Customers will point to FileMaker's friendly new interface in Version 10, for good or bad depending on how welcoming a site is to change. However, some significant improvements in the database's programming support may drive sites to upgrade, according to several FileMaker consultants.
FileMaker is the venerable, cross-platform database for workgroups that started on the Mac and moved over to include Windows way back when. But FileMaker may not get the respect it deserves, first, because it's going up against Microsoft Access, and second, because of its static interface, which has been frozen in time for more than a decade, reminding me of classmates who haven't moved on from the haircut and style of high-school days. FileMaker's interface was once cutting edge, but that was a long time ago.
Still, both of these wrong perceptions should change with the release today of Version 10, which sports a totally rewritten interface, as well as with the realization that the product is used by 70 of the Fortune 100 companies. According to Ryan Rosenberg, FileMaker's vice president of marketing and services, the database outsells Access in a number of non-Mac market segments.
Ryan said the new "modern" interface would avoid the problems for the installed base when Microsoft introduced Ribbon Bar that replaced many menu commands and buttons in MS Office. Instead, FM10 retains all its menus and keystroke commands.
"It's all compatible. There is no file format change and that was tricky. Compatibility that was a big reason that [the update] took a while]. We had to make sure that we nailed it," Ryan said.
There are many themes that customers can apply to their databases. According to Ryan, "beauty matters" for data entry and analysis. If users accept the interface, it can improve compliance.
However, a couple of longtime FileMaker developers I spoke with said a better interface wouldn't necessarily drive upgrades.
"My main client is still stuck on [Version] 6," said one developer, who declined attribution. "[The interface improvements] might be worth it, but the upgrade fees really add up," he continued.
A single user license of FileMaker Pro 10 costs $299; the upgrade from versions 8 to 9 are $179 and upgrades from Version 7 and earlier is the full $299 price, the company said.
However, what excited them were the many new script trigger conditions for when entering or exiting fields or scheduling events. For example, FM10 will run scripts automatically when users enter a field with the cursor, or when a layout becomes active. Developers can use this to easily improve data input with auto-correction, something that was much more difficult before.
"This means you can really build an app with it," said another db consultant who specializes in FileMaker. "These interface limitations have had to be coded around forever."
This might get his client to converts, he said.
In addition, I bet they will also appreciate the new embedded mail service that can talk directly to an SMTP server. In the past, all email had to be routed to the host's mail client, clogging up the Sent Mail log with merge mail blasts.
Version 10 looks to have the feature set that can spark an upgrade cycle, even in these tough times.