Tim Dietrich

Custom Software Developer

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Goodbye, FileMaker

Writing this blog post is somewhat surreal. It might seem less surreal if I had won the lottery (which is unlikely, because I don't play the lottery) or if I were about to retire (which I'm not).

Instead, I'm writing this because it's time for a change. That change (as if the title of this post didn't give it away) is that I'll no longer be "doing FileMaker work." In other words, no new FileMaker projects, and no new FileMaker clients.

I'm done.

A Difficult Decision

"I'm done" makes it sound like this was an easy decision to make. But it wasn't.

I've been using FileMaker, in one form or another, for more than 20 years. I've bet my career and business on the platform, and for years it has been a good bet. I've had a lot of success in providing FileMaker solutions to all sorts of clients. I've had the honor of meeting and working with some talented people, including clients, other FileMaker developers, and some of the team at FileMaker Inc.

So, why stop now?

To put it simply, I am concerned about and frustrated with FileMaker, in terms of both the platform and the business.

Theories and Rumors, But No Roadmap

It appears that the FileMaker platform is moving to - or trying to move to - a SaaS model. The recent rumors about the much anticipated "FileMaker Lite," coupled with the equally intriguing rumors that FileMaker Inc will be providing database hosting services in the future, do lend some credence to this theory.

But that's a theory based on rumors. I have yet to see any authoritative proof of this. And FileMaker will not, for whatever reason, provide us with a clear roadmap. So we're left to our theories, our rumors, and best guesses.

As a FileMaker consultant, it has become increasingly difficult to advise my clients. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens" is a lame answer to the questions that they ask about the future of the platform.

Frustrations With the Platform

In terms of technology, the FileMaker platform has certainly continued to mature. Despite its shortcomings (its inability to generate output, for example), I'm still impressed by WebDirect and how far it has come since its release as part of the FileMaker 13 platform. And the changes and enhancements found in FileMaker Go 14 are equally impressive. Spend some time developing native apps for iOS, and I think you'll agree that all of the underlying complexity that Go hides from us is spectacular.

Despite the progress made on WebDirect and Go, I still have concerns about the platform in general. There are key features that have gone unchanged for far too long. Look at the UI for importing records. It's a mess, and it has been for years now. There's the insanely poor support for sending email. The recent FileMaker Server SSL certificate debacle. And, my favorite, the ExecuteSQL function, which still only supports SELECT statements. I could go on and on.

The constant need to use work-arounds, plug-ins, and (let's just call them what they really are) hacks, to compensate for FileMaker's shortcomings, is extremely frustrating. And yet, to develop the types of solutions that clients are asking for, these techniques are necessary. But they shouldn't be, especially when you consider that FileMaker is a 30 year old platform. And while working with FileMaker's limitations is challenging, these aren't the types of challenges that I like working on.

If there was some indication that FileMaker's shortcomings will be resolved in the near future, then I might be able to hold on to a glimmer of hope. But with the 12 to 18 month release cycle, that seems unlikely. It's frustrating to think that it might be another year or more before we might see progress made in these areas. Technology, the industry in general, and our clients' needs are moving much too fast to wait that long.

Business Concerns

In terms of FileMaker as a business, I have a number of concerns. The big one, of course, is the significant increase in pricing that we've seen over the last two releases. Those prices have made FileMaker too expensive for many budget-constrained smaller businesses and non-profit organizations. FileMaker isn't as "small business friendly" as it once was, and selling solutions to those types of organizations has become increasingly difficult.

If you've ever attended DevCon, then you know that the company has been profitable every quarter that it has been in existence. However, it's difficult to tell if that streak has continued. With the recent layoffs, aggressive marketing for longer-term licensing agreements and renewals, and staff that have left (and whose positions haven't been back-filled), things don't look good.

What I do know is that the support that FileMaker has been giving to consultants, and especially those who are FileMaker Business Alliance (FBA) members, has been disappointing. And I know that because I've been in the FBA for years now, and I've seen the level of support decline. There was a time when we had regular communication with our Business Account Manager (BAM), but those days are gone. We used to have a dedicated Consulting Engineer that we could turn to for help - but those positions have, as far as I can tell, been reduced or eliminated.

I don't participate in selling FileMaker licenses, so I can't say much about that. But from what I've heard from other FBA members who do sell licenses, I question whether it is worth the effort. Apparently, to become an "FBA Reseller" you have to participate in the training that consists of three sessions totaling more than 4 hours. If it takes 4 hours for you to explain how your licensing program works, then something is wrong.

Moving On

In a recent post on the FileMaker Community site, I wrote, "In the 20+ years that I've been developing with FileMaker, I've never felt quite like I do right now. I'm torn, confused, and growing weary."

It's time to move on. It saddens me to say that, but it's true.

I've been looking at other areas that I'm interested in, and one that has piqued my curiosity is "mobile." By that, I mean developing mobile, database-driven (n-tier), business applications. Over the past few months, I've been spending quite a bit of time getting familiar with development tools such as Xojo and Swift, and developing a few native iOS apps. It's challenging and enjoyable work, and the demand for this type of service is insane. Mobile is clearly where the action is.

I'm working on a few other things as well. The "big one" is a startup that I am hoping to launch, which has the potential to fundamentally change the way that we get things done. It's not just another "to do" or productivity app, and yet it's not quite another service, either. I'm in talks with potential investors about the concept, and we'll see what happens…

As far as my existing clients go, I will continue to provide support to them for their existing solutions. However, I won't be taking on any new FileMaker projects or clients. I've already started to refer prospects to other developers that I know and trust.

I've also started to shut down Open Remote, the FileMaker database hosting service that I provide. I'm evaluating a few FileMaker hosting companies so that I can make good recommendations to my clients. My goal is to shut down my hosting service by year's end.

So, that's my story. I'm closing this chapter, and moving on to the next…

Here's a follow-up to this post. And here's a second one.