Blast from the Past: FileMaker DevCon 1998 Report


Getting ready to attend the upcoming FileMaker DevCon 2012 in Miami Beach, Florida, I was rummaging around in my files and came across a couple of write-ups I had done for local computer magazines. The 1998 FileMaker DevCon in Monterey, California, was the first one I attended and it was an important one for me, a real eye-opener in terms of techniques, the breadth and scope of the FileMaker Developer community and best of all, it was in beautiful Monterey. I was impressed. Looking back, the tools now seem primative, but at the time, so was everything else. Fortunately, FileMaker Inc., continues to innovate and grow FileMaker Pro. It is a quantum leap forward to the powerful tool we have today.

Originally published in The Computer Paper, October or November 1998.

A FileMaker Odyssey

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Most of the scenes from the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey have long ago been deleted to make space in my brain, but an image of primitive men dancing round a giant black obelisk remains. At the recent FileMaker Developer Conference in Monterey, CA, that movie fragment came back to me. The big stone had been image-edited into a large FileMaker Pro software package. It appears that a new god has arisen in the land, a small god, but one that inspires a deep love from its’ developers and users who have created a great community of mutual support around the product. It is hard to imagine this kind of love fest being devoted to something like Microsoft’s Access database.

Macintosh Heritage

One theory advanced to explain all this good feeling around the product came from a developer I spoke with, “FileMaker people are largely Mac people, who by definition are a different breed. They haven’t gone with the tide of Windows. They get to develop on their favorite machine and deploy the results on the Wintel platform. There is a lot of camaraderie around the platform and the development environment” This thesis was supported by one session in which an informal show of hands suggested that 90% of those in the class were Mac developers, and less than 10% developing on the Windows side. Despite this, most developers work for corporations and their solutions end up running primarily on Windows machines.

FileMaker Market Share Growing Rapidly

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FileMaker Inc., CFO Bill Epling

Close to a thousand developers, three times last year’s attendance gathered to hear about the latest ideas on how to get the best out of their favorite database development environment. The three day long conference was keynoted by Dominique Goupil, President of the recently created company, FileMaker Inc.

The story, as told by a combination of Goupil and CFO Bill Epling, is that when Steve Jobs took over the reigns of Apple, applying the short horizon thinking mandated by the stock market, he decided to cut out everything out of Apple that didn’t make enough money. One of the targets was Claris Inc., Apple’s software subsidiary. According to Epling, FileMaker was responsible for about 65% of the revenues, for Claris, but got less than a third of the R&D budget, because Claris was attempting to develop other products. Claris was standing still in revenues, despite strong growth in FileMaker sales. A few quick chops, some layoffs, slap a new logo on the box and presto-chango, you have a company ready to sell to Microsoft or launch an IPO just as soon as the market recovers.

Long popular with Mac users, FileMaker is, according to Epling, the database is now also the fastest growing database on the Windows platform. The term he cited was “hunter-gatherer”. On the Macintosh platform, because of an overwhelming majority of Mac owners have already chosen FileMaker Pro, it is the de facto standard and the company merely has to gather their percentage of the new purchasers brought in by the new iMac. On Windows, they have be hunters to kill the beast to improve their market share. Sales of Borland’s Paradox and Lotus Approach have been plummeting in the last two years, while FileMaker’s sales have been on the rise.

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FileMaker Inc. CEO, Dominique Goupil.

Still with over 80% going to Microsoft’s Access database, Goupil’s claim of being “the number two database vendor on Windows” seems a little strained. FileMaker Inc.’s management claim that Microsoft’s huge market share comes through bundling with Microsoft’s Office package and that in fact FileMaker beats Access in retail sales, when customers come in shopping for a standalone database. Certainly FileMaker Pro has done well harvesting more than a dozen industry awards, including a recent CNET pick and a Codie Award from the Software Publishing Association, a “jury of their peers” as Goupil puts it. The SPA voted FileMaker Pro Best Business Software and Best Numeric or Data Business Software. In winning the award, FileMaker Pro defeated Microsoft Excel 97, Microsoft FrontPage 98, Microsoft Word 97 and two other nominees. FileMaker Pro also defeated a competing database program, Microsoft Access 97, in winning the Best Numeric or Data Business Software Codie Award.

This year marks the first year that more FileMaker for Windows copies were sold than for the Macintosh. When cut loose from Claris, the CFO stated that they did not adjust sales quotas for their salespeople, but because of FileMaker’s strong growth in corporate site licenses they were able to maintain and even exceed revenue projections, all this despite the loss of Clarisworks, Claris Organizer and Emailer. The company is obviously looking for their projected growth to continue and that most of it will come from Windows.
Again despite boom in site license sales, FileMaker Inc., still derives over 50% of their income from companies with under 25 employees. A further 45% of companies have between 25 and 100 employees. Only about 5% of revenues come from companies with over 100 employees. President Dominique Goupil acknowledged that the company had to stick with their core market, single users with personal data management and mid-sized projects in work group critical topics such as process and asset tracking. According to Bill Epling, the company took the unusual step of having their CFO present an overview of the numbers to developers because these developers are such significant stake holders in the success of FileMaker Pro.

Marketplace

No conference is complete without a marketplace or exhibit floor. FileMaker has inspired a lively market for third party vendors of plug ins, training CDs, magazines, books and other related products. A number of vendors have developed vertical market solutions and sought out developers to market and customize their products in geographical markets. One vendor was selling an Infrared card that allowed a user to control all VCR, TV and other remote controlled devices in a house.

Plug-in Architecture

FileMaker Inc., has opened up the product’s architecture with version 4.0 and now allows vendors to write plug-ins, similar to Quark XTensions. These little software applets extend the power of the database into areas which FileMaker is not yet ready to commit resources. Sample applications allowed video capture within the database, as well as extending the program to handle most aspects of the operating system’s file handling, including bulk importing of files in a folder. The plug-in which drew the most applause was a charting function, which FileMaker Pro currently lacks. Despite limitations in the plug-in architecture, plug-in developers have demonstrated great creativity to make the program jump through new hoops.

Conference Topics

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Instant web publishing is one of FileMaker’s claims to fame.

The core of a developer conference are the sessions. This year the conference featured over 40 sessions which focused on a variety of topics, old and new. Hot button topics included discussion of the new ODBC/SQL links which will show up in version 4.1 scheduled to ship within a couple of weeks, designing plug-ins, putting databases on the web and Java. The more bread and butter topics such as small business marketing for the consultants, database structural design, scripting, security, complex calculations, documenting, debugging, and interface design, were also well attended.

Was Everybody Happy?

Attendee approval of the sessions varied widely. This year the conference may have suffered somewhat from it’s own success. In the past most attendees were developers. One report put it at 85% last year. This year the numbers were way up with 913 attendees, but with only about 45% of them being full-time consultants. Many attendees were here for the first time, since attendance last year was only one third of this year’s. Some veteran attendees reported feeling that the sessions did not offer enough new information. Many new attendees felt over their heads in new information. Most people seemed to feel they got something worthwhile from the conference and planned to return next year. One attendee told me “If I come away with four or five good ideas, either from talking to other consultants, or from the sessions, I have paid for my trip. One good idea can be worth thousands of dollars.” No doubt next year even more will show up for what is turning into an annual summer camp and “File-apalooza” for FileMaker fans.

Other articles like this one:
Blast from the Past: FileMaker DevCon 2001 Report
Blast from the Past: FileMaker Pro 6 Review

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7 Responses to “Blast from the Past: FileMaker DevCon 1998 Report”

  1. Interesting! Oops… here’s the post updated for 2012…
    I’ve posted some DevCon history on my blog… download the free database… http://www.cimbura.com/tech/wordpresstech/index.php/2012/02/12/filemaker-devcon-2012-developer-conference/

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