We recently checked out FileMaker Pro 12, because we wanted to use the Mac to create a customized, shared, web-published application that didn’t require a ton of cost or development time.
What I discovered was that what’s old is new. FileMaker 12 is, in fundamental ways, not significantly different than FileMaker 7 was, back in 2004.
The big deals in FileMaker 12 are:
- More attractive layouts
- Afree iPhone and iPad app called FileMaker Go (this is no small thing)
Unfortunately, I found the new layout editor hard to get around — it’s difficult to see which individual items are selected during multiple selection, and there’s no drag-copy-on-a-grid to keep things aligned.
But the big bummer was what we came to the table for: Instant Web Publishing. This super great feature was introduced in FileMaker 4 (1997), and basically took a FileMaker layout and published it so that it could be accessed from any web browser. In other words, you could create a database-driven web application without needing to touch a line of HTML.
In 2013, this feature is still fairly primitive, and there’s still a ton of functionality you don’t get — including the pretty new FileMaker 12 visual themes! (This means you get the older, uglier themes with the newer, more irritating layout tools.)
If FileMaker (who are a division of Apple) were to invest in FileMaker Instant Web Publishing, it could almost be an entirely different product. As it stands now, FileMaker Pro is a niche client-server application sold mostly to an existing customer base, and it offers web access as a bolt-on feature.
But if web publishing were the feature, it would be epic. If FileMaker were to trick out IWP with AJAX (live updating without refresh, like Google uses everywhere), and give it all the capabilities of the desktop version, and make use of the new visual themes…it would be a wildly compelling product. You could use FileMaker expressly for the purpose of developing full-featured, good-looking, database-driven web applications without needing to know web programming.
While WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal have largely occupied this space, they’re limited in what they can do visually without technical skill. You can’t just say: “This field? Let’s turn it blue and put it over there and make it pop up a menu.” They’re only sorta gonna cut it if you need, as we do, a company app.
Well, the free iOS app is at least cool, and welcome. Developing in FileMaker again is sort of like reuniting with a close but difficult friend who insists, then as now, on doing things their way. There’s still no tool like it. And yet, you were hoping it would have changed just a little more.