FileMaker Pro Plug-Ins

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FileMaker Pro is quite the handy database application: powerful enough to keep developers happy and yet simple enough to help complete novices spin out fully functional databases in a matter of minutes. Moreover, its plug-in capability has allowed third-party developers to add a variety of new features.

While there are literally dozens of plug-ins available, we've chosen an eclectic five that provide the most bang for the buck.

Create Intricate Graphs

As capable as FileMaker is, it's never had integrated graphing capabilities like Access or 4th Dimension. In fact, it typically took quite a bit of time and talent to make FileMaker produce any kind of graphical representation of your data. øAzium Charts, created by Waves in Motion, more than makes up for FileMaker's faults, providing a multitude of graphing options including Gantt charts, pie charts, scatter charts, bar charts, and line charts. 3-D and shadowed charts can be created easily, and every chart style has enough options to satisfy even the most discerning chart fanatic.

While creating charts with øAzium is far easier than doing it on your own, it's still a challenge. You'll need to pass a long string of variables to the øAzium plug-in, including your data and specific chart information like color and font. And, due to a limitation in FileMaker Pro, you'll need to pass it all as a single concatenated string.

Design Better Dialogs

Dialog boxes in FileMaker Pro tend to be intransigent: they are what they are and it's not easy to change them. Troi Automatisering's Dialog plug-in allows you to customize FileMaker in myriad ways. You can change dialog box icons to more familiar Mac standards -- such as Stop or Caution -- or you can create custom icons. It gives you the added benefit of using variable text in any dialog, therefore making it possible to change what a user sees depending on an unlimited number of variables. You can also receive text input from your users and even create and use standard progress bars in your dialogs.

It should be noted that while Troi Dialog is a very powerful plug-in, many of the same features could be created using a standard FileMaker layout. What you gain by using Troi Dialog is the use of standard Mac and PC dialog boxes, truly Mac-like progress bars, and significantly less scripting.

Manage Your Files

Text handling is not necessarily something you'll want to do with FileMaker on a regular basis, but there may come a time when you want to display information stored in a text file, create or move a folder on your hard drive or even import batches of images. The Troi File Plug-in gives you all of these capabilities and about forty more. It provides some formidable file handling capabilities -- features you might only expect to have if you were using an actual programming language -- including a powerful find function that will retrieve a list of specific files from your hard drive just as quickly as Sherlock.

Troi File also allows you to delete files and folders from your hard drive, but this feature comes with a huge caveat: deleted files and folders aren't moved to the Trash, but are instead completely deleted from your hard drive. Intentional or accidental misuse of this function could easily wreak havoc on your data.

Add Credit Card Authorization

There comes a time in every database programmer's life when you need to be able to perform credit card authorization from within your database. Waves in Motion's cc Authorize is just the tool for the task. Using your TCP/IP or dial-up connection, cc Authorize will connect to a credit card authorization service and verify available balance and cardholder information at the click of a button.

Because the latest version of cc Authorize is Java-based, you could potentially have problems using it if you're running FileMaker Pro 4.X on an older Mac. But that aside, cc Authorize is a stellar plug-in that's easy to use.

Sync with Your Palm

FileMaker Mobile, the latest product in the FileMaker Pro stable, adds both a Palm Synchronization conduit and a FileMaker plug-in to your system. Installation requires FileMaker Pro 5 and Palm OS v.3 or later. (You'll also need to have FileMaker Mobile installed on the Palm side.) After enabling the plug-in, you can select the file, fields, and data that you want synched with your Palm Pilot. Once your data is stored in your Palm device, you can add, remove, and update records and ultimately have the information synchronized with the data in your primary database.

FileMaker Mobile is limited to about 2,000 characters -- roughly 300 words -- in any text field. This isn't a severe limitation if you only need to store a few lines of text, but it will present a problem if you need to keep more detailed notes in a particular field.

FileMaker Plug-ins Compared

Macworld's buying advice Azium Charts does an amazing job of adding high-quality charts to your databases. A wide variety of graphing options make this plug-in a complete standout and a necessary addition to your FileMaker arsenal. But you should keep in mind that the plug-ins listed here hardly scratch the surface of what's available to extend FileMaker's capabilities. What you may need to make FileMaker perfect for you can be found in the plug-in section of the FileMaker Pro Web site.

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