FileMaker Pro 13 is now available from FileMaker Inc. The marque features are the new WebDirect feature and a new licensing model based on concurrent connections. There are some very useful new interface and development tools which will get developers excited about using FileMaker Pro 13. When I read the system requirements, my heart sank a bit for some of my clients, running on older hardware, but then I started to research the implications of being able to run FileMaker on older hardware through a web browser using WebDirect and found some hope.
Changes in Licensing Approach and Pricing
One of the biggest changes is a new approach to licensing. FileMaker has vastly improved the capabilities of Instant Web Publishing and renamed it WebDirect. FileMaker Inc. seems to be taking a page from Adobe with annual fees for the software and are increasing their focus on selling annual licenses for ‘concurrent connections‘, whether they are FileMaker Go clients, FileMaker Pro clients or Web clients. A sample pricing structure for one of my clients with ten users came out to $948 a year, not so very different from what they are paying now with their annual plan.
Hardware and Software Support – We Win Some and We Lose Some
FileMaker has made a fairly drastic cut off for Windows users, dropping support for Windows XP and Vista. You can’t really blame them for doing this, as Microsoft has announced End of Life for XP support. Still there are a lot of those old XP machines humming away out there. FileMaker Pro 12 had already set the minimum bar on Mac OS X at Lion. The new WebDirect connections (replacement for Instant Web Publishing), will hopefully fill that gap and it seems like developers should be able to get older machines back in play using Chrome or Safari. In addition, Linux machines are going to be more welcome via WebDirect.
WebDirect System Requirements
Internet Explorer 9 minimum requirements for Windows IE 9 – only goes back to Vista, with no XP support, which leaves older Windows machines at the mercy of Google’s Chrome browser. Because Chrome also works on Linux, more potential machines are possible. The cost of hardware just went down considerably. Using WebDirect, users could potentially log in on a $250 Chrome book, where the entire cost of the hardware is less than a FileMaker Pro license. OS X support goes back to Safari 6, which also requires Lion, so no help there. According to Apple, to use Lion, make sure your computer has the following:
- An Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, or Xeon processor
- Mac OS X v10.6.8
- 2 GB of RAM
Chrome on OS X also requires an Intel chip, so there does not appear to be much hope for older Power PC computers. Perhaps Opera or another browser might work? More testing is required to answer these questions.
Using FM 13 themes in FM 12
This was one of the first things I tested, applying one of the new styles from FM 13 and then reopening the file in FM 12 to see if they showed up properly. Obviously this won’t work for the new Popovers or Slide Controls, but it does open the door to using Custom Themes from FM 13 in FM 12 databases.
2013-12-04 Update: Maybe this is not such a good idea. See comments below. Also FileMaker doesn’t recommend it. “4.1. FileMaker Pro Help states that after file conversion to FileMaker 12 format, files will only be compatible with FileMaker Pro 13 or later supported versions. This is incorrect; files will be compatible with FileMaker Pro 12 or later supported versions. However, although FileMaker Pro 12 and FileMaker Pro 13 use the same file format, using FileMaker Pro 12 to modify files that use features new in FileMaker Pro 13 is not recommended.”
No graceful fallback
It seems that if any FileMaker 13 specific features are added to a database, it won’t open in FileMaker 12. I tried creating a brand new database from the built-in Starter Solutions and found it would not open in FM 12. In the FileMaker 7-11 era, features from new versions would just be ignored and the file would still open in lower versions.
2013-12-04 Update: According to Andreas in the Comments, I missed this, but there is a toggle in the File Options to turn this off. Given the warning about possible crashes, sounds like it is best not to mess with moving back and forth between 12 and 13 anyway. Despite sharing the same file extension of ‘.fmp12’, FileMaker 13 appears to be similar to the FM 6 to FM7 format break—there may be no going back. Developers should be aware of the risks of making changes with database files using FM 13 that are still in a production environment running on FM 12. All clients should probably be on FM 13 before proceeding with an upgrade.
HTTP POST — Awesome!
This feature will open the door to many more FileMaker/Web interactions. I have yet to try this, but it is exciting that they have added this. Apparently it is harnessed via the Insert from URL step. Sadly they didn’t make Insert from URL a calculation at the same time, which would have allowed developers to set variables from web pages. As it is now, one must create a global field AND make sure that global field is on the layout your script is running from.
No Android Client yet
Screenshot displays a FileMaker WebDirect layout via Safari Web Browser running on an iPad with iOS 7.
Even if this capability arrives, WebDirect running on an Android device is still not a replacement for a full on FileMaker Go for Android client. One need only look at the cottage industry that has sprung up around syncing mobile FileMaker databases to realize that 3G or even LTE connections to a remote data source are not the same as local storage.
The new floating palette Field Picker window that shows up in Layout Mode is a big improvement for laying out fields. The field list can be searched and sorted, and then Shift or Control/Command clicked to select multiple fields at once. No more need to drag one field at a time onto a layout. This is another reason to start naming your fields well. For example, instead of naming your fields like this:
Try something like this:
That way your fields will group alphabetically and when you want to select them in a group and drop them on a layout, your work will be that much easier. The Label option at the bottom allows you to select No Labels, Top Labels or Side Labels. I was hoping for the an even more compact web-style field naming ability — to have Hidden Labels, which sit under the field and disappear when data is entered into the field.
I very much like the new Popover feature which can contain fields fields, portals and buttons. This is a better alternative to the invisible tabs workaround that I documented recently in another blog post.
Slide Controls Setup
Inheriting another web browser trope, FileMaker has added slide controls to its arsenal. Slide Controls work great on iOS, with swipe gestures supported. This is going to help developers unclutter their interfaces — show the basics and easily reveal more detail to the person who is looking for it.
Slide Controls in Browse Mode
Clicking on the buttons below the slide control will reveal items in the other panels. The slide control can contain images, fields and buttons just as the Popovers do.
Java Requirement for FileMaker Server gone
Apparently, the FileMaker Server Admin Console has been re-written in HTML 5, dispensing with the need for Java. One less thing to keep up to date. Good news.
2013-12-07 Update: I just installed the $99 Development License of FileMaker Server and noticed in the install process that Java is updated, so apparently it is still employed for something.
FileMaker Server 13 has added AES 256-bit encryption to secure databases hosted on the server. Finally secure files —no more need for VPNs to secure a FileMaker transaction. Perform Script on Server script step has been added. For example, now developers can setup a script to run a server side plug-in to process a credit card or run a nightly close out process. They no longer have to log into the Server Admin Console to set up server side scripts. FileMaker 12 introduced some great and fundamental changes to the way FileMaker could handle documents, making it great for building document management systems. One limitation with FM 12 was that the files all had to fit on the same drive that the database and server were on. Now documents can be further externalized to a separate drive. Good news for developers running document management systems that were filling up the main server hard drive.
Grumbles: Testing WebDirect clients
By killing IWP in FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Pro Advanced, there does not appear to be a way to test WebDirect without a running a file on FileMaker Pro Server. It would have been great if FileMaker Pro Advanced 13 had a single WebDirect connection for testing to make life easier for consultants. On the plus side, there is a new Upload to FileMaker Server button right in the Sharing menu.
I realize that developing a database engine as complex as FileMaker Pro requires its developers to focus on one thing at a time and I am grateful for the new Field Picker, but it looks a bit like “style of the week”, when compared to existing interface elements. No doubt at some point it will all come together again, but for now, it looks a bit patchy.
IWP Is Dead, Long Live WebDirect
With the advent of WebDirect clients, there will be no further investment in IWP.
Create Variables from a Dialog Box still missing
This grumble falls under ‘long standing wish’. FileMaker Inc., still didn’t do what I had hoped for: the ability to set a variable via dialog box. Think how many single purpose Global fields could be eliminated by this simple change. How much programming would it take to add an option to this dialog to have the Specify button bring up a calc field where you could enter a variable name, instead of targeting an actual field? Adding this functionality would make both Global and script specific variables end to end.
Set Variable Option
Overall, with features like Popovers, the new Field Picker, Slide Controls and WebDirect functionality, FileMaker 13 looks like a great upgrade for developers. I have heard some murmurs about speed issues, but these are often resolved by the time the point release update comes out.
It remains to be seen whether, with the system requirements and licensing changes, those who manage corporate and organizational IT purchasing budgets will see it that way.
One More Thing
It would be great if FileMaker Pro 13 had a new icon to distinguish it from FM 12. This is primarily an issue for developers who are working on multiple solutions (FM 11, 12 and 13) for different clients. While we are at it, it would also be great to be able to get rid of the dialog boxes that show up when launching multiple versions of FileMaker Pro. It seems there is a battle of the ports going on.