Tim Dietrich

Custom Software Developer

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Thoughts on the FileMaker 15 Platform

FileMaker Inc released the FileMaker 15 platform earlier this week, and a lot of my current and former clients, as well as members of the community, have reached out to me with questions about it, requests for advice, and so on. Rather than try to respond to each one individually, I thought I'd respond here.

What do you think of the changes that FMI has made to the platform?

In terms of the business, I think that what we're seeing are the next steps that FileMaker Inc is taking to move towards a Software as a Service (SaaS) business model. This is something that they seem to have started with the release of the 13 platform.

I believe that's why they've introduced the latest changes to how FileMaker is licensed. If moving to SaaS really is their goal - and I think it's becoming more clear with each release that it is - then it's understandable that they have to adjust their licensing policies to align with that goal. So the changes to licensing - at least some of them - aren't very surprising at all.

What is surprising to me are the changes that they've made to pricing. It seems to me that it is getting more difficult for smaller businesses and organizations to afford to use the platform, and in turn more difficult for developers and consultants to service those types of clients. I've seen that first hand, as some of my former FileMaker clients are now moving away from the platform and reaching out to me for advice on how to do so. And I know that some have argued that whether or not the pricing changes will have an impact on a business really depends on the specifics - that in some cases FileMaker is actually more affordable than it used to be. I don't know... What I do know is that the licensing options are more confusing than they've ever been.

I have clients that for many years have used shared hosting companies to host their solutions, and they're worried about the changes that will affect this as well. As I understand it, starting with 15, you cannot host databases for multiple customers on the same instance of FileMaker Server. I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for FileMaker hosting companies, both in terms of cost and logistics.

I've read that this is for "security reasons," but those of us who have done hosting know that those types of issues have always been a concern, and we found ways to prevent them. So I have my doubts that this is the primary motivation behind those changes. Instead, I think this is just another step towards the SaaS model, and that FileMaker Inc will eventually offer their own hosting service. Again, if you look at SaaS as being the goal, then this, too, makes perfect sense.

I think you could argue that moving to SaaS is something that FileMaker Inc should have done a long time ago. I can understand that it's a difficult and frightening change to make. But as I've said in the past, if they would have been open about their decision to go in this direction - if they had prepared the community for these changes and explained why and how they planned to make them - then a lot of this frustration and confusion could have been avoided.

Would they have lost some customers and the support of some developers and consultants? I'm sure they would have. But if they were confident in their decision to move to the SaaS model and in their plan to move to it, then they should also have been confident that the business would quickly recover and perhaps even thrive as a result of the changes. Instead, what we see now is a lot of confusion and frustration that could have been avoided.

What do you think of the new features in 15?

Well, it's always good to see improvements in terms of performance and security, bug fixes, and so on. It's also good to see that they've released 15 about a year after 14's release, so it looks like they are trying to make more frequent releases, and that's encouraging.

As far as the new features go, some of them are nice - especially the iOS-related features (Touch ID, 3D Touch, and iBeacon support, for example). The performance improvements to WebDirect are awesome, and it's amazing to me just how far WebDirect has come since it was introduced. But other than that... I don't know. This feels more like a point release than a version upgrade.

I'm disappointed that ExecuteSQL remains hobbled, and still only supports SELECT statements. I can't tell you how many projects I abandoned because ExecuteSQL didn't support INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE. Look at the code behind things like EasySync and EasyAudit, and you can see how, if ExecuteSQL had been full-featured, those solutions could have been better designed and so much more efficient. I have yet to hear a good reason for ExecuteSQL not supporting INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE.

But that's just one specific feature that I had been asking and hoping for. There are a number of other features that have been around for a long time that also need attention. For example, the UI for importing records is a mess, and hasn't been refreshed since FileMaker Pro 2. (I'm kidding, I think.) And there are others... Anyway, my point is that there are a number of legacy functions that still desperately need attention.

What are your thoughts on the iOS SDK?

I haven't used the SDK myself, but it seems like a clever way to add support for creating native iOS apps based on FileMaker solutions. It seems to me that the SDK should be part of FileMaker Pro Advanced.

I do have concerns about the security and scalability of apps created with the SDK. I've seen some of the "apps" that were made with the SDK, and some of them were easy to take apart. In at least two cases I was able to pull the actual FileMaker database out of the package, and open it up with full access. There are things that developers can do to prevent this, of course.

The thing to remember about apps created with the SDK - and specifically apps that connect to hosted databases - is that they do require concurrent connections. So that's something to keep in mind, as this could affect your app's ability to scale.

Do you still use FileMaker?

Yes, I do. I had been using FileMaker for more than 20 years, and had dozens of clients that I'd worked with. I've passed many of those off to other FileMaker consultants that I know and feel good about. I also have a handful of clients that I still service. And I do occasionally use FileMaker personally - typically to clean up data that I'm using. For example, when developing DailyOrbit, I used it to clean up an old database of domain names.

But I've held firm to my decision to not take on new FileMaker projects and clients. That's just not something that interests me anymore. Been there, done that, as the saying goes.

Was the transition away from FileMaker difficult?

Absolutely! But I felt that it was something I had to do, and in hindsight it was a good, well-timed move.

A lot of the development work that I've been doing over the past year has been with Xojo, and to a lesser extent, Swift.

I can't say enough good things about Xojo. It's amazing, and has quickly become my "go to" tool for development. I've used it to develop iOS apps, Web apps, and more recently, console apps. It's not perfect, but as a cross-platform development tool, it's as close as you can get.

Swift is a great language, and it's evolving quickly. But the learning curve involved in using it with Apple's APIs is steep and at times very frustrating. I much prefer to use Xojo, and do so whenever I can.

Will you continue to release open source FileMaker solutions?

There's a chance that I'll release a version of Luna that supports FileMaker. Luna is something that I released several months ago. It's a Xojo-based framework for creating RESTful APIs, and it's been quite popular in the Xojo community. It currently supports MySQL, Amazon Aurora, and PostgreSQL databases. I'm currently working on a project for one of my clients where we're creating a REST API for several of their legacy FileMaker databases - and I'm creating a custom version of Luna to handle that. So there's a chance that I'll release it. We'll see.

What have you been working on, and what are you working on now?

Since moving away from FileMaker, I've done a lot of things and tried a lot of things: I've developed mobile apps, Apple TV apps, custom APIs. I've been doing developer evangelism for Airtable. I re-launched DailyOrbit. I've been busy trying to find "my thing" I suppose.

I have one more pivot that I'm planning to make - one that I am really excited about, and it's something that I've wanted to do for a long, long time...