Filemaker sorts through documentation challenges

Filemaker says its newest versions of database creation software may help bridge the gap between organizations’ knowledge workers and IT staff.

Previous versions of Filemaker worked well as personal data management tools because they didn’t force anything overly complicated on the user, said Alexei Folger, the firm’s senior systems engineer, at product briefing on Thursday. “If you wanted a simple, cute little database for own private use you could do it just like that,” she said.

The latest 5.5 Filemaker releases are designed for people who aren’t experts in high-end databases. “We’re still focused on workgroups and knowledge workers,” said Folger. “Basically we find professionals have big needs to manage data but don’t want to be IT professionals.”

But at the same time Filemaker is reaching out for the blessings of organizations’ IT departments, and is making an effort to adhere to standards.

This week the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company released Filemaker Developer 5.5, a tool for developers who create custom Filemaker Pro solutions to be used on the Web, across workgroups or as runtime applications.

Developer 5.5 offers documentation and examples for XML, one of the preferred methods of exchanging data across applications. Support for the JDBC standard, which allows for easier ways to build Java front ends to Filemaker Pro databases, is also available, as is support for ODBC, which allows for access to a Filemaker data source remotely, so mission-critical data can be backed up on back-end systems.

Other new features of Developer 5.5 include database design report, which documents the structure — including fields, scripts, relationships, layouts and database passwords — of Filemaker Pro database solutions. This helps alleviate the documentation challenge many developers face, said Folger. “There are a lot of issues with documenting — and if you don’t give (developers) any tools, it makes it a little harder.”

The database design report feature also allows developers to pinpoint orphan links and redundant objects in past and present Filemaker solutions. “It’s great for people who inherit a database solution from somebody else and they don’t understand how it’s working,” Folger added. “They can run this and get a good feel for how it was designed.”

Another new feature is the script debugger, which allows developers to systematically test scripts within a Filemaker solution, she added. “If you’re having problems and the scripting is not behaving the way you think it should, you can run the debugger and it’ll help you figure out why.”

Mallon said Developer is one of the more niche products in the line. “Since the product started, there’s been about 20,000 registered users, in contrast to the millions that have used Filemaker Pro,” he said. “It’s a very specialized product but it’s very key to our overall strategy.”

Folger said some VARs might use Developer 5.5 to put together a customized solution that they can sell to their own customers, providing training and support on the side.

But Al Hayward, president of Mississauga, Ont.-based Argyle and Broadstreet, a manufacturer’s representative company which looks after Filemaker’s reseller relationships in Canada, said most companies have their own developers that will do the job for them.

“Quite a few resellers, who sell other things like networking knowledge and computers or something else, also do Filemaker — there are probably 70 or 80 across country,” said Hayward. “But Filemaker is sold as licenses so we have a lot more VARs selling Filemaker than we do developing in Filemaker.”

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