Tim Dietrich

Custom Software Developer

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FileMaker 14: An Overview

It's been nearly 18 months since FileMaker Inc released the FileMaker 13 platform, which is an eternity in the software industry. But with today's release of the FileMaker 14 platform, and the many additions and enhancements that it delivers, I think you'll agree that it has been worth the wait.

Let's take a look at what FileMaker Inc's goals were with the 14 platform, and then dig into some of the specific changes and enhancements that have been made to FileMaker Pro, Go, WebDirect, and Server.

FileMaker Inc's Goals With the FileMaker 14 Platform

To fully understand where FileMaker Inc has taken the FileMaker 14 platform and how it has chosen to do so, it is important to understand the goals that it was trying to achieve. And there were plenty of them.

In terms of development, FileMaker wants to provide an environment where solutions can be created rapidly and inexpensively - and that's a goal that they've been achieving for many years now. When it comes to developing database solutions, there is simply no other tool available that can achieve FileMaker's speed and low cost. Period.

Another goal is to provide the tools that developers need to address the increasing popularity and demand for mobile solutions. Without a doubt, the rise of mobile solutions is one of the most significant trends that the industry has seen in many years. With FileMaker Go, you can easily deploy mobile FileMaker-based database solutions. Originally released in 2010 as part of the FileMaker 11 product line, FileMaker Go has matured very quickly, and it now includes much of the user-oriented functionality of its desktop sibling.

A similar goal was set with regard to the Web, and the growing trend of delivering solutions in a browser-based SaaS-like model. To put it simply, FileMaker's goal is to provide the FileMaker experience via the browser. This was a goal that FileMaker Inc initially started working towards with the release of the FileMaker 13 platform, and specifically with its unique WebDirect technology.

With FileMaker 14, the goal was to improve WebDirect in terms of speed, reliability, fidelity, and features. There are still a few issues that need to be addressed (printing, for example). However, with the FileMaker 14 platform, WebDirect has taken a big step forward, and WebDirect is now a much more viable alternative to the traditional FileMaker desktop client.

Due to their nature, database solutions are somewhat different from other types of apps. The interfaces are different. The workflow is different. And FileMaker-based database solutions have been no exception. However, with the past few releases of the platform, it has become clear that one of FileMaker's goals is to help make FileMaker-based solutions look and feel more like the other types of apps that users are familiar with.

With the FileMaker 14 platform, that also appears to have been one of the goals - and one that I think FileMaker Inc either has, or is very close to, achieving. You'll find this reflected in new features such as button bars, button icons, top and bottom navigation layout parts, in-field labels (placeholders), redesigned toolbars (in FileMaker Pro, Go, and WebDirect),and the Launch Center. As a result, the solutions that you create with FileMaker look and feel more like other native apps.

And last but certainly not least, another goal that FileMaker Inc set out to achieve was to make the platform as secure, reliable, and scalable as possible. In the FileMaker 14 platform, nowhere is this more evident than in FileMaker WebDirect and Server. WebDirect now supports an increased number of concurrent connections, and does so with reduced hardware requirements. FileMaker Server now supports the ability to attempt to reconnect to a hosted database should the connection drop for some reason. The security of the Admin Console has been enhanced with password strength indicators and hints. And then there's support for Standby Servers, giving administrators the ability to restore service when there are problems with a primary server.

As we review the features and enhancements that FileMaker Inc has delivered with the FileMaker 14 platform, I think you'll agree that the FileMaker team has done an amazing job of achieving many of the challenging and lofty goals that they set out to achieve.

FileMaker Pro 14 & FileMaker Pro 14 Advanced

Script Workspace
Perhaps the most significant change to FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Pro Advanced (the platform's desktop clients) is the new "Script Workspace." With the Script Workspace, you can more easily automate tasks and do so in less time. The Script Workspace makes it possible to edit scripts "in-line" and provides helpful features such as type-ahead for script steps (where you can type a few letters and see a list of relevant script steps). You can even use abbreviations (such as GTRR for "Go to Related Record") to further increase speed. The Script Workspace also includes a search field that makes it easy to find script steps more quickly, as well as support for a list of your own favorite (most frequently used) script steps. In addition, with new support for blank lines, indentation, line numbers, and syntax coloring, the Script Workspace brings a more professional experience to the process of developing scripts - and does so without alienating those new to the platform or to programming in general.

FileMaker Pro 14's New Script Workspace

Improved Specify Calculation Dialog Box
Similar improvements have been made to the Specify Calculation dialog box, which is widely used throughout FileMaker Pro and in a large number of ways. The dialog box has an entirely new look and feel, as well as both auto-complete and a search function that makes finding functions easier than ever. For those who have been using FileMaker for quite some time, these are welcomed improvements. And for those new to FileMaker, these changes will make it even easier to become both comfortable and familiar with concept of calculations and formulas.

FileMaker Pro 14's Updated Specify Calculation Dialog Box

Button Bars
FileMaker Pro 14 includes several improvements and enhancements to its already powerful design tools. Most significant is the new "Button Bar" layout object, which makes it possible to create groups of buttons that behave as a single object. Button bars can be configured so that their buttons are positioned either horizontally or vertically, and they resize in ways that you would expect. They are perfect for adding navigation or custom toolbars to your solution.

The New Button Bar Object

Button Icons
As if the new Button Bar layout object wasn't enough, FileMaker Inc has also added support for button icons. 140 professionally designed icons are included, representing a number of common tasks and functions. And if none of the 140 standard icons meet your needs, you can easily add your own icons as well. You can even change the colors of the icons, and apply conditional formatting to them.

Button Bar Icons

Top And Bottom Layout Parts
But the enhancements to the design surface don't stop there. With FileMaker 14, new top and bottom layout parts have been added. These are perfect for adding navigation elements(such as Button Bars) to your layouts, making it easier than ever to provide navigation functions for your users.

Top And Bottom Layout Parts

Field Placeholders
Developers that are familiar with HTML's input tag "placeholder" attribute will be pleased to learn that we now have a similar function available in FileMaker Pro. This makes it possible for you to display a hint, sample value, or instruction to a user directly in a field. That value continues to be displayed until the user provides a real value. It's a really nice feature, and another welcomed enhancement.

Field Placeholders

Improved Color Picker
For those of us who find selecting complementary colors to be difficult, the enhanced color selection feature in FileMaker 14 will prove to very helpful. The color selection dialog now automatically shows colors that coordinate nicely with those used by the selected theme. And best of all, this feature works with both FileMaker's standard themes and your own custom themes.

Improved Color Picker

More Design-Related Enhancements
A few other design-related enhancements include the ability to more thoroughly control the appearance of object components (for example, you can choose whether or not display an "x" or a checkmark when using fields configured as checkboxes), and the badges that appear when you are in layout mode (such as those indicating that a field has conditional formatting rules associated with it) now act as tooltips, so you can get the details behind the badge without having to dig deeper.

Object Component Styles

Launch Center and File Icons
One final design-related change - and I'm mentioning this last, not because it is the least important, but because it applies to the entire platform - involves FileMaker 14's new "Launch Center." This window appears in FileMaker Pro, Go, and WebDirect, and provides a very nice way for you to see all of your FileMaker solutions at a glance. But best of all, you can specify an icon that best represents your solution. For example, you might select a calendar icon to represent an event management solution. You specify the icon using FileMaker Pro and the new Icon tab which has been added to the File Options dialog. FileMaker includes 30 standard icons, and, like the button icons mentioned earlier, you can also add your own icons to the set. (The selected icon will be used in the Launch Center.)

Launch Center

Improved and Enhanced Starter Solutions
And finally, two of the more popular Start Solutions - Event Management and Projects - have been given an overhaul. The design of these solutions has been improved using some of the new features of the FileMaker 14 platform, and their workflows have been improved as well.

FileMaker Go 14

As I mentioned above, FileMaker Go is a FileMaker client for iOS. It has been an important part of the platform since it was introduced with FileMaker 11. It has come a long way since then, giving FileMaker developers an easy way to create feature-rich mobile solutions that make good use of the devices that they run on.

With FileMaker Go 14, several improvements have been made that make FileMaker solutions running on iOS look and feel more like other native apps. In some cases, the changes are immediately apparent - such as the implementation of the new Launch Center and File Icons that I mentioned earlier. But there are more subtle changes as well. For example, bigger "tap targets" have been implemented, making it easier for users to work with Go-based solutions. FileMaker Go is also a 64-bit app, and has been optimized for the larger iPhone 6/6+ devices. As a result, solutions should appear to run a bit faster, and display a little better.

FileMaker Go is still an iOS-only application, and from what I've heard in presentations by FileMaker Inc, support for other platforms (such as Android devices) is not in the product roadmap.

Also, it is important to note that as of this writing, FileMaker Go 14 can only connect to databases hosted on FileMaker Server 13 and 14. It cannot connect to hosted databases running on FileMaker Server 12. Certainly something to keep in mind before upgrading your iOS devices.

FileMaker Go's Updated UI

FileMaker Go's Enhanced Audio/Visual Playback Options

FileMaker Go's Enhanced Signature Capture Capability

FileMaker Go's Support for Rich Text

FileMaker WebDirect 14

It seems odd referring to this as WebDirect 14, as it is really only the second version of the platform that WebDirect has been a part of. But for clarity, I'll use that name.

Let me start by saying that I was very critical of WebDirect when it first shipped as part of the FileMaker 13 platform. Like many developers, I think I finally started to "see the light" as I spent more time with WebDirect and starting using it as it was intended to be used.

WebDirect is FileMaker's browser-based client, and it does a great job of giving users a true FileMaker experience. Its functionality is limited to that needed by users of a database. It does not support any of the design or development features that are found in Pro and Pro Advanced, and that's just fine. It isn't intended to fully replace Pro or Pro Advanced. At least not yet, anyway.

With WebDirect 14, improvements in speed, responsiveness, and fidelity have been made. Solutions that seemed a bit sluggish in WebDirect 13 now seem a bit snappier in 14. Those pesky refreshes that we used to see quite often in WebDirect 13 happen less frequently in WebDirect 14, if they happen at all. And in general, layouts seem to render much more quickly.

WebDirect 14 now supports mobile Safari and Chrome browsers, so so you can run WebDirect from Safari on an iPad, for example. Also, while it is not officially supported (and is not explicitly blocked), WebDirect reportedly runs on Firefox. Let that sink in for a minute. It means that you can now provide FileMaker access to users running mobile devices running something other than iOS.

WebDirect now supports a greater number of concurrent connections. It's up from 50 in WebDirect 13 to around 100 in WebDirect 14. However, you might find these limitations to be different, depending on your server configuration, the solutions being accessed, and more.

Also, with WebDirect 14, FMP URLs are back and they support running FileMaker scripts. For those developing advanced WebDirect solutions, or integrating other solutions with WebDirect (such as Web viewer-based enhancements), this is great news.

The toolbar that WebDirect presents has been completely redesigned in 14. It has a much more modern look and feel, and again, provides consistency with its Pro and Go siblings.

There are also plenty of minor bug fixes that have been made - fixes that, when viewed as a whole, seem to make WebDirect feel more on par with its desktop siblings. For example, there have been fixes to text rendering such as padding, positioning, and more. As a result, there is a much higher degree of fidelity when viewing layouts.

FileMaker WebDirect 14's Redesigned Toolbar

FileMaker Server 14

FileMaker Server 14 is the foundation upon which multi-user FileMaker solutions are built. We've seen significant improvements to Server over the past several versions, and my experience has shown that Server 14 is more stable than ever before.

With the FileMaker 14 platform, Server gets long-awaited "Standby Server" support. This allows you to setup a secondary, redundant FileMaker Server instance that can be used in the event of a hardware or software failure on the primary instance. Standby servers are not intended to provide a load balancing solution (clients cannot connect to them). Instead, they can best be thought of as backup servers, ready and waiting to be called into action if needed.

Closing Thoughts

The FileMaker 14 is another critical and important step in the evolution of the platform. The combination of changes made to FileMaker Pro, Go, WebDirect, and Server help to ensure that FileMaker maintains its position as the leading platform for developing custom database solutions.

Want to learn more about the FileMaker 14 platform? Answers to some of the common questions regarding the platform can be found here. And here's a video that I shot with Matt Petrowsky that covers some of what's new in FileMaker Pro 14 Advanced.