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FileMaker 6 on the grill

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Lights and shadowsThe new and long-awaited version of the main database of the mac world (now steadily in the top positions also in the wintel universe) presents some rather interesting new features alongside shortcomings that still remained incomprehensibly unresolved.

Let's start with the positive aspects.Although less numerous than expected, the innovations in FileMaker 6 are not lacking. The most promising of all is the extensive compatibility, in import and export, with XML. The opening towards this standard, long emphasized by the leaders of FileMaker appears to be extremely wide: through the use of a suitable style sheet, in fact it is possible to generate layouts in RTF format, export charts to Excel or SVG, interface with Macromedia Flash, create html pages complete with tables and graphic elements and so on saying.

Considering the turmoil that this feature has caused in the developer community, XML could truly be one of the cornerstones of FileMaker's future.

Another long-awaited feature is the possibility of restricting or extending a set of records found: suppose you carry out a search by entering all customers residing in Rome as a criterion; with the enlargement function you can also add customers from Milan to customers in Rome, while, by narrowing the set, you can search, within customers in the capital, only those whose surname 'rossi'.

Another feature linked to the search functions is the SEARCH & REPLACE, implemented in a similar way in all respects to that of a word processor, therefore equipped with the functions 'find next, replace, replace all, ignore / consider capitalization'. It also allows you to search and replace a text indicating whether in a single field, in all fields of the format in which you are, in the current record, in all records. It also works in card format, considerably speeding up the time needed to modify all the lay-out elements (labels, button titles, field names …).

Even the aspect of user interaction has not been overlooked, implementing a useful function (previously available only through additional plug-ins) for the creation of interactive dialog boxes. In addition to the usual static messages, it is now possible to make messages appear containing text, number, date and time fields. It is possible to choose whether the user can or cannot write in these fields, whether the fields should be clear or encrypted as a password, which indications should appear in the box. These dialog boxes are controllable via script and can therefore be used to search, insert data etc.

In Filemaker 6 it is also possible to directly import an entire folder containing images, access the sorting functions through the contextual menus (a great convenience), directly manage a digital camera (only on Mac OS X). Finally, ODBC support has been added under OS X.

The Painter Tool also appears, a tool that allows you to copy the styles of a graphic element and reapply them at will. Unfortunately, this feature is not available in OS X, due to the absence – absolutely unjustified – of the toolbar support.

Shadows:In addition to the discrepancies between the Classic version and the version for OS X, incomprehensible for a company that is still an Apple affiliate, and therefore should fully share its guidelines, the new version has some long-standing shortcomings required by developers and users: – still no direct support of rollover buttons; not even possible to comment on a button; – the sorting and import / export functions within the ScriptMaker are antediluvian: an ORDER BY function and a direct control of the fields to be exported in place of the antiquated RESTORE would dramatically increase the productivity in the tasks newspapers; – another incomprehensible lack of the persistent absence, made even more annoying in OS X where the use of contextual menus often an almost obligatory choice, of the text alignment functions in the contextual menus.

Furthermore, there are no triggers and graphics management, for which you have to turn to the plug-in market (fortunately full of alternatives).

The budgetIn conclusion, FileMaker 6 does not bring a real qualitative leap as the change in numbering would suggest: the improvements are there (although in some cases, more than improvements it is a bug fixes) but, except for the support XML – a real universe to discover – does not seem likely to push users of previous versions to a mass upgrade. For new users, however, FileMaker 6 is a purchase that you can hardly regret.

The availability of the Italian version scheduled for September 2002