Tim Dietrich

Custom Software Developer

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FileMaker 13: The Good News, The Bad News

It's been a week since the official release of the FileMaker 13 platform. In that time, I've written three blog posts about the new version - some positive and one not-so-positive. In this post, I'll try to summarize the good news and the bad news, and explain the approach that I'm taking to upgrade my clients.

The Good News

First the good news. FileMaker 13 is truly an impressive upgrade, and it includes several new features, including:

  • New popover and slide control layout objects.
  • A new Field Picker that makes adding fields to layouts much easier.
  • The ability to truly hide layout objects (without the need for "hacks").
  • A "Perform Script on Server" script step, which opens up a world of possibilities.
  • The option to use the HTTP Post protocol with the "Insert from URL" script step. This, too, opens up a world of possibilities, especially with regard to integrating with Web services.
  • The FileMaker Server Admin Console is now HTML 5-based, eliminating the need for the dreaded Java Runtime Engine. (This means you can control a FileMaker Server from nearly any browser.)
  • You can now read barcodes directly in FileMaker Go.
  • There are improved Layout themes, and more control over styles.
  • Security is improved, with the "Encryption At Rest" feature.
  • There's no change in the file format. So you can open FileMaker 13 files with 12, and vice versa.
  • And many more.

In addition, the upgrade to FileMaker Server is solid and very reliable. I haven't had any issues with it, and that includes testing it under heavy load (with requests coming in from Web apps that use the API for PHP).

So at first glance, it seems like upgrading to FileMaker 13 is a good move. However...

The Bad News

Another new feature of FileMaker 13 (and the one that seems to be getting the most attention) is a new Web publishing technology called WebDirect. This is the long-awaited, much-anticipated replacement for Instant Web Publishing. Without a doubt, it is an impressive technology and an interesting addition to the FileMaker platform, in that it (in most cases) replicates the FileMaker Pro experience in a Web browser.

However, like Instant Web Publishing before it, WebDirect is somewhat disappointing. While a good portion of the functionality of FileMaker Pro is supported in WebDirect, it lacks support for two very important functions: Printing, and generating PDF documents. Therefore, if your users need to be able to generate output, then WebDirect is probably not going to work for them.

In addition, there are also potential issues with performance and scalability. In my testing, I found WebDirect to be very slow at times. The seemingly constant refreshes were awkward and annoying. And as far as scalability goes, FileMaker has indicated that the "theoretical" maximum number of concurrent Web Direct connections is 50. However, real scalability will depend in large part on both the server that the solution is running on and the complexity of the solution itself.

More Bad News

Another issue with WebDirect is that it is potentially quite expensive.

In order for clients to connect to solutions hosted on FileMaker Server 13 via WebDirect, a "concurrent connection" must be available on the server. FileMaker Server 13 includes support for one concurrent connection, and you can purchase additional connections in groups of 5, up to a total of 50 connections. (You can also purchase Server in such a way that the concurrent connections aren't restricted.) The connection prices can be expensive.

Worse, the hardware requirements for properly running FileMaker Server and supporting WebDirect can be onerous. There's a good chance that the server that was able to handle FileMaker Server 12 just won't cut it when it comes to running Server 13. So you might be looking at a hardware investment as well.

The Impact on FileMaker Go

In my opinion, the really bad news about FileMaker Server 13 is that the new concurrent connection licensing model applies not just to WebDirect clients, but to FileMaker Go clients as well. Therefore, upgrading legacy solutions that support FileMaker Go clients connecting to FileMaker Server, there is potentially a very large increase in cost. It is difficult for clients to understand that something that had previously been free is now not only only being charged for, but is also quite expensive.

In Conclusion

FileMaker Pro 13 is a rock-solid release. It includes several great new features that users and developers alike will welcome with open arms.

The key new feature of FileMaker 13, WebDirect, is compelling and promising, but just not ready for prime time. It's a new technology that will more than likely improve and mature at a rapid pace. But for now, I just don't see it as a viable alternative to FileMaker Pro. There's a chance that you can move some of your users from FileMaker Pro to WebDirect, but that's not likely. Not yet, anyway.

And finally, while the new concurrent connection licensing model is justified with regard to WebDirect clients, applying it to FileMaker Go clients is problematic. In some cases, the increased cost will cause clients to think twice before upgrading.

My Approach

As far as my clients go, my general advice to them has been to "sit tight" for the moment. I'll be working with each of them individually in the coming weeks to evaluate how best to handle upgrading them to FileMaker 13. For many of my clients, the upgrade will be straightforward. Others will need to think about the impact of the concurrent connections licensing model.