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When it comes to Mac database applications, FileMaker's flexibility and ease of use make it the standard. The latest version, FileMaker Pro 5.5, doesn't diminish that status, but its array of new features is overshadowed by the fact that the Mac's top database program now runs natively in Mac OS X.
In many ways, FileMaker should serve as a model for developers thinking of bringing their applications to Mac OS X. Granted, there are no particularly flashy enhancements, but neither are there glaring omissions that cripple its usefulness. FileMaker Pro 5.5 runs as well in OS X as it does in OS 9 (the CD contains installers for both). Though some of FileMaker's interface elements feel slower in OS X, they're balanced by behind-the-scenes features that feel slightly more responsive.
In our tests, FileMaker Pro 5.5's Instant Web Publishing feature, which translates a database and its layouts into HTML pages on-the-fly, clearly took advantage of the improved multitasking features in Mac OS X. And running in OS X, FileMaker was quite responsive to queries from a Web browser running on the same Mac; in OS 9, each local Web-to-FileMaker query was fairly slow.
Although the Instant Web Publishing feature can create remarkable advanced-HTML facsimiles of database layouts, creating a usable Web version of a database is not exactly instant: you'll likely need to tweak or redo your layouts. Fortunately, you can now attach scripts to buttons on Instant Web Publishing pages, so Web interfaces are much more FileMaker-like than they were with earlier versions.
FileMaker Pro 5.5's built-in Web server also boasts technical improvements. It's multithreaded,
so it can send images and other files simultaneously rather than one at a time. But FileMaker itself still isn't multithreaded, meaning that Web users must wait their turn to query the database. In addition, the company continues the restrictive Web Companion license it introduced with FileMaker Pro 5.0 ( Reviews, February 2000)--it can serve files to only ten unique IP addresses in a 24-hour period.
This update's other notable new feature is one that developers have desired for some time: record-level security. You can now lock users out of individual records based on the value of a calculation field within that record.
While each of the smaller new features in version 5.5--including better interaction with SQL databases, more-flexible tools for generating SQL commands, and the ability to import data based on Excel named ranges--will have its adherents, they won't appeal to everyone. If you regularly interact with SQL databases or import Excel data, these features alone will likely make the upgrade worthwhile.
Macworld's Buying Advice
FileMaker Pro 5.5 offers the same great combination of simplicity and flexible power as previous versions, and for FileMaker addicts, this update will make the transition to Mac OS X a smooth one. Users who want to free their data from Microsoft Excel or who need improved Web Companion scripting, record-level security, or SQL features will probably find this upgrade worthwhile. But for many users, their current version--be it 5.0 or even 4.1--may be sufficient.Access Privileges: FileMaker Pro 5.5's Passwords dialog box lets you restrict access on a record-by-record basis.