Nov 01 2006

Filemaker Pro Review

This database is no longer a target for the schoolyard bully.

There may have been a time when information technology managers squirmed in their chairs at the thought of buying Filemaker Pro licenses. Their edict was to exorcise it from the company to make way for something else. But Filemaker Pro 8.5 is a mature departure from earlier versions and no longer a database application suitable only for cataloging recipes.

Its versatile Open Database Connectivity and Java Database Connectivity extensibility coupled with its eXtensible Markup Language and Web functionality makes it a great tool for relational databases, document management systems or as a middleware reporting layer for ODBC/JDBC-compliant applications. Plus, you can get all this without massive infrastructure cost, additional consulting resources and lost time.

New features include a built-in Adobe Portable Document Format rendering engine that gives you the ability to pull an entire Web page, or sections of a Web page, directly into a custom layout. It’s completely transparent to end users that they are filling out a Web form. Looking to build a market watch application? Filemaker can go out and report on any Web site and return just specific keywords.

The Requirements

The Filemaker client can run identically under Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. You can both be scripted to port data out to any application that receives an ODBC/JDBC connection or, conversely, can be scripted to read from any ODBC/JDBC-compliant application using Filemaker’s own scripting language. Filemaker takes approximately 250 to 350 megabytes of drive space (depending on whether you install Pro or the Advanced version, which includes script debugging tools) and requires a minimum of 256MB of Ram, though it takes 50MB to 70MB for normal use.

Previous versions of Filemaker restricted the amount of data contained in a field. With Version 8, there is no limit on the amount of data stored in a field, table or database. The only limit is the amount of hard drive space. There are also two flavors of the server version, Server 8 and Server 8 Advanced. The latter gives you advanced Web functionality as well as some additional features. Again, both run equally under Windows or Mac OS, though the Windows version requires Windows 2000 or 2003 Server while the Mac version only requires an OS X client greater than Version 10.3.9.

Porting Databases

Let’s suppose you have a massive relational database with hundreds of tables and end users who need the capability to create ad hoc reports without IT assistance. Deploy a copy of Filemaker Pro 8.x to the customer’s machine (which takes about five minutes to install). Create a system Data Source Name for your database link (be sure to add the accompanying tnsnames.ora file). Launch Filemaker Pro and select the “File Open” option. Filemaker Pro will show you a standard “Open” dialog window. Select the “ODBC Data Source” option from the “Files of Type” drop-down menu, select your DSN connection from the list that is shown, input your user name and password for the relational database, and you are off and running. 

Filemaker will connect and show a window that is split into three sections. The left section shows tables and the right section shows whatever columns exist in that table. You can select column after column and Filemaker will build an SQL Select statement in front of your eyes in the bottom section, which is simply a text box. Once done, you can either have Filemaker do some additional sorting (using WHERE clauses) before delivering the data to you, or you can have Filemaker dump the data to an external application. If you want to see the data right away, Filemaker will automatically create a database for you, creating all of the necessary fields using the column names and then perform any additional activities on it that you request, such as sorting. 

Nathan McBride is the IT senior manager of R&D at Cubist Pharmaceuticals in Lexington, Mass.

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