With over 50 new features on top of the usual fixes and enhancements, FileMaker 13 looks set to make the popular FileMaker database application of even more interest to small and medium-sized businesses. New design tools and beefed up security head the list of added options, but what really catches the eye are advances in mobile support plus so-called ‘breakthrough’ technology to run FileMaker applications in a browser without the need for Web development skills.

A Bit Of Background

As with earlier implementations, FileMaker 13 is available in three editions starting with FileMaker Pro (£239 ex. VAT), which provides everything needed to create, manage and run databases on an individual Apple Mac or Windows PC. Next up is FileMaker Pro Advanced (£379 ex. VAT), aimed more at professional developers which adds a suite of development and customisation tools to the mix. Existing customers can also upgrade for £131 and £197 (ex. VAT) respectively.

Lastly, FileMaker Server (from £720 ex. VAT) enables databases to be hosted on a company network or over the Web. Discounts are also available for volume purchases and to qualifying education and not-for-profit organisations, plus it’s possible to lease FileMaker on a subscription basis.

Strongly biased towards Mac users (FileMaker is an Apple company), the latest release can be installed and run on OS X 10.7 or above although, just as with previous versions, Microsoft customers can still get in on the act with an implementation to run on either Windows 7 or 8.

For our evaluation we used Windows 7, the FileMaker Pro setup program automatically installing the required .Net framework (V4.5) for us. We also tried the Mac version and took a look at FileMaker Go, a free app to enable databases to be run on smartphones and tablets. However, given the Apple bias, it comes as no surprise to discover FileMaker Go only available for iOS devices.

It’s also worth noting that although FileMaker 13 databases can be hosted by users of FileMaker 12 (and vice versa) earlier releases won’t be able to open them. Older versions of FileMaker Go could, likewise, have problems running FileMaker 13 applications.

Getting Started

You don’t have to be a programmer or know very much about databases to use FileMaker 13. A new guided tour is available when you first begin and as well as creating a database from scratch you can simply import from Excel and other applications, Alternatively just choose one of the re-designed Starter Solution templates to, for example manage contacts, build a product catalogue or handle time recording and billing.

As with previous versions the interface is very graphical and easy to learn with customisable themes to manage the on-screen layouts and, in the new release, styles to control the font, colour and other attributes of individual fields, buttons and so on. Fields can now also be dragged and dropped onto layouts and those layouts made more interactive by hiding and displaying objects according to specific conditions or calculations.

Another enhancement is support for 256-bit AES encryption to prevent unauthorised access to the information in FileMaker databases on clients and servers. However, this is only an option in FileMaker Pro Advanced.

Even More Mobile

Introduced back in 2010, the FileMaker Go mobile app gets yet another makeover in this release with a common implementation for both iPhone and iPad plus a number of new features to make databases look even more like native iOS apps.

Features such as new themes customised specifically to suit iOS devices, new gesture-driven script triggers and the addition of slide-control objects to swipe to images and other data in separate slide panels. There’s support too for popovers to display extra information without the need for another new layout and seven new keyboards to match the kind of data being input, such as URL, phone number, email address etc.

There’s even a new barcode scanner to capture information using a the built-in camera without the need for a plug-in or separate app.

And So To The Web

The other noteworthy feature added in FileMaker 13 is WebDirect, a new HTML-5 technology to enable databases to be accessed via a browser. Something already possible but only with additional front-end programming using, for example, PHP.

With WebDirect in FileMaker 13 no extra programming is required and you don’t have to make any changes to the way you design and build an application. Just use a pre-built Web layout in one of the re-designed starter solutions, create a standard FileMaker database and host it using FileMaker Server.

Your FileMaker database can then be opened and run from an HTML-5 enabled browser without the need for any front-end programming or any FileMaker software on the client system. Moreover, it will look and behave almost the same as when run locally.

WebDirect really is a ‘breakthrough’ for FileMaker, although there are a few caveats to bear in mind. You can’t use a browser to design or edit a database, for example, and you also need FileMaker Server 13 which, by default, is only licensed for one client connection calling for the purchase of additional licenses to handle more. There’s also a 50 connection limit for WebDirect at present and no direct support for mobile browsers.

Lucky 13?

We have always found FileMaker an easy application to get to grips with a loyal following amongst end users and developers alike. As with any database application there’s a learning curve to get over, but it’s shallower than most putting FileMaker at the top of the league when it comes to ease of use and now even easier as of this update.

Understandably skewed towards Apple platforms support for Android would be a welcome addition but, that apart, it’s a good product now made even better. We were particularly impressed by the WebDirect technology which, along with other enhancements too numerous to mention, make FileMaker 13, a major release with much to tempt new users and encourage existing customers to upgrade.