capsule review

FileMaker Pro 5.0

At a Glance
  • FileMaker Pro 5.0

With FileMaker Pro 5.0–the first major release of this program since Claris transformed into FileMaker Inc.–FileMaker Pro 5 looks like Microsoft Office 98, and that's no coincidence: FileMaker's menus have been rearranged to match Office's, and the application's two tool bars are nearly icon-for-icon knockoffs of those in Microsoft Word and Excel.

There's even an Office-like wizard to help you create new layouts, including a Table view, reminiscent of a spreadsheet, that lets you quickly sort, resize, and reorder columns. This view might be handy if you're used to keeping data in a spreadsheet rather than in a database, but it's rough around the edges. Reordering Table columns unleashes a barrage of beeping dialog boxes. Furthermore, a Table view's appearance is controlled by themes (appearance definitions stored separately from the database as XML files) rather than standard formatting tools--something sure to frustrate Mac database authors, as the themes all have a Windows look-and-feel.

Users of previous versions will appreciate the fact that FileMaker 5 can merge imported records using a match field; you can take a database on the road with your PowerBook and then sync any changes to the original on your iMac. Database authors will like the resizable ScriptMaker and Define Fields dialog boxes (though Calculation dialog boxes remain fixed); expanded color selections; and new layout effects, such as embossing--these would be a chore to create by hand.

You must convert existing FileMaker databases to FileMaker Pro 5--not a big deal--but earlier versions of FileMaker can't read databases created with FileMaker 5. Version 4.1 let users import data from ODBC databases, such as Microsoft Access, and manipulate it within FileMaker, but version 5 goes the other way: it can be an ODBC data source, so users of other tools can import data from FileMaker. However, FileMaker Pro 5 doesn't offer full ODBC Level 2 support and can't be a live front end to an ODBC database.

Version 5 is still missing some long-requested features, such as event triggered scripts. It can't save or cache found sets, and it's still not multithreaded, which greatly hampers its Web-serving and data-sharing capabilities.

Web-Side Story

FileMaker Pro 4 offered database authors basic Web publishing capabilities through the included Web Companion plug-in (see ""FileMaker Hits the Web"," December 1997). Although Web Companion could enable anyone on the Internet to view and search databases, update and add records, or delete information, using it effectively was awkward, requiring careful design of FileMaker-customized HTML files.

Seeing Isn't Believing   This Web page, created in FileMaker Pro 5.0, lacks information present in simpler views, and the buttons don't work.

The good news is that all the tag-tweaking is gone in FileMaker Pro 5--and that's part of the bad news, too. Version 5's Web Companion plug-in offers Instant Web Publishing, which translates FileMaker Pro layouts to the Web on-the-fly. Instant Web Publishing takes advantage of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript to render FileMaker Pro layouts in a Web-browser window with stunning accuracy, using a selection of themes similar to those of the new Table view. You can also restrict Web access to particular Internet addresses within FileMaker Pro. But Web Companion has its share of problems (see "Seeing Isn't Believing"). The only Mac browser that supports Web Companion's sassy layout rendering is Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.5, which also offers reasonable support for CSS. Netscape Communicator 5.0 may also work (when it's released), but in the meantime Communicator 4.X and other browsers get error messages or a generic display reminiscent of the old Web Companion.

What's worse, those handsomely rendered layouts are only skin deep: they may truncate or omit information displayed in simpler views, and a layout's functions--such as buttons, conditional value lists, and scripts--won't work, even though they're on the screen.

Unfortunately, you cannot use Web Companion's custom tags to fix this problem, because Instant Web Publishing does all the work. The only way to modify your database's Web appearance is to craft a layout, through trial and error, that translates adequately for your users. So much for instant publishing.

Speaking of users, Web Companion permits access from only ten Internet addresses in any 12-hour period. If that's not sufficient, you'll need FileMaker Pro 5 Unlimited, which had not been released at press time; it should offer a wider range of custom tags than FileMaker Pro 4.X--and a $1,000 price tag. Also, FileMaker Pro 5's license explicitly prohibits using the application with middleware tools, such as the Lasso Web Publisher bundled with StarNine's WebStar Server Suite. So if more than ten Web users access your databases, FileMaker Pro 5 is a giant step backward from FileMaker Pro 4.X.


FileMaker Pro 5 still makes sense as a single-user desktop database, and it's a good tool for sharing data among a small group on a local network. But if you publish to the entire Internet, or merely to more than ten people, FileMaker Pro 5 is a pointless upgrade--stick with version 4.X if you can, or look into the less-restrictive Web publishing features of FileMaker Pro 5 Unlimited.--GEOFF DUNCAN

February 2000 page: 40

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Friendly relational database
    • Revamped interface
    • Quick authoring environment
    • Business-workgroup focus

    Cons

    • Web-publishing capabilities from previous versions curtailed
    • New file format
    • New features have limited appeal
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