getting started: Those currently using FileMaker databases should be aware that FileMaker 13 only works with databases created under FileMaker 12 and 13. Older databases in the .FP7 format can be converted to version 13 and then opened in the latest version.

In addition to creating a "from scratch" database app or using a template, you can also create a new empty database and import data from TXT, CSV, or XLS files, and other file types – as well as from XML and ODBC data sources.

The basics of FileMaker have not changed significantly since we last looked at version 12, so this review will focus on the key new features in version 13.

New features

Custom Themes and Styles: FileMaker Pro 12 introduced 40 new (and gorgeous) layout themes. Version 13 introduces Styles – attributes such as colour, font size, and so on – which are applied to database components such as fields, buttons and backgrounds. Custom themes and styles can be saved and then applied across multiple layouts and databases.

More Mobile Support: Of course, as the tech world continues to go mobile, the team at FileMaker has provided new ways to make apps more mobile device-friendly, especially with touchscreens. For instance, you can now add features that are common in mobile device apps such as popover buttons on fields. Popovers can provide users with additional information or instructions when they click (or touch) on a field. To enhance the mobile UI experience, you can also add objects such as slide and tab control buttons.

The best thing about these new capabilities is that you don't need to know how to program to add them. In addition, in-the-box scripts and conditional formatting allow you to control what happens in different fields and forms under actions you specify. Again, rather sophisticated workflows and design can be achieved by those who aren’t skilled developers.

AES 256 Encryption: Securing data is a prime concern when creating any software. FileMaker 13 now has AES 256-bit encryption to secure FileMaker data whether it resides on a desktop, server or iOS device. Unfortunately, you will need to move to FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced to enable encryption.

Improved Starter Solutions: Four templates have been redesigned. They are the Contacts, Assets, Content Management and Invoices templates. I took a look at the Assets template when I last reviewed FileMaker 12, so I reviewed the updated Assets in the new version. The new Assets template has a fresh and streamlined look. It's also designed to include many images of an item, extending the capability of placing images into Container fields (which was introduced in FileMaker 12).

Templates in FileMaker, including these updated ones, now support the inclusion of scannable barcode fields. How you can create a new barcode field that will take information by scanning a barcode with a camera isn’t immediately obvious or intuitive, so I delved into FileMaker's copious help database to find out how to do so.

To add a scannable barcode, I first created a new field in my Assets database. You can assign barcode fields as one of two data types: As a Text field, which inserts only the text value of the barcode in the field, or as a Container field, which inserts an image of the barcode and stores the text value in the field.

I assigned my Barcode field as a Container. Creating a new field is performed in the Field Picker menu. Once the field was created, I could simply drag and drop the field (and field label) anywhere onto my form in Layout mode.

Next, you have to assign the "Insert as Device" script to the field. You can do this in the Edit Script window, but you have to set the Compatibility mode to iOS to enable the Insert by Device command. The Insert from Device script step is not supported when running in FileMaker Pro so it shows up as disabled by default.

I specified to "Insert from camera" and then specified my target field as "Barcode." It was a fairly simple matter to add that high level functionality to my app.

Other major updates

A key feature in this latest version of FileMaker is WebDirect. This is supported in FileMaker Server 13. WebDirect allows customers to run their apps directly in a web browser without requiring web development skills (as long as FileMaker Server is deployed).

Another useful update is the inclusion of iOS keyboards. In your apps, you can specify which type of keyboard should be used to enter data including URL, Phone, Numeric 10-key and more.

There are over 50 new features in FileMaker Pro 13 (and throughout the FileMaker platform). Of course, it's impossible to review them all. However from testing the new version, it's apparent that the team at FileMaker is tailoring the database/app creation software to keep up with the tectonic shift in computing – namely, the mobile and cloud arenas.

One criticism I have is that FileMaker is so iOS and Mac-oriented (which makes sense, since it's an Apple subsidiary) that the company seems to consider the Android and Windows Phone platforms as afterthoughts. I was told that plans to expand mobile support are on the roadmap, however – so that's encouraging.

In my testing, I also found a lack of structured help in terms of answering specific questions, even though there is an abundance of help links and data. I had to email FileMaker to find out the necessary steps to create the scannable barcode field. Of course, my questions were answered expediently and allowed me to easily finish my testing, but I do wonder if customers would have the same experience seeking help. There is a lot to learn and do in FileMaker, and being able to find the answers to any questions that crop up – without having to peruse a forum or asking other users for help – is a must.

Verdict

FileMaker reigns supreme when it comes to building beautiful custom apps for non-programmers. The commitment to detail and aesthetics is readily apparent with this software, and I actually find it an enjoyable platform on which to create an app. FileMaker Pro 13 is a great solution, and it’s worthy of one of our Best Buy awards.

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