Review: FileMaker Pro 11

New tools and enhancements work well in this FileMaker update. (March 19th, 2010)

FileMaker Pro 11 adds a number of features to simplify database creation and edit existing databases. Other enhancements are an improved Layout/Report Assistant, Recurring Imports, a layout tool Inspector, a Quick Find field, Quick Reports, chart creation, layout folders, and a Snapshot Link.

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Filemaker, Inc.

Price: $299.00 US; $179 Upgrade

The Good

  • Layout Inspector makes database creation easier.
    Can create counts from Table View.
    Easy to sort and add records or fields in Table View.
    Cross-platform.
    PPC compatible with Mac OS X 10.5.7+.

The Bad

  • Chart tool isnít intuitive and has some minor bugs.
    Text still doesnít paste in the correct font.
    Expensive update.

While FileMaker Pro under went some big changes with version 10, version 11 has finessed some of those changes. A number of added features simplify database creation, editing existing databases, plus there are some new template solutions. Other FileMaker Pro 11 enhancements include an improved Layout/Report Assistant, instant updates for imported Excel or text files, which is called Recurring Imports, plus an Inspector that includes all the layout tools. Rounding out the new features are a Quick Find field, Quick Reports, the ability to create charts, and folders to organize your layouts, and a Snapshot Link.

The first change you'll notice in this new release of FileMaker Pro, if you don't count the spiffy new bold colored icon, is the updated Quick Start screen. It is more intuitive and easier to use than in FileMaker Pro 10. Items are easier to find, plus explanations for new users help direct you to the exact solution you want. The new Find field lets you search for your database instead of forcing you to navigate through your whole drive, as in FileMaker Pro 10, or you can click Browse to find a database whose name may temporarily escape you.

FileMaker Pro 11 Quick Start Screen

FileMaker Quick Start Screen


The screen also keeps a list of Favorite databases, so it's a convenient launch window to keep around even for the most advanced users. Initially, I could not find a way to remove a database title from the Favorites area, but it turns out the Manage Database link takes you to a list in which you can click Plus (+) or Minus (-) to add or remove databases from your Favorites.

FileMaker Pro 11 Manage Favorite Dialog

Manage Favorite Dialog

Excel Import

I successfully tested a variety of databases with this new version of FileMaker Pro. In my first test, I imported an Excel spreadsheet and I barely could tell the import from the original. It's a good thing that the Mac OS puts the name of the application on the menu bar! The spreadsheet data appeared on Layout 2, the Table View, while the usual data entry form nested into Layout 1. In Table View, I could click on any field name and resort the list without selecting individual fields or creating scripts.

FileMaker Pro 11 Table View

Table View


In addition, you can set up your spreadsheet to update any time a change is made in the original Excel or text document. When you import that data into FileMaker, the data becomes read only, but it is a handy way to keep your database up to date, especially if multiple people use it. You set up the automatic recurring import by checking a single box in the Open File dialog that appears when you choose import a file.

FileMaker Pro 11 Excel Import

Open Dialog for Excel Import

Bento Source Import

I also tested importing a Bento database, a feature added in FileMaker Pro 10, which didn't go quite as smoothly.

FileMaker Pro 11 Import Options

File Menu - Import Options


The newest Starter Solution is an invoice database, but because it is set up for a small business with inventory and employees, which I don't own, I tried another solution instead. I had created a Bento file using an iPhoto library to track and identify photos of the various critters I snap. FileMaker offers a much more robust solution in their Research solution template.

FileMaker Pro 11 Research Notes

Research Notes Solution


While I imported the text portions from my Bento database easily, the photos cannot be imported. This is due to the limitations of the import/export properties of an image container field, inherent in the product. The Research template includes an image import portal, so I used the import button on the layout to move each photo individually from my drive into the FileMaker solution. The purpose of this database is to help me identify species, not catalog photos, so I didn't mind importing a few photos. If you want to catalog photos, I did find a free Aperture to FileMaker plug-in listed on the FileMaker Solutions site, but I have not tested it yet. Incidentally, you can import photos from one FileMaker solution to another, just not from Bento.

FileMaker Pro 11 Research Notes

Research Notes Photo Import and Quick Find


I am impressed with the Research Starter Solution for tracking all kind of information. What makes the Research template so great is it has tabs that let you include text data, plus two Web viewer windows: one Wikipedia tab which searches that site for the keyword in your Topic field, and another tab in which you can enter a web site address. I found that FileMaker actually opened these web sites from within the database faster than Safari. I had to change the field in the script that Wikipedia searched on, but that was easy. Now, I have my critters in a database with immediate links to information that helps me identify future critter photos. I hope that FileMaker adds a media view/ Quick Look icon to the List View like exists in Bento, to the next update of FileMaker Pro.

Quick Find

Another FileMaker 11 upgrade makes using this database even easier, because of the new Quick Find feature. I painfully remember searching fields individually for data that I did not remember where it was stored. Now, you type your desired term in the new field and FileMaker automatically searches all the fields in the current layout. The screen shot above, "Research Notes Photo Import and Quick Find," shows that Quick Find temporarily saves your most recent searches. You can also use "Perform Quick Find" in a script, which the Help file explains well. The Quick Find field certainly makes locating your data easier, but its size causes your database window to be much wider.

Database Creation and Field Edits

Creating a new database was simplified in FileMaker 10 and version 11 continues that easy to create trend. In the Table View, you simply type a field name in the top row, using the Plus (+) button to create new fields. It saves time when you don't have to open the Manage Database dialog to create fields and change field options. You click the down arrow to see field variables, which you can also change on the fly. Another Plus (+) appears in the List layout after your last record, which you use to create a new record. These enhancements are serious time savers. The only problem I encountered is when I accidentally clicked the Plus and added a field I didn't want multiple times. Thankfully, it's easy to remove the field from the pop-up menu. You can see all these editing options in the screen shots below, as I work with a previously created database.

FileMaker Pro 11 Research Notes

Field Options


I also tested my MacNN Review Tracking Database, created with FileMaker Pro 8. My list view looks clunky compared to the automated Table View in FileMaker Pro 11 shown above. Originally, I had to create my own layouts, define fields, create sort field scripts, and add other details manually. Now, you complete much of that time consuming preparation with easy to use buttons and screens.

FileMaker Pro 8 Database

FileMaker Pro 8 Database-List View


In the built-in Table View, much of that automation is available through either the Modify button in the Tool Bar or the pop-up menu items available in each column, as shown in my screen shots. Table View, added in FileMaker 10, just makes your database life easier. You can turn fields on and off with checkboxes from the Modify button.

FileMaker Pro 11 Modify Table

Modify Table View

Layout Inspector

When you press the Edit Layout button, your original layout appears, not the Table View layout, but no matter, because editing is a snap! A new Layout Inspector appears, which lets you edit fields, size, fonts, and more without having to search for the menu items. Sometimes it did not show automatically, but it's accessible through the View menu or when you click on an icon in the toolbar.

The Layout Inspector includes three tabs: Position, Appearance, and Data. Click on any field and the Position tab includes everything you need to change about a field's size, location, whether it slides in a report, and printing options. The Layout Inspector Appearance tab allows you to change fill, borders, text, alignment, spacing, and tabs. It is so easy to finesse your fields now.

FileMaker Pro 11 Layout Inspector

Layout Inspector - Position Tab and Appearance Tab


The Layout Inspector Data tab lets you control a field's behavior, input method, date, time, and monetary formatting. This is where you show how many times you repeat a field too.

FileMaker Pro 11 Layout Inspector

Layout Inspector Data Tab


I had a minor hard time at first locating exactly what I wanted to change, but as you become familiar with the Inspector, I'm sure you will love its ease of use.

Quick Reports

In FileMaker 9, I had created a summary count of my reviewed products by category in my MacNN Product Database. The results were only available in the Preview screen though. In FileMaker Pro 10, I was able to recreate this summary report and view it in the Browse screen. Originally, I had to work through 10 screens to create this report, which is cumbersome at best. Now, in FileMaker Pro 11, I can simply click the down arrow by any field and create that same report from one menu in less than a minute. This feature alone may be worth the upgrade price.

FileMaker Pro 11 Counts

Summary Count Option in Table View


For some reason, the new New Layout/Report button is not in Toolbar by default. Most probably, they thought the toolbar would be too wide, because the Quick Find field is so long. You can solve this omission; just choose Customize Status Toolbar from the View menu and drag the icon to the top. The New Layout/Report dialog looks much the same as in FileMaker 10, except the small previews are in color.

FileMaker Pro 11 Layout/Report Window

New Layout/Report Window


In addition, your layout views now include small green, gray, or yellow icons next to the fields that indicate whether you can search that field. Green means yes, yellow means yes, but it may be slow, and gray indicates the field is not searchable.

Charts

Charts are completely new in FileMaker 11. You create them from the New Layout/Report button also, but it's not the most intuitive of features. First, you create a blank layout and then must click the chart tool and draw what is called a charting area in the blank layout.

FileMaker Pro 11 Charts

Chart Tool and Blank Layout


The Chart Setup dialog appears, in which you can choose from 3D Bars, Horizontal Bar, Lines, Area, or Pie charts. You can choose data from a Found Set, Current Record, or Related Records. If you want to create a chart of counted records, you can set up the count beforehand in the Table View, or create a new calculation in the Specify Calculation window when you choose the Value Data.

FileMaker Pro 11 Chart setup

Create Chart Setup


You can customize your charts with font color and size, chart style, and background. FileMaker also provides 20 different color schemes from which you can choose. You can change the Chart type, style, and other visuals in the Layout mode.

FileMaker Pro 11 Chart

Chart Color Schemes


When in Browse mode, you can view the specific data counts by hovering your mouse over a bar or piece of pie chart. You also need to tweak the chart if you have a lot of data types. As you can see, my label text overlaps, but it doesn't let you wrap labels. You need to enlarge the chart to solve that problem. I removed some of my categories to make the chart look better in the next example.

FileMaker Pro 11 Bar Chart

Crowded Sample Bar Chart


I did encounter a couple of bugs. When I changed from a Pie chart to 3D bars, the name of the chart changed from Category to Book, as you can see above. A return to layout mode enables you to fix the chart, but that odd box below the name remained. I created a number of test charts and the last one resulted in a screen of numbers and no graphic; I don't know why. In the screen shot below, I pasted the text from my buggy chart next to the nice looking pie chart. I plan to investigate how the bug occurred with tech support later.

FileMaker Pro 11 Charts

Finished Chart on Left - Buggy Chart on Right


I did ask FileMaker support if you could use custom graphics and the answer is no; I hope they meant "not yet." I had not encountered the bug when I talked with tech support though. The built-in Help covers the new charting feature in detail including three tutorials.

Other New Features

Two features I did not test include the creation of layout folders and sharing databases. I suspect that layout folders should help with complex databases, but it isn't a feature I could use. The new Snapshot Link feature looks very slick, because you can save a set of records as s separate file and send it to other FileMaker Pro 11 users or use it for single reports. You can watch video tutorials on all of the new features on FileMaker's web site.

Summary

While I think the new features make using FileMaker Pro 11 to create and manage database easier, I'm not impressed with the Chart function yet. I expect to see some version updates in the upcoming months. I also wish FileMaker, Inc. would relax their pricing structure a bit. The price to upgrade to FileMaker Pro 11 is the same as it was to upgrade from version 9 to 10 ($179). To their credit, if you buy four copies you get one free, and they have maintained the same upgrade price for FileMaker Pro 8 and 8.5 users also. My advice is, if you own 8 or 9, upgrade! If you own version 10, you'll have to do your evaluation as to whether the changes are worth the price of admission.

by ilene hoffman, reviews editor


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