Getting Help about FileMaker – FAST!


I recently saw a useful tip from the folks at Skeleton Key on speeding up access to the FileMaker Help System. View the video version of their tip here. This tip is primarily for Mac Users. I tested this in FileMaker Pro for Windows using Parallels and it doesn’t look like this is really an issue for Windows users. The Windows Help system seems to launch instantly.

The problem: FileMaker Pro has a Slow Help System on a Mac

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Apple’s Help System suffers from a severe speed deficit — it loads way too slowly. Developers looking for a Function definition or an Error Code can look things up via a web browser much faster than waiting for the molasses-paced Help browser to load.

Why does it work this way anyway?. My theory is that the Help system is looking at other applications Help as well and loading some portion of their indexes. The slowness reminds me of opening AppleScript Dictionaries while using the AppleScript Editor. The system has to scan your computer for all applications and check to see if they have AppleScript dictionaries. It would seem that Apple could divide the Help indexes and only load other indexes when your search wanders outside of the parameters of the current application.

I timed loading the Help system and it took 8.2 seconds on my early 2011 MacBook Pro. The next time, in the same session, the Help Page load much quicker, but often I am only looking something up once per development session, so the delay is a little frustrating, especially when I can get the same information almost instantaneously from the web.

This may seem like a minor irritation to some, but it bugs me enough to not want to open the Help system. I wait enough for my scripts to run, if I can avoid an 8 second wait, I will look for ways to do it.

The Solution: Read the Help files in a Web Browser

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Anyway, having stated the problem, the good developers at Skeleton Key found a workaround that might be worth considering. Since all FileMaker’s Help documentation is already in an HTML format, why not just locate where the FileMaker Pro Help files live and open them in a your default web browser. Once they are in your browser, bookmark the page and get to it nearly instantly.

Hidden Resources

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This is their solution:

  • Go to Applications: FileMaker Pro:
  • Click on the FileMaker Pro application
  • Right click Show Package Contents
  • Resources: English: FileMaker Pro Help: index.html
  • Double click on the ‘index.html’ file to have it open in your default web browser.
  • Bookmark it in your browser

Thereafter employ Safari or Firefox to view the help system.

Web browser view of FileMaker’s Help System

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What you gain:

  • Full fledged browser interaction
  • Command keys for back and forward
  • Tabs – open up more than one Function at a time and flip between them for comparison
  • Works when you are offline.
  • Prevents wandering out of the FileMaker Help into general Apple Help. Remember this system contains the Help files for various other applications and as such it is sometimes easy to wander into other areas, when you want to stick to FileMaker Pro.

What you lose:

  • Built-in Search box for quick search for functions (Skeleton Key’s solution to this shortcoming was to bookmark all the major areas, including the Functions Reference etc.)

Conclusion: Look it up on the web….

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While I have bookmarked the FileMaker Help index page in Safari to avoid Apple’s Help system whenever possible, I think ultimately a web search might still bring the fastest results when I am just looking for a Function definition.

  • Command Tab to your browser
  • Click in the search box
  • Type “Get(ActiveModifierKeys)” or some such thing.
  • Hit Return
  • Click on the first link Google brings back, which is usually FileMaker’s online version of the Help reference anyway.

If I know I am going to be looking around in the Help system for a few things, I will still open it from the Help Menu because of the search box.

Another approach to Help

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Above: My favorite documentation and current blog creation tool ScreenSteps sends users to the web first for Help.

In the process of looking at this issue, I noticed some other software vendors take the approach of putting their Help search online. They offer the standard Menu assistance, but if you really want to learn about the program, you are sent to the web. Perhaps FileMaker could take this as their primary approach and have the slower Apple Help system as the offline fallback.

All this because of an eight second delay. I know, I am laughing too.

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