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Twenty Nineteen in Review
Level: Intermediate
Version: FileMaker 18
Category: General
Tuesday, February 4, 2020
I just looked over what happened in the FileMaker world in 2019 and I'm stunned! Doesn't seem like much happened till you consider everything at once. Truly, this has been an eventful and pivotal year for the FileMaker industry. In this article, I'm going to review what happened and what is going to happen at Claris and to the Claris product line. I'll enhance this discussion with blog postings, YouTube videos and example files from the Database Pros, Philosophy of FileMaker and Fireside FileMaker web sites. Happy FileMaking!

Twenty Nineteen in Review

Welcome Back Claris!
I never thought I'd see the day when Claris would be reborn! I started out using Claris products at the University of California at Santa Barbara where I earned my Bachelor's degree and also worked part time at the computer lab. My first stint with FileMaker was as a graduate assistant at San Jose State University where I was asked to work on their label printing solution. After college I continued to work with Claris products at Apple as a customer service representative and the Mac Shop in Sunnyvale, California as a computer sales person.

I finally got my dream job at Claris technical support after nine months of interviews. I set out to prove they didn't make a mistake and was soon proficient in all the Claris applications, including my favorite, FileMaker. I supported MacDraw, MacPaint, HyperCard, MacProject, Claris Emailer, ClarisWorks, Claris CAD, Claris HomePage, Claris Organizer, Claris Resolve and Claris Impact. Ahhh... those were the days! I can still remember dreading when MacProject showed up on the caller ID. Deep breath. Exhale. Answer phone. Pray I know the answer.

I wasn't employed by Claris when they decided to dump all these wonderful products or when they changed their named to FileMaker, Inc. to reflect their concentration on the FileMaker product line. I had left to work at ISO Productions with Matt Petrwosky and to focus on products like the "Everything CD", ISO FileMaker Magazine and Scriptology: FileMaker Pro Demystified.

After a year at ISO, I decided it was best to start my own training company. FileMaker plugged along like it had for another decade with significant improvements to the product line but no major structural changes. Then came FileMaker 7 and my world changed. I was scared of FileMaker 7 but that's all in the past. I guess I felt like my knowledge had been discarded but soon I learned the wonders of the FileMaker 7 methodology and I was back to loving FileMaker again.

To make a long story short, Claris came back this year. Hooray! They are basically back to their old ways and trying to produce a portfolio of products. However, they have a different perspective. They are focusing on the Cloud, integration and how to connect FileMaker to the world in ways it has never been previously. It's a great idea and I hope they succeed and become more than just the aftethought subsidiary of Apple, Inc.

Michael Rocharde and I recorded a Podcast on the name change (and strategy change) and what it means for the company and the FileMaker market. Most of it is conjecture but not even Claris knows exactly what's going to happen. We can only wait and see.

Welcome Back Claris Podcast

The company name change also reflects a change at the head of the mothership. Brad Freitag replaced Dominique Goupil and things have been moving along at a different pace and direction. I don't always agree with where Brad has steered the ship but I think it's much better than standing still in the water like the old regime. Interesting changes like Claris Connect, the Workplace Innovation Platform and the Cloud first initiative will all be discussed below.

FileMaker 18
I wrote and recorded videos about FileMaker 18 when it was released. Even though I was in the Beta program, you really don't get to test something until you program a solution with it. So, what's my number one feature in FileMaker 18 after programming with it for nine months? It's the ten pixel nudge feature. You might think I'm kidding but since the release of FileMaker 18, it's the feature I've used the most... by far.

Shift + Left, Right, Up or Down Arrow

I use nudging because I'm very particular about objects lining up, white space and all that interface stuff (as you should also be to create a professional looking solution). Trying to move an object horizontally or vertically on a complicated layout with Dynamic Guides can be frustrating at times. Trying to throw in the Shift key along with a mouse drag doesn't always work well either (worked way better before Dynamic Guides). Therefore, being able to hold down the Shift key while typing the arrow keys and move ten pixels/points at a time has been a godsend for moving objects linearly.

The revamped Import dialog comes in a close second. There are two areas I can identify right off the bat as seriously influential in my development business. First is the dragging through large lists of fields to map the source and target correctly. If your target field is at the bottom of 200 rows of fields and you have to drag it to the top, it's a royal pain in the butt. Rinse and repeat for thirty more fields and you want to kill the guy who designed the dialog. In his defense, that dialog has been there for decades so it was designed for smaller and flatter databases.

The second feature I use in the Import dialog is the ability to turn off auto-enter features at the field level. Where previously it took two imports, now I can do the same with a single import. Wow, what a time saver in terms of programming and user run time! I don't use the feature that much but it does come in handy every once-in-a-while.

I've never used the custom-separated values even though it seems nice. I think the addition of this feature would have been better in the past when more files were in formats considered non-standard these days. I also haven't used the search feature much but I can see how it might come in handy with really large field sets. Ad for the color makeover, I'm sure it's good for beginners.

Which leads to me to what I consider a waste of resources aimed at appeasing a few developers. The thirteen new scripting features for creating data files has been used by me once to create a folder in the operating system. I just don't get why developers need to create files in the operating system and manipulate them. Just do everything in FileMaker! This doesn't even go into how complicated the new script steps are to use. FileMaker is supposed to be the hallmark of ease-of-use. I think I speak for most developers when I say, we just need the ability to easily move files around and create folders. That's it!

The only thing that can bring me back to my happy place is the removal of authentication every time you go into and out of Manage Security. What a time saver! I get how it was "more secure" in previous versions but bloody hell. I change security settings all the time and don't want to enter my complicated account and password twice just to make one change when I'm already logged on with those credentials. I think I might change my mind and consider this removal the best new feature, LOL.

I also have hope for the Save as XML feature. Right now, it merely creates an XML representation of your file that can be used in comparison software to denote differences between two versions of your solution. Haven't used it even once but I like the idea of what it might do in the future. The Claris development team has noted it may be possible to recreate a FileMaker file from XML. How cool is that!

If you want to download the example from the videos that compares two FileMaker files, it's readily available at the Database Pros web site in the Resources area:

File Comparison

A Conversation with Claris
Right after the Claris name change, Michael and I were privileged to interview Rick Kalman and Robert Holsey regarding FileMaker futures. To say the interview was intriguing is an understatement. These two giants in the FileMaker world let us into the development process like never before. For example, Robert talked to use about relative positioning. It's kinda like combining Autosizing with Dynamic Guides. Imagine dragging a field to the bottom of a column of existing fields and having the field auto-magically resizing to the column width. That's not all relative positioning will do but it's a good example to help you understand how easy it will be to design gorgeous layouts in the future.

As far as I know, it's the first time Claris discussed relative positioning in public. I'm not sure recapping the entire interview is going to convey the same excitement so go listen yourself. If you already listened once, listen again. It's really worth it:

A Conversation with Claris (Part 1)

A Conversation with Claris (Part 2)

So, what cool stuff is Claris cooking up in it's development labs these days? Well, they released that information in a video. They don't give a lot of details but what is said really gives you an idea where they are heading:

I highly recommend you watch the entire video but let me highlight some of my favorite parts. One of my favorite parts is relative positioning but I've already discussed that upcoming feature. My second favorite feature is possibly JavaScript support. Imagine having access to the thousands of free JavaScript libraries via a Web Viewer in FileMaker. The list is endless but includes pivot tables and calendar views, two of which are features I have wanted to see in FileMaker for decades. Imagine feeding your data into a Web Viewer and having JavaScript display that information in a monthly calendar or pivot table. Too cool!

Another announcement they made in the video is the development of a new client for Android. That's right! FileMaker Go for Android. Do I need to say anything else? Well, I really can't say anything else cause that's all they said in the video. They are heavily investing in a client for the Android platform and will be starting a Beta program soon. Their goal is to provide a consistent experience across all clients. If they do as good a job as they did with Macintosh and Windows, FileMaker Go should look almost identical on Android.

One of the most confusing parts of the video is their move from yearly to quarterly updates. I guess it reflects their Cloud first initiative where updates and upgrades can be done without distributing the client. How this will look at the desktop level for those of us using FileMaker Pro/Advanced to develop is hard to say. I really don't want to start developing in the Cloud and I don't think that's what will happen as it would be too large of a disruption to the existing development community. We'll just have to wait and see since Claris is giving few details except when it will happen. The next version of FileMaker will be released later this year and then quarterly updates from then on.

The next version of FileMaker will be the end-of-life (EOL) for the runtime engine which was deprecated way back in FileMaker 14. Deprecation means they are not updating the code that allows us to create royalty free stand-alone FileMaker solutions that don't require the FileMaker application. Claris has been noticing a lot of compatibility issues with modern operating systems so they are flipping the switch on the runtime engine. A lot of business models rely on the runtime but I believe Claris has given more than adequate warning.

There's a lot more stuff covered in the video like military grade security, Siri shortcuts and NFC tags to name a few. If you are serious about FileMaker then this is one of the best hours you'll ever spend watching a video.

My Favorite Articles
I wrote seventeen articles in 2019. I write about practical core functionality that you need to know when designing professional solutions, not esoteric cutting edge technologies that should only be used as a last resort. I also actually write rather than scribble a few words and then post a video or an example file. To me, core functionality and good writing go hand-in-hand to assist budding FileMaker developers. With that said, my favorite article was actually a set of articles about restoring found sets.

I often say in classes that what makes a database a database is the ability to filter records using search criteria. People coming from a spreadsheet background so often want to show all the records, sort them alphabetically and then scroll to the record they want. I am constantly teaching clients to use the search feature instead because it's more efficient and is the way a database is designed to function.

Therefore, destroying a found set of records a user created is not a viable option. This could happen in any number of scripted scenarios. A common example is the user wants to preview the current record but FileMaker shows all the records in the found set. There are many methods for preserving found sets, either temporarily or permanently. With such an important responsibility, each developer should have as many tools on their belt for preserving found sets. Each technique is best suited for different programming scenarios.

Here are those four articles in the series. Yes, it took four articles and almost ten thousand words, some screen shots and many examples files to fully cover this critical skill. Start from the beginning and read all of the articles.

1) Preserving Found Sets

2) Saving a Found Set

3) Collecting Unique Values

4) Snapshot Saves

My Favorite Videos
In 2019, I started recording shorter video series. Previously, I would record and re-record the same forty hour video series since I believe in telling the whole story behind FileMaker development. I still believe in telling the whole story so my favorite video is still the Philosophy of FileMaker series. It contains my heart and soul regarding development covering requirements documents, ERDs, relationships, scripting, calculations, record locking, interface design and reporting, all wrapped up in a single invoicing solution so students can easily grasp the goal as well as see every nut and bolt that goes into creating a viable FileMaker solution.

The Philosophy of FileMaker Video Series

If you prefer shorter videos that still build a complete solution, check out these:

Password Management Video Series

Calendar Conundrum Video Series

Managing Documents Video Series

My Example Files
I released twenty-eight free example files on my databasepros.com web site in 2019. Example files are my favorite way of distributing techniques since they can be reverse engineered. With a short description, someone can fiddle around with an example file and better understand what's going on than with a thousands of words. Don't get me wrong. I love to write but everyone learns differently. Some like reading, other learn better with videos. But, example files are hands down the fastest way to learn.

One of my most favorite example files is a modification log that tracks changes to fields in a single scrollable field. It was originally published decades ago in FileMaker Pro 2.0 format. It's been updated throughout the years as new features have been added to FileMaker. The current incarnation boasts complete abstraction, allowing the technique to be copied and pasted from file, only requiring the fields from the current table that you want tracked to be specified.

Abstracted Log

There's lots of example files worth downloading so visit the Resources area of the Database Pros web site to find more.

Database Pros: Resources

Workplace Innovation Platform
I wanted to talk about the Workplace Innovation Platform (WIP) for which FileMaker is the leader. A lot of people think this is a marketing gimmick by Claris but G2 is a real company that is completely autonomous. And, the people who voted FileMaker as the leading WIP application are also real and were not tortured in any way to vote for FileMaker.

Best Workplace Innovation Platforms

I think it might be best to let G2 describe the WIP category of development tools:

Workplace innovation platforms are high productivity collaborative development tools used by both developers and non-developers to solve business challenges not addressed by existing systems. They allow business leaders and general staff to work collaboratively to build applications and automate business processes while innovating their organization’s digital portfolio.

The user-friendly interface of workplace innovation platforms enables non-developers to quickly produce applications using free-form visual design tools. For professional developers, these platforms facilitate full-stack development and offer the ability to fine-tune applications and expand functionality. Adaptive and robust app creation tools allow for instant schema production and prevent classic syntax errors and exceptions, letting businesses iterate on pace with their rapidly evolving business requirements.

Not only is FileMaker the current WIP leader. It literally defined the category several decades ago. It just took a company like G2 to recognize it.

Claris Connect
I have not tested Claris Connect in the Beta program but am eagerly awaiting its release in the first quarter of 2020. It promises to make integrating other technologies like MailChimp and Sales Force a breeze. As I understand it, future FileMaker versions will take the Add-On functionality currently in FileMaker to a new level by packaging them with connections. It's the same idea as the new JavaScript functionality that will also allow the Add-On technology to integrate FileMaker and third party functionality in a manner that is simple for every level of developer to access.

Cloud First
Claris makes it very clear they will be developing for the Cloud first. But, they also make it very clear those same features will trickle down to on-premise development as well. So, don't get your panties in a bunch if you've been developing locally with FileMaker. You won't be forced to change your ways. Claris is just riding the apex so they can be the leader of the inevitable Cloud only development world. The question is, are they too late, too early, or right on time? I've made a career out of FileMaker so I'm watching like a hawk!

Claris NextGen
Claris clearly has it's eyes set on acquiring and developing more software titles in the future. They make a big deal out of it during their "futures" presentation so I'm hoping they can expand their ease-of-use to a larger audience. It's tough to hit a home run with every piece of software but Claris Connect is a great start with more to come!

John Mark Osborne

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