A First Look: FileMaker Pro 11

Apple subsidiary FileMaker on Tuesday released FileMaker Pro 11, the next generation of its flagship workgroup and SMB database package. We had a chance to try out some of the new features, which include charting capabilities, new collaboration options, improved search, and enhanced report generation.

For the first time, FileMaker provides charting capabilities from within the database. Bar, line, area and pie graphs can be generated from database data, and basic formatting can be applied. You won't mistake FileMaker for a full-fledged charting package, though the functions included are a significant enhancement.

Usability improvements include a "quick find" feature, which searches across all fields in a database, rather than on a field-by-field basis. A layout report assistant makes it easier to build sophisticated reports from within the database, and the new layout mode inspector pulls together all of FileMaker's tools to construct more sophisticated layouts and format data as needed. In the Table, view layout, fields can be displayed or hidden with a mouseclick, and a portal filter simplifies displaying data from related databases.

FileMaker has provided server-based and peer-to-peer workgroup sharing for some time. In addition, using FileMaker's Instant Web Publishing, FileMaker can serve as a robust Web database. New features include the ability to mail a "Snapshot Link," which provides the results of the current 'found set' to other FileMaker users, and can be updated, from the host, to all clients. FileMaker can also serve as a front-end solution for accessing data in enterprise SQL databases.

The new FileMaker goes a long way to towards making summary reports, a common but error-prone task, easier and more robust. Summary reports look at data across records, such as total sales for a month, or number of customers in a specific location. Within the table view, data can be sorted directly from the field names (as in a spreadsheet) and summary fields can be created and displayed on the fly.

FileMaker databases can include live links to Web pages, using Safari technology with Mac OS and Internet Explorer with Windows. Data from within the database (addresses, for instance) can then be automatically used as input for online resources such as Google maps and search engines.

A feature sure to warm the heart of any solution provider is FileMaker's "Consultants and Solutions" link, right in the FileMaker Help menu. Choosing this option brings the user directly to FileMaker's online partner directory. Why doesn't everybody do this?

FileMaker Pro 11 ships with over 30 database templates for common solutions such as invoicing, contact management, issue tracking, task management, purchase orders, resource scheduling and event management. FileMaker can also build new databases on the fly from Microsoft Excel, XML, tab and comma-separated text files, and FileMaker's Bento personal databse product.

FileMaker Pro 11 starts at $299 (with a $179 upgrade price). The Advanced version includes additional developer features to create, debug and share scripts, functions, and menus, and is $499 ($299 upgrade). Server and Advanced Server versions provide additional functionality for running and managing multiple databases and range from $599 up to $2,999 for an unlimited number of simultaneous users.