So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Filemaker Pro 8 Advanced
- Comprehensive tools for creating and customising database applications.
- Mix of online and offline documentation; overkill for simpler tasks.
If you need to develop database-driven applications, this is a great tool.
Price$ 869.00 (AUD)
A true veteran of the application world, FileMaker has been available for Macintosh users since 1985 and Windows machines since 1992. While some of the product naming conventions has changed with version 8, released in mid-2005, the core of the product - an integrated development environment for database-driven applications that's simple enough to be used by non-programmers - remains very much the same.
For this review, we tested the Pro 8 Advanced package for Windows, known in earlier releases as the Developer version. FileMaker changed the branding because many of its users don't see themselves as fitting into the professional developer category, even if they have built very complex solutions on top of the product.
Designing an application is a straightforward task in FileMaker, especially if you work with one of the templates for common business and personal applications, and the online help will assist even beginning users in getting started quickly. Enhancements that have been added to release 8 include the ability to export data and layouts in either Excel or PDF; the latter is especially useful for distributing reports, and can include optional passwords for added security. Other interface enhancements include a fast match search facility, auto complete options for frequent entries, and an upgraded spellchecker.
The Advanced version also sports several unique additions aimed more firmly at power users. The most notable is the ability to completely customise all menus within the product, a useful enhancement that helps minimise the prospect of end users causing a crash by selecting an inappropriate version. (An alternative strategy is to use the kiosk mode, continued from earlier versions, which produces a full-screen application with no menus, but this can be disorienting for some business applications.) The customisation features work well, although annoyingly the documentation for them is only present in the printed manual and not in the online help. Other developer-centric changes include enhanced copy and paste facilities which make it easier to reuse common elements; the ability to disable certain script steps during testing, a useful feature for testing specific code logic without having to run large sections of irrelevant code; and an enhanced database design report, which can be exported in HTML or XML format and provides an overview of the database structure.
FileMaker remains an easy-to-use product, with an interface reminiscent of (although not directly copied from) Microsoft's Office suite. It doesn't completely eliminate the need for careful database planning -- forethought and some time spent with pen and paper will still pay off. However, its integrated templates and intuitive interface do greatly simplify the task of application development, even in the Advanced release.
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