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From Think Secret ...

FILEMAKER PRO 7 FEATURES REVEALED

By Nick dePlume, Publisher and Editor in Chief

February 6, 2004

Exclusive on two past occasions, Think Secret has had the opportunity to publish a sampling of the new features in FileMaker Pro 7, the forthcoming database software upgrade from the Apple subsidiary. While those articles provided Mac users with a taste of what Version 7 will deliver, sources recently revealed a great deal of additional information on the product's feature set, enabling us to publish this special report.

First, it's important to emphasize that FileMaker 7 will incorporate massive changes, and many sources who are familiar with the product have called it the most significant FileMaker upgrade to date. But despite all of the new features, the company wants to lower the barrier-to-entry for new users with additional database templates and improvements to the layout wizard.

FileMaker is targeting the low-end and mid-range corporate markets, and "FileMaker 7 is the explosive-tipped harpoon they're hunting it with," one source told Think Secret.

Files and Relationships

Users will be able to define fields, relationships, and tables from a single location, sources said, using a "Define Database" window. FileMaker 7 will also support multiple tables per file, though users will still have the option of using a "multiple file, single table" approach. In addition, the new version will support multiple found sets and windows for each file.

FileMaker 7 will boast a number of relational improvements such as support for bi-directional and "multiple predicate" relationships. The upgrade will also include a graphical diagram view of a database's entity-relationship structure.

Sources said Version 7 will ship with new database access control capabilities. FileMaker 7 will include more intuitive password management that will be "far easier" for new users, sources said. "The clumsy system used in current versions is gone." The new options, accessible from FileMaker 7's "Define Accounts & Privileges" dialog, will offer users more power and flexibility; administrators will be able to assign "extended privileges" to individual privilege sets, including access via Instant Web Publishing, ODBC/JDBC, FileMaker Network, or FileMaker Mobile.

Current versions of FileMaker require an administrator to kick users off when doing work on a hosted file, but FileMaker 7 will allow administrators to perform changes without taking the database offline, a result of the company's efforts to separate FileMaker's data and presentation functions within the app. FileMaker 7 will also enable customers to change the active user without closing database files.

Other file improvements will include named file paths to external files, batch file conversion, and the ability to have more records and fields per file. In addition, the previous file size limit of 2GB for a single database is "history. For practical purposes, there is no upper limit," one source said.

Fields Improvements

FileMaker 7 will ship with a number of improvements to fields. One of these will be a new timestamp field type that will track both date and time in a single field; this will be available from the Define Database window. Global fields will be implemented differently in Version 7, so that fields of any type can be a global field. Container fields will have the ability to contain just about anything, including binary data, text, graphics, audio, or PDFs. In addition, users will be able to set up summary fields as repeating fields, as well as perform a sort based on summary fields.

Sources said users will be able to change the text format of a field using a script or calculation, so that, for example, unshipped items on an invoice could appear in red text. FileMaker 7 will also include the ability to add fields to a portal as the portal is created, and text fields in FileMaker 7 will be able to store up to 2GB of text, up from 64K.

FileMaker 7 Developer

With FileMaker 7 Developer, users will be able to create custom functions. For example, a user could create an input mask, so that a phone number field reformats 10 digits into (xxx) xxx-xxxx format. "The level of customization this allows is amazing," one source commented.

While users will still need multiple products for web support -- i.e., FileMaker Unlimited and FileMaker Server, currently -- the products will share a common code base, unlike today's FileMaker product line. This code base was "completely rewritten," according to sources.

Other Enhancements

  • - Improvements to FileMaker's calculation functionality will include local variables, comments, and new functions, as well as enhanced precision and error handling.

    - The new version will feature more dynamic dialog boxes, featuring text pulled from fields. FileMaker 7 will also be able to pass along parameters from dialog box responses to calculations, scripts, or fields.

    - FileMaker 7 will ship with new script steps as well as a Script Debugger, sources said.

    - The new version will enable users to manually save or revert changes to a database's layout design.

    - FileMaker 7 will feature a Database Design Report, which exports an XML or HTML-formatted report of tables, fields, relationships, layouts, scripts, and other parts of a database.

    - Other enhancements will include a redesigned status area, better XML support, and toolbars in the Mac version.

    - In our first and second reports, we also noted Unicode support as well as improved commit and rollback features.

Performance

Sources said FileMaker 7 will boast significant performance improvements, with one source describing the new version's speed as "SQL-like." While Think Secret couldn't obtain specific performance numbers, one informant said that "it's noticeably faster than FileMaker 6 running on the same hardware."

Ship Date

When will the new version ship? This is somewhat unclear. While earlier indications suggested that FileMaker could announce the product at Macworld SF, those plans changed for unknown reasons. One source said FileMaker 7 will announce the new version sometime during the first half of this year.

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