Friday, September 30, 2005

FileMaker Pro 8: notes from an old user

I'll update this blog posting as I start using FileMaker Pro 8. I've used FileMaker Pro 3.0 on Mac and PC for about 10 years, so this is rather a big upgrade. Basically I finally decided it was time to retire more of Classic. FM 3.0 worked just fine, so there was no great drive to change. I teach at the U of MN on the side, so I qualified for an educational price.
1. Whatever the (legally binding) shrinkwarp may say, you may (illegally) install FM Pro on all the machines on your LAN -- Mac and PC. However, only one copy may be active at a time (in my testing, however, this didn't happen. I wonder if the XP/Norton firewall blocks this). Reminds me of the old Borland license -- from Borland's glory days. One copy in use at a time; except that was legal with Borland.

2. It opens FM Pro 3.0 databases quite well. The database file format appears to be unchanged from FM 7.

3. To my suprise the databases remain quite compact. The .fp7 file was slightly smaller after conversion than the .fp3 file.

4. FM Pro 8 is NOT a Cocoa application. Sigh. It's a Carbon reject. No services available.

5. I don't think I've ever skipped five releases of an application and seen so few obvious changes. It looks and feels just like .fp3. If I wasn't switching from Classic to OS X I'd be annoyed, but I really wasn't looking for new features. Update: It helps to read the small but extremely well done paper manual. A lot has changed -- all well planned extensions of the old functionality -- such as their relational model. I use Microsoft Access fairly extensively to manipulate GBs of data; I don't know if FM could handle that load, but in terms of 'content management' it seems have many things I miss in Microsoft Access.

6. The web sharing works, but the layout looked pretty bad in Safari. I'll have to try Firefox. I suspect it's optimized for IE.

7. FileMaker 8/Mac is significantly uglier than FM 3. The GUI is just not laid out as well. It looks industrial. FileMaker 8/Win, however, is really ugly - even worse than FM 8/Mac. Far worse than FM 3/Win. It's clear what OS this application targets.

8. FM 8 seems pretty fast, even on my old G3 iBook.

9. Under OS X 10.3.9 FM 8 installs in the shared applications folder. In 10.4.2 it installs in the user application folder. In XP it asks one's preference (which seems to violate the shrinkwrap license). This is annoying if one uses an Admin account for installs but runs using a non-Admin account. You can manually change the install folder.

10. I have a posting on how to import a Microsoft Access table via ODBC. Ugly.

11. There are no tool tips. Let me repeat that. NO tool tips. This is not a good sign.

12. I thought I'd be able to put FM data on my Palm. Alas, they haven't released the Palm app for version 8. Also, it's $50 or so. I'll have to see if it supports data encryption on the Palm -- if not it won't be worthwhile for me.

13. From the help file "Note In Windows, Microsoft Access can import only 32 or fewer fields at one time via ODBC from a FileMaker Pro database file." Huh?

14. More on #13. I actually sort of got FMPro ODBC serving to work. Sort of. (I've since succeeded with a small test file.) I got as far as linking a table in Access, but Access complained about an illegal character in a column (field) name. Wow, was this weird. Enabling ODBC sharing in FM is easy, but Access needs an ODBC DSN. So you need first to install a driver. The FileMaker web site says they don't provide one, but, actually, they do. It's hidden away on the CD in a developer area. You install the Sequelink driver. Then you use Microsoft's ODBC Data Source utility to crate a DSN. For IP address I entered 'localhost' and the secret port number is 2399 (it's in the documentation in an obscure spot). Despite what FM tells you, you need to know the account (default is Admin in FM with null password). This is so ugly ...
As of 12/05 I haven't done a great deal with this app, but overall it looks and feels like an application that's not gotten much TLC in the past five years or so. Given how creaky it feels I really wonder if FileMaker will able to port the codebase to run natively on the OS X Intel platform. I would be it won't show up there for quite a while, if ever!

Update 1/2/06: I ran the 8.02 OS X updater. If you run it as a standard user, it errors out towards the end of the update process. Some kind of access error. You have to run it as an admin user. This isn't documented in the update readme. The updater doesn't check and warn the user. Utter garbage.

Unfortunately running as a non-admin user destroys the FileMaker install. You have to reinstall the original version from scratch then apply the updater.

FileMaker has the same festering smell that Palm has produced for the past 3-4 years.

Update 9/18/08: This is a good place to document an incredibly annoying bug/design flaw I've run into before, but haven't mentioned.

Let's assume you configure FileMaker with user-specific security privileges. A user has no way to escalate privileges within FileMaker, so every time they start FM they get limited privileges. It looks like there's no escape.

The answer is to close the database file then option-click to reopen it. It will then open with a un/pw dialog and you can enter the admin account information.

FM 8 runs pretty well on 10.5.5. I think the web sharing won't work.

1 comment:

Tiffany said...


I see on your blog that you feel FM 8 works fairly well with 10.5.5. I've been having quite a few issues with my FM Pro 8 and OS X 10.5.5, but no one knows how to help. Compatibility issues? Please help!