Macworld’s Buying Advice
FileMaker Inc.’s latest offering, FileMaker Pro 5 Unlimited, lets you publish FileMaker databases for large audiences on the Web. It differs from FileMaker Pro 5 (see Reviews, February 2000) in three ways: it can serve databases to Web users without restriction (FileMaker Pro 5 is limited to ten Web users in any 12-hour period); its Web Server Connector hooks into third-party Web servers; and it costs $999. Sound underwhelming? It shouldespecially at that price.
Unlimited but Not Unbounded
Like FileMaker Pro 5, the Unlimited version offers a feature called Instant Web Publishing, which uses Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to render screen layouts to CSS-compatible browsers with remarkable visual fidelity. However, it doesn’t take many visitors using Instant Web Publishing simultaneously to strain Unlimited’s serving capabilities.
Instant Web Publishing can also be CPU intensive, further reducing performance. You can avoid this feature altogether by using add-on middleware products, such as Blue World Communications’ Lasso and Pervasive Software’s Tango, or by using CDML, FileMaker’s built-in proprietary syntax for integrating database content into ordinary Web pages. Unfortunately, CDML documentation will be available only with FileMaker Developer 5, a separate $500 product (unavailable at press time). Without documentation, creating custom Web pages is essentially off-limits.
Unlimited’s performance workaround is Web Server Connector, a Java servlet that hooks into WebStar, AppleShare IP, Mac OS X Server’s Apache, Microsoft’s IIS, and Netscape Enterprise Server. Web Server Connector allows database publishing with capabilities like SSL and flexible security optionsand it can access multiple copies of FileMaker Pro 5 Unlimited. Using the $1,000 FileMaker Pro Server 5, Web Server Connector can shuffle requests to databases on a redundant array of inexpensive computers (RAIC). If you constructed a RAIC using three copies of Unlimited, a query would tie up only one copy, leaving the other two available. However, this scenario requires roughly $4,000 in FileMaker software alone (see “RAICing It In”).
In tests using WebStar 4.2 and Mac OS X Server 1.0.2, Web Server Connector held up under fire. It distributed queries to available copies of Unlimited when others were tied up, and it coped with the loss of RAIC members due to network problems or software crashes. However, it offers no security options, requires manual database management, and can’t filter incoming queries.