Saturday, July 07, 2018

Thoughts on replacing FileMaker Pro 11

Once upon a time database apps were priced and sold as a consumer product. Those were the days when computers were marketed as a replacement for a recipe book.

There were dozens of consumer oriented database products then, priced from under $15 shareware apps to around $100 for relatively full featured commercial products (AppleWorks, etc). Some of these products, particularly on the Mac, were astounding (though high end ones were priced as business products).

That era seems weird now. It definitively ended when Apple discontinued Bento. Shortly afterwords FileMaker was priced as a business-only product. Panorama X has followed a similar path. Tap Forms is sold at a consumer price, but it failed my basic trial tests.

The era of the affordable personal database app has passed. The only commercial remnant on any platform is Microsoft Access — somehow Microsoft can’t quite kill it. LibreOffice Base began as Microsoft Access clone and sort of runs on macOS, but parts of it still require Java.

My only current use case for FileMaker Pro is that it runs my personal password database. I could move that (yay data freedom!) to Microsoft Access in a VM, but Windows 10 is a monstrous amount of baggage to keep around just to run a personal password manager.

I could finally migrate to 1Password. Emily and I use it and I have to periodically dump data into it manually from my old password database. I wonder how long that product will last with Apple incorporating credential management into the operating system though.

Or I could adopt the lazy choice and stay on Sierra and FileMaker Pro 11 a while longer. I like the sound of that one.

Replacing Filemaker Pro 11: Tap Forms fails within minutes of testing

Filemaker 11 is not compatible with High Sierra. I checked out Tap Forms. It failed because …

1. Tap Forms Mac stores its database files in ~/Library/Containers/com.tapforms.mac/Data/Documents. I prefer not to use apps that store data in unorthodox places, it makes backup and restore too difficult. It’s much to easy to lose track of files and uninstall is more complex. This is, however, an Apple design practice — MarsEdit does the same thing.

2. I choose a csv file to import and I renamed the fields in the import dialog as below.


After import the fields had the original names.

I found two significant problems in 5 minutes of testing. The first is a design choice I dislike for this type of app. The second is a bug - an obvious bug found on the very first thing I tested.

Tap Forms is not a viable choice for me.

Also, uninstalling is the usual pain — but that’s a longstanding Apple issue.

Google Voice: "We could not complete your call - Please try again."

I’ve been using Google Voice for eons — starting before Google acquired GrandCentral. It saved me thousands on my daily mobile calls to my mother in Canada.

GV must be a real money loser for Google though — the interconnect fees to landlines are a real cost [1]. So it’s not surprising that it’s a bit of a mess — between GV legacy, GV current, Hangouts [2] and heaven knows what else.

Today I tried a GV call from my iPhone and got “We could not complete your call - Please try again.” In my case this is a bug that happened because the GV number associated with the Google ID I was using did not have an associated mobile phone (I’d moved that phone to a different GV account). I think Google for iOS used to permit that, but it doesn’t now. To use Google now you need to have an associated verified mobile phone with the active GV account.

So I moved my two mobile numbers to the two GV accounts I wanted them on. Now if I try to use Google with an account that doesn’t have a verified mobile number it gives me a more appropriate error message (that’s why this was a bug — wrong error message).

I’d be happy if GV would figure a way to make money from me, it is a great service.

- fn -

[1] Funny thing and cautionary tale: In the early 90s we were sure that by the year 2000 voice calls would be so cheap they wouldn’t be worth metering. That was only sort of true. Never underestimate the power of discontinuities.

[2] GV sort-of migrated to Hangouts, but that seems to have stalled and perhaps reversed. Hangouts seems to be dying, caught up in Google’s flailing messaging strategy.