SAN MATEO (05/08/2000) - If your organization is like many others, there's a good chance you use a FileMaker Inc. FileMaker Pro database for tasks such as managing workgroups, analyzing sales information, creating online catalogs, and sharing data among users. Considering the frequency with which your users access FileMaker Pro for these crucial functions, there is an even better chance that you would be interested in extending the functionality of FileMaker Pro to save development time, decrease training costs, and increase employee productivity.
FileMaker grants these wishes with its recent release of FileMaker Developer 5, an external plug-in application designed to enhance the capabilities of any FileMaker database product: FileMaker Pro 5, FileMaker Pro 5 Unlimited, and FileMaker Server 5. I strongly recommend Developer 5 to any company that would like to maximize its investment in FileMaker Pro, but the package also bundles a full working version of FileMaker Pro 5 for Mac and PC platforms, allowing small workgroup users who have not already adopted the database to start right out of the box.
Developer 5's customization features -- such as Web interface creation and FileMaker data-sharing with XML, JDBC (Java Database Connectivity), and ODBC -- will increase productivity among developers and staff alike, which earns this product a score of Very Good.
Developer 5's main competition is the similarly priced Microsoft Office Developer (MOD), a development tool that provides functions similar to those of Developer 5. MOD offers better ODBC connectivity and the Visual Basic programming language, but File-Maker's tool is superior for Web use.
Developer 5 provides several customization and deployment features, including the ability to create run-time applications that don't require a FileMaker database to be installed. These applications are royalty-free, so the developer doesn't have to pay FileMaker for copies of the application sold.
Companies that want to decrease training expenses and downtime will appreciate Developer 5's database templates, which I used to create simple interfaces that would require virtually no training for employees to understand quickly.
By disabling access to certain menu commands, I could prevent users from altering my established layouts, database structure, passwords, or group permissions. I also admired Developer 5's Kiosk mode, a specialized interface that excludes all menu commands and window controls except those I chose to display. These features allow developers to maintain control of data and prevent risky modifications by inexperienced users.
Because I wanted to access my FileMaker applications and database files from both a PC and a Mac, I appreciated Developer 5's under-the-hood utilities that added or removed my FileMaker Pro extensions; renamed all my database files, updating all internal file and script reference links; and added new extensions. These utilities precluded my having to use different deployment tools for each platform.
FileMaker Pro's strongest suit has traditionally been its Web Companion plug-in, which makes it possible to publish a database on the Internet or an intranet by using Claris Dynamic Markup Language (CDML), FileMaker's proprietary markup language that automatically creates a Web interface; or by exporting data into an HTML table when dynamic Web access isn't required.
Developer 5 expands these capabilities significantly with FileMaker Pro-aware Java applets for custom Web sites. Using the open standard FileMaker Pro 5 JDBC Driver or proprietary FileMaker Java Class Library database methods, these applets provide greater functionality for databases on the Web, enabling them to interact as though they were being used in FileMaker Pro rather than in a Web browser.
Developer 5 also extends the Web Companion's capabilities so that data can be generated from FileMaker Pro databases into XML documents. In XML format, data is populated programmatically in a Web page instead of downloaded statistically from the server, providing a more Web-like interface that allows users to interact with the data after download. This also enables the Web server to handle more requests because the client's browser does more processing.
Developer 5 provides a JDBC API-compatible driver that I used to create FileMaker Pro-aware Java applets for my Web site using RAD (rapid application development) tools. This is a big improvement. Without Developer 5, you must use FileMaker Pro's proprietary Java classes, which are not recognized by RAD tools.
Unfortunately, FileMaker Pro must be running and the applicable database open to connect FileMaker's ODBC driver or Web Companion. Although this may be true for other Web products, competitors such as Access and Paradox don't require their host programs to be running or installed to work with contained data through an ODBC driver.
Once I completed my FileMaker Pro application I was able to distribute compressed files via multiple floppy disks, CD-ROM, a network, or other media such as LS-120 or Zip disks. But be aware that to deploy your custom database solutions via an intranet or the Internet will require either FileMaker Pro 5 Unlimited or FileMaker Server 5 (a trial version of FileMaker Server for Windows NT and Mac is included).
If your company already uses a FileMaker Pro database, run -- don't walk -- to purchase Developer 5. Its data exchange and Web customization options will empower your developers to access, display, and control data in ways that they could not with FileMaker Pro alone. The resulting jump you'll see in productivity will leave no doubt in your mind about the value of your investment.
Geoff Hollander (firstname.lastname@example.org) owns and operates Northwest Database Services, in Lake Oswego, Ore.
A FileMaker Pro comparison
Developer 5 will extend the capabilities of all three FileMaker database solutions. Use this chart to figure out which of the three is right for your individual business needs.
FileMaker Pro 5 - $249
* Data-sharing among as many as 10 users* Tracking and analyzing personal or task-oriented data* Making FileMaker Pro data available to ODBC-compliant applicationsFileMaker Pro 5 Unlimited - $999* Publishing databases over your intranet or the Internet* Creating e-commerce sites* Integrating with Web servers to support an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connectionFileMaker Server 5 - $999* Hosting data across large workgroups (as many as 250 simultaneous users)* Remotely administering databases across network* Protecting data through record-locking and backupTHE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOODFileMaker Developer 5Business Case: Developer 5 extends the functionality of FileMaker databases with enhanced application control and Web-publishing capabilities.
Technology Case: Extensive support for XML and Java allows users to develop complex Web applications, quickly interact with FileMaker databases via the Internet, and access data through external application language APIs.
+ Supports data-sharing and Web creation with JDBC, ODBC, and XML+ Enables developers to create royalty-free run-time applications+ Enhances security options to protect passwords, permissions, and dataCons:
- Requires FileMaker Pro to be running with database open to connect ODBC driver or Web CompanionCost: $499Platform(s): Mac 7.6.1 or higher, Windows 95/98/2000 and Windows NTFileMaker Inc., Santa Clara, California; (800) 325-2747; www.filemaker.com.