FileMaker is helping to grow the entry-level database market with the release of its latest suite of desktop and server products for the Windows and Mac operating systems.
The company, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple, has introduced the FileMaker Pro 9 and FileMaker Server 9 solutions to help firms web-enable their business data and link up larger databases in different formats.
The market FileMaker is addressing is already being targeted by the large database vendors, with both Oracle and IBM offering free versions of their databases to firms — as well as developers and hobbyists — that want to run the software from a single processor.
Much of their efforts, though, are geared towards tempting firms to try the free products in the hope of cashing in later from upgrades to the full versions of the platforms, when many smaller organisations don't necessarily need them.
The mid-market for databases is also seeing increasing success for Microsoft's SQL Server database. A more direct competitor to FileMaker could be seen as MySQL, which plies its open-source database, with revenue coming from training and support.
The database market is growing rapidly and was worth around £8bn last year, according to analysts. Gartner's Colleen Graham said: "Organisations are looking to gain insight into the business to make better decisions and identify new opportunities. This is forcing them to invest in their data assets, purchasing new technology and tools that increase operational efficiency and enable better use of data management resources."
FileMaker has predictably trumpeted its latest upgrade as an important one, but it has a fair point when it comes to firms wanting to share information across disparate organisations using the web more easily, and to achieve easier compatibility with larger database systems.
FileMaker Pro 9 includes many new features for both end users and developers to simplify creating, automating, sharing and reporting from databases.
New features include "conditional formatting", which highlights data based on parameters the user sets, and the ability to email a link to other FileMaker users, which they can then click to instantly access the database.
The new version also offers "breakthrough" easy-to-use tools to allow FileMaker users and work groups to quickly connect to company and web data residing in external SQL database sources like MySQL, Oracle SQL and Microsoft SQL Server.
Using the new one-way or two-way live connectivity to popular SQL sources, FileMaker Pro 9 users can safely and securely create custom reports, add calculations and other fields.
This is a feature welcomed even by FileMaker's rivals.
"Linking FileMaker Pro 9 solutions to the open-source strengths of MySQL will greatly empower the developer and user communities of both product lines," said Zack Urlocker, MySQL executive vice president of products.
The new Server 9 products come with a completely modernised and streamlined admin console, so FileMaker Pro users can easily set up and administer server software.
Dominique Goupil, president of FileMaker, said: "With FileMaker 9, it's our goal to allow customers to install it in 20 minutes or less, and quickly share database solutions. FileMaker 9 is perfect for innovative organisations which realise the benefits of empowered self-service work groups."
Paul de Halle, development director at Linear Blue, a FileMaker developer in London, said: "The new functionalities in FileMaker 9 will allow us to integrate the database software with live data from other technology such as MySQL, Oracle and SQL Server, which will prove to be a huge benefit to the businesses we work with."
"Features such as the new quick start screen will enable us to improve the user experience, making favourite databases easier and quicker to access," de Halle added. "In addition, the back-end technology has been simplified and will enable us to build and customise solutions even quicker for customers."
The FileMaker offering may be outstripped in the scalability stakes by the products from IBM, Oracle and MySQL, because it is not designed to support tens of thousands of users. But, on the plus side, it is easy to use, and companies won't need a DBA expert to keep FileMaker going.