FileMaker Pro 8.5 review

£219
Price when reviewed

Increasingly, the information we use comes from the internet. It presents a growing challenge to database developers who can’t afford to be left behind in providing equally rich and timely data. FileMaker Pro 8.5 sets out to tackle this problem in a unique way.

Although there are several significant changes in this release, the headline feature is the new Web Viewer control. This allows you to embed a web browser window as a layout object. The displayed page is fully functional in the sense that all links, Flash animations, fillable forms, JavaScripts and so on operate normally. The underlying technology comes from IE6, or Safari under Mac OS X, so anything those browsers can display will appear exactly as if seen in the browser.

To add a web viewer to a FileMaker layout, you simply drag the Web Viewer tool where you want the object’s bounding box to go. A dialog then opens, in which you can specify the URL. This can be entered as fixed text or – and this is what makes it so useful – as the result of a calculation based on any field in your database. This means you can, for example, automatically look up the map for any address in a contacts file or display a graph of share prices in a database of investments.

Several site setups are provided as presets, including FedEx parcel tracking, Google Maps, Wikipedia and a few others. However, the full potential of this is much broader, ranging from monitoring your competitors’ websites to building up academic research notes. It also has a role within an organisation’s intranet, where local web publishing would allow multiple users to access updated information through web viewers, even if they aren’t using the same databases.

As it stands, the Web Viewer is what it says it is – a viewer rather than a web scraper. It doesn’t have tools to extract specific data that’s displayed within the page. However, there’s a new GetLayoutObjectAttribute function, which, when applied to a web viewer, returns the source HTML of the displayed page. If you can parse the source, you’ll be able to suck online data automatically into your own database fields.

If you need to create the usual web navigation controls, there’s a new script step that allows you to move backwards and forwards, reload a page or reset to the original URL. A new function, GetAsURLEncoded, has also been added to bring the result of text calculations into a standard web-compatible format.

Another notable new feature is the ability to name layout objects. This is useful since you can then query the status of those objects or employ the new Go To Object script step to make an object active. This means a FileMaker script can now switch to a particular tabbed panel or discover which portal the user is in and respond appropriately. Object names are entered into a new field within what used to be called the Object Size dialog, but is now renamed Object Info.

As a Windows and Mac application, FileMaker needs to keep up to date with developments in both OSes. As such, there’s now a Universal binary version, running natively on Intel Macs. The new version promises a speed boost of up to 91%. With mixed networks of Windows and Mac OS X machines becoming increasingly common, this allows a more balanced deployment for mixed-platform FileMaker installations.

New FileMaker versions often have a staggered release across the range. Here, everything occurs together. FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Pro Advanced, which has features to help developers, are updated to version 8.5, while the Server and Server Advanced applications simultaneously move up to version 8 revision 4. The new Server apps support 8.5 databases and run natively on Intel Macs, but are otherwise unchanged.

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