Test Center review: Thumbs-up to FileMaker upgrade
FileMaker Pro 10 is significantly improved with a smoother GUI and winning new features, but faces stiff competition on Windows
A wonderfully easy-to-use desktop database product that runs on Windows and the Mac, FileMaker Pro is ideal for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as departments of large and enterprise-sized businesses. FileMaker is simple enough for the office technologist to set up, and for almost anyone in the office to use.
FileMaker was born for the semi-technical office worker -- the same person who creates the spreadsheet macros and word-processing templates in addition to his or her "real" job -- to administer. There is a thriving community of FileMaker consultants who can create polished FileMaker applications, but for the most part, your friendly office techie can start with a template, add a few fields, adjust the layouts, write a few script steps, and come up with a perfectly acceptable database application for internal operations.
If you can start with an existing, well-structured database template, keep all data in the local database, and make only minor changes, you really won't need the help of a DBA or programmer. On the other hand, if your department must consolidate information from a centralized SQL database with what you maintain locally, then you'll require the cooperation of the DBA -- at the very least to gain access to the database and most likely to review your SQL queries as well.
If you need to track data that has a different "shape" from any of the templates, enlist someone who groks the meaning of third normal form -- most likely a DBA or programmer -- to design the database initially. After that, your office technologist should be able to design the forms and reports.
Venerable old Pro
My experience with FileMaker goes back to 1985. At the time, I'd brought the first Macintosh and LaserWriter into the consulting company where I worked, primarily for desktop publishing of software manuals via PageMaker, and I wanted to use the LaserWriter to print mailing labels for shipments. At the time, FileMaker was limited to single tables; it was good enough for a simple mailing-label database but could not relate customer records to order records. I think I moved the process to a PC database fairly quickly, even though the PC had only a daisy-wheel printer.
A few years ago, a client asked me to generate a Web site from his FileMaker Pro 5 database on Windows. I couldn't see how to do that using FileMaker's report generator, so I wrote a Python script to read the FileMaker database via ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) and turn each record into a Web page. That worked pretty well, so the client requested I do something similar for another database. Unfortunately, many of the records in the second database were truncated in the process, which turned out to be the result of a bug in the ODBC driver.