FileMaker 13 takes the database to a whole new level

Rick Otto

FileMaker Pro is a cross-platform database from FileMaker, Inc.  The company is a subsidiary of Apple, Inc.  The platform is available for both Windows and Mac and also has made the move to mobile devices with a version for the iPhone and iPad.  Late last year FileMaker launched the FileMaker 13 platform .  The announcement was made Dec. 3, 2013 via a press release from FileMaker. 

The application is available in three versions for Windows and Mac; FileMaker Pro 13, FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced, and FileMaker Server 13.  FileMaker Pro 13 is the basic version.  FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced includes all the features of Pro along with developer tools.  FileMaker Server 13 is used for sharing databases over a network or across the web.  On a Mac, FileMaker requires OS X 10.7 or above.  Unfortunately it won't work on Snow Leopard or earlier versions of OS X.  Most Mac users are now using 10.7 or above so this should not be an issue for most users.   On Windows, FileMaker requires either Windows 7 or Windows 8.  Although few users have adopted Windows 8 many users have upgraded to Windows 7.  Yet many users still are running Windows XP though and the software won't work on XP. 

For this review we used FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced on a Windows 7 system.  It's also available for both the iPhone and iPad via an iOS app called FileMaker Go 13.  For this review we used FileMaker Go 13 on both the iPhone and iPad.

Installation of the program is very simple.  If you're a Windows user FileMaker requires Bonjour but this is done automatically for the user as part of the install.  The installation of the program is very easy on both OS X and Windows and after the install you're presented with options to read various getting started guides or even take a guided tour.  If you're an experienced user you can jump right in and start.  You are able to quickly begin creating databases but you can also use templates.  These templates are called "Starter Solutions".  They are pre-designed database apps and many are available for various database needs.  Another option is the ability to create a new database and then import data from various file types including .csv, .xls, .txt, and other similar formats.

It's important to note that FileMaker 13 only works with databases created with FileMaker 12 or FileMaker 13 since it uses the .FMP12 format that was introduced two years ago with FileMaker 12.  If you have older databases in the older .FP7 format they can be converted to FileMaker 13 format and will then work properly in the newest version of FileMaker.   Although both FileMaker 12 and FileMaker 13 use the same file format, it appears that it's hard to go between FileMaker 12 and FileMaker 13 in the same database.   At first look it appeared that if a FileMaker 13 specific feature is added in a database, it will no longer open in FileMaker 12.  Yet I noticed in File Options there is a selection to select the minimum version that is allowed to open the file.  Although this option is available it's likely best to simply stick with one version of FileMaker when using a database.

FileMaker 13 has more than 50 new features.  Although all of these features are wonderful additions to the platform we will highlight the main features in this review.  These are the features that most users will find useful.  These new features are what will likely encourage most current FileMaker users to make the upgrade to FileMaker 13.

New Features in FileMaker 13:

FileMaker WebDirect

Technology is moving towards the cloud and web-based apps.  In the past FileMaker databases could be accessed on the web but that meant using the FileMaker database as a backend on a webpage that's programmed in PHP.  This required a lot of time consuming work and programming.  There was also Instant Web Publishing but WebDirect is an entirely new technology that I believe is one of the greatest new features in the updated platform.  FileMaker WebDirect is a new browser-based technology that's based on HTML5 and best of all it requires no HTML programming skills.  The use of HTML5 brings advanced Web 2.0 technology to the platform bringing desktop-style solutions to the web. The interface of the databases on WebDirect mirror the interface used in the desktop application.  One downside is the WebDirect feature is only available in FileMaker Server 13.  WebDirect also offers real-time updating of fields.  For example if someone is viewing a field on the web-based app while a user makes a change to the same field on the desktop app the field is immediately updated on the web-based app.  I noticed that printing isn't handled very well in WebDirect.  This is especially the case if the layout is complex or the report consists of more than one page.  Also, you need to rely on buttons since keyboard shortcuts don't work in the databases.  I hope that these two issues are corrected in a future version.  WebDirect works in both Chrome and Safari on a Mac and on Chrome and Internet Explorer 9.x or newer on Windows.  There is no mention of Firefox support.

Mobile Friendly

Along with cloud-based apps the other big transition taking place is the move towards mobile computing.  FileMaker is helping with this transition also.  FileMaker 13 is more touch friendly for example than previous versions.  FileMaker now offers slide and tab control buttons.  There are also now popover buttons available for fields.  When these popovers are clicked on they provide instructions or additional information.  FileMaker Go databases also look more like native iOS apps than they did in the past.  There's now support for various gestures, touch-screen taps, and slide-control objects.

Styles and Themes

New to FileMaker 13 are Styles.  Styles include attributes such as font size and color.  These attributes are applied to database components such as backgrounds, fields, and buttons.  These allow you to change the look of objects all at once. These custom styles can be saved and users can apply them across multiple layouts and databases.   There is also now support for shareable custom themes and styles.  The new version of FileMaker adds the ability to drag and drop data fields onto design layouts.

Improved Security

Security has been improved with FileMaker 13.  There is now AES 256-bit encryption across the entire platform whether used on desktop, iOS, or the server.  To use encryption FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced is required.  

Custom iOS Keyboards

There is now the ability to have custom iOS keyboards and there is support for 7 different keyboard designs.  When creating a database application you can choose which type of keyboard should be used to enter the data.  For example if someone is entering a phone number you can have it offer a keyboard that has a layout similar to a phone keypad.  There are other custom keyboards available such as keyboards for entering URL's or a Numeric 10-key keyboard.

Improved Server Administration

Server administration is now simplified.  FileMaker Server 13 now has an entirely new HTML5 administrative console that can be used for managing business solutions from anywhere.  Also, FileMaker Server clients using FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and FileMaker WebDirect can simultaneously access information that's updated in real-time.

Advanced Starter Solutions

FileMaker 13 offers 16 built-in Starter Solutions which are templates for use in the platform.  Four templates, Contacts, Invoices, Assets, and Content Management, are now re-designed.  

Bar Codes

FileMaker 13 has added support for scannable bar codes.  The templates in the new version of FileMaker allow for the use of scannable bar code fields.  With these bar code fields for example a camera on your mobile device can be used to scan in a bar code.  There two types of fields available for bar codes are text fields and container fields.  Text fields insert the text value of the bar code and container fields insert the image of the bar code and stores the text value in the field. 

HTML5 Web Dashboard

Thanks to the HTML 5 web dashboard there is even no need to use the actual FileMaker app for data entry or server administration.  This can all be done via the web dashboard.

FileMaker 13 Pricing
There are two pricing options for FileMaker, traditional pricing or monthly pricing.  If you choose monthly pricing it is billed annually.  If you prefer traditional pricing the full version of FileMaker Pro 13 is available for $329.  If you're upgrading you can purchase the upgrade version for $179.  The full version of FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced is available for $549.  The upgrade version can be purchased for $299.  If you choose the monthly pricing FileMaker Pro 13 is available for $9/month and FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced is available for $15/month.  These prices are based on one user and increase as users are added.  FileMaker Server 13 is available for 1 Server for $1,044 if you choose traditional pricing or $29/month if you choose the monthly pricing.  As you increase the number of connections the price goes up.  Volume licensing is available for all products and you can view pricing and purchase the products directly on the FileMaker website.  FileMaker Go 13 is available for free for the iPhone and iPad and can be downloaded from the App Store.

I consider FileMaker to be the leader when it comes to database platforms.  It's available for many computing platforms and the best part is no programming knowledge is required.  It's a highly intuitive system and very easy for anyone to use.  Due to this when using FileMaker you won't need to spend time figuring out how to program a database but instead your time can be spent creating the database application.  Another plus is it's more than simply a database tool and can be used to track really any type of data whether for inventory management, generating invoices, generating reports, and so much more.  With the available templates databases can be so quickly and easily created.  It's now quicker than ever for teams to create database applications and deploy them across platforms.  For example I created an inventory database in well under a half hour.  I did this by taking an Excel file containing thousands of inventory items and importing it into an inventory template.

Mobile users will be interested in FileMaker 13 thanks to FileMaker Go, especially if your team uses iPads or iPhones.  The app includes several starter templates designed for uses that are common on a mobile device such as creating invoices or managing contacts.  If a database is created using one of the desktop versions of FileMaker, it can be emailed to an iPhone or IPad for use on the mobile device.  You can also sync FileMaker Go with a desktop version of FileMaker.  With these features FileMaker Go 13 is an impressive mobile database app.  One change I'd like to see though is a version of FileMaker Go for Android tablets and smartphones.  Although the iPhone and iPad are popular, Android has been recently gaining on Apple's mobile market.  I feel a version of FileMaker Go for Android would bring this platform to almost all desktop and mobile users.  A Windows Phone version would also be a nice addition.  This is less of an issue though with the ability to create apps that run within a web browser.  Also, with WebDirect, FileMaker databases can now be used on Linux and Chrome OS computers since Chrome is supported.

I feel it's important to talk about two other databases, Bento and Microsoft Access.  Previously I would have recommended Bento to users looking for a simple database solution.  The solution was only available to Mac and iOS users but just last fall FileMaker announced they were discontinuing Bento to focus on FileMaker. Due to this many Bento users may want to consider upgrading from Bento to FileMaker.  It'll present a learning curve to Bento users but yet it's still an easy to use system with a future that Bento doesn't have.  Access is a popular database platform but isn't available for Mac.  Also, it lacks the mobile support of FileMaker giving FileMaker the edge.

I believe the two most important changes with the new version of FileMaker are WebDirect for cloud and web-based use and the new features for mobile use.  Cloud and mobile are where things are moving and if either of those are of importance to you an upgrade to FileMaker 13 is highly recommended.   Still there are many other new features in FileMaker 13 so I believe that users of previous versions of FileMaker will find it worthwhile to upgrade to FileMaker 13.  If you have never used FileMaker but are looking for a database solution you should put FileMaker at the top of the databases to consider.  It's so user friendly and is likely one of the easiest databases to learn.  FileMaker is yet a very complex database.  If you are new to FileMaker or even just updating to the newest version you may find the FileMaker Training Series to be very helpful.



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