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CRM's and death of FileMaker?


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I need to make a decision.

 

When FileMaker 13 introduced Web Direct I had two thoughts:

 

1) Ah, this is FieMaker losing market share and clearly web-based everything's are taking over

 

but also...

 

2) Nice... this means I can actually keep using FileMaker as many clients really do want a web front end

 

For a fairly large CRM that I've developed over many years, Filemaker was brilliant - and still is.

 

But with web technologies (HTML5, etc) becoming pretty awesome, and with UI frameworks that make responsive design a breeze... there's not a lot a web browser can't do.

 

Why should I keep using FileMaker?

 

My server is hosted in the US, so for Australian clients it's slower, and even for US clients, it's certainly not as fast as a web browser.

 

And WebDirect kinda sucks. Little things (which are kinda big things) like I can't hit 'enter' to submit a form, to quite big things like the page continually renders often jumping out of fields while I'm typing. And I have to have new layouts for WebDirect so now I'm duplicating my 100+ layouts and having to manage two versions of them... ugh.

 

UI updates need the UI file deployed so you need a system for that, connecting is slow as it has to launch, set up all the global variables, caching preference data to the UI file because otherwise using the system is slow.... and so on.

 

BUT... I can interact with the file system, the plug-in options are great, I can make a change to something instantly... but in 2014 doing the same in a web-based app is now quite easy as well.

 

I could probably get someone to re-code the entire system for $5,000. That'll save me thousands per year on a FM Server licence, not to mention all the web direct licences. And I'm about to get an Australian server because Australian clients aren't happy with the speed, so there's another few thousand a year saving on FM Server licences if I move to a web-based app.

 

What would your advice be?

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I could probably get someone to re-code the entire system for $5,000. 

 

It might feel that way but that is nigh on impossible. The result would be just be a crappy prototype or proof of concept.

 

Building a proper commercial SAAS app with a decent architecture will cost closer to $200,000. And if you want to keep your app up-to-date and relevant it will continue to need support and development. It doesn't just stop at development.

Practically you'll need at least one FTE and preferably 2 just for development. And don't forget right now you are probably the lead developer, but can you really fulfill that role in a native web environment?

 

It still the same case as it always was, the speed and simplicity of FileMaker development is still light years ahead of native web. Changes, development, support and new prototyping new features are still much slower with native web. The big advantage of web is scalability. If you want to create a app that could be used by thousands of companies then going for web is a good choice. But it'll also be a big investment.

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Well, I don't agree with $200,000 but my point is this:

 

I find WebDirect completely unuseable... tabs render weirdly, layouts load in stages (ugly version first, then the final version), you can't click any button until a good 5 seconds after a layout loads, dropdown take a good 2 seconds to appear... the list seems endless... even scrolling is jittery, etc.

 

And to confirm... this is the latest server version, only one client (me) testing it, i7 iMac with 16GB RAM, SSD drives, and a simple layout really... there's lots of fields but if the answer is to have less fields then that's just another problem I'd add to the list (webdirect only works with small numbers of fields / simple layouts).

 

Am I missing something? I've optimsed the layouts as best as possible - all using styles to keep the CSS code as slim as possible, etc, etc.

 

Is ANYONE using webdirect for a CRM?

 

I think probably not... because it's slow / clunky... which means if I want my CRM to be used in a browser, the only solution is to recode in HTML.

 

I'd love to be shown otherwise.

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Yes i agree with what you are saying. WebDirect IS clunky and inefficient. I do not think a really good CRM could be build with WebDirect.

Modern web technology is so much faster and smoother that the expected experience wouldn't match the experience with WebDirect.

 

That is not saying a lot can't be done with WebDirect. It's just that yes you have to tailor your layouts for WebDirect. As you say small numbers of fields and simple layouts. I currently treat it like a touch layout, building on a touch theme and using few but big fields and buttons. Dropdowns seem to have issues so replace them with radios or portals in popovers. Sometimes weird stuff happens and objects that should be the same style render differently. Testing and copy-pasting objects that do render properly and customizing the copy further is a workaround for that...

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there's lots of fields but if the answer is to have less fields then that's just another problem I'd add to the list (webdirect only works with small numbers of fields / simple layouts).

 

 

Everything works better with fewer fields and no scrolling: regular FMP, FM Go, even HTML coded pages.  The more you put on there the more you make the FM client and FM Server work and very likely half of the data fetched - and the time and processing power it took to fetch it, calculate it if it is an unstored calc, or summarize it for summary fields - is wasted if the user does not need to look at that data right then.

So you may want to do a bit of UX work to make it more efficient.

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FileMaker has been clear that you should use WebDirect for what its for. A very large, complex CRM may not work. You could definitely find a way to do it, but it would require breaking everything down into simple, and WD usable modules. Remember, this is still v1 of WebDirect.

 

If FM is slow for your US clients, there is an issue with the structure and design. Our office is in NY and our company server is in Atlanta, and our system is blazing fast 99% of the time.  Tables with lots of fields are really expensive in FM. You can get away with it in web-tables because you are only pulling in the requested data. But eventually you will suffer the same issues. 

 

You think $200k for a full web-based CRM is low high, huh? Coding all the features and navigational processes takes more than one would think. Plus, for the power-user, the browser really lacks important functionality that really hurts productivity. Not that a browser can't do it, but it's not usually coded to handle it all, like keyboard shortcuts etc. I've recently been involved in a few projects where a company tried to replicate the basic functionality of a classified ad management solution that I made ( it was my first FM solution ), and have been using for about 7-8 years. We are 3 years, and 3 failures, down the road and using a new web development company that has finally done it.  It costs WAY more than $5k, oh, and I still had to build a back-end management system to handle our own internal management of the business and the ads. The web team only did the front-facing web-site. If you add in the cost of the redevelopment of the website ( which they based off of a template ), and my time to recode and rework the system, the overall cost is no less than $100k...and that was only phase 1. Phase 2 adds a bunch of features that were not included in the scope of Phase 1.

 

Well, I don't agree with $200,000 but my point is this:

 

I find WebDirect completely unuseable... tabs render weirdly, layouts load in stages (ugly version first, then the final version), you can't click any button until a good 5 seconds after a layout loads, dropdown take a good 2 seconds to appear... the list seems endless... even scrolling is jittery, etc.

 

And to confirm... this is the latest server version, only one client (me) testing it, i7 iMac with 16GB RAM, SSD drives, and a simple layout really... there's lots of fields but if the answer is to have less fields then that's just another problem I'd add to the list (webdirect only works with small numbers of fields / simple layouts).

 

Am I missing something? I've optimsed the layouts as best as possible - all using styles to keep the CSS code as slim as possible, etc, etc.

 

Is ANYONE using webdirect for a CRM?

 

I think probably not... because it's slow / clunky... which means if I want my CRM to be used in a browser, the only solution is to recode in HTML.

 

I'd love to be shown otherwise.

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"You think $200k for a full web-based CRM is low, huh?"

I think he is saying that is HIGH, not low.

But Josh I agree with your point that $5K is likely to be unrealistic and way low.

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Correct, I wasn't saying $200k was low... and you're probably right, $5k is also unrealistic. I didn't clarify why I said that amount as it wasn't the thrust of what I wanted to talk about. I picked that figure as I'd code most of it, outsource some of it...

 

But I do agree creating anything from scratch, even with a template ALWAYS takes longer than you think.

 

Josh said:

 

Plus, for the power-user, the browser really lacks important functionality that really hurts productivity. Not that a browser can't do it, but it's not usually coded to handle it all, like keyboard shortcuts etc.

 

 

There's no keyboard shortcuts in WebDirect though.  I've used quite a few web-apps with keyboard shortcuts. But on your point, the big thing I thought of was plugins that do things like dealing with the file system, working with images, etc.

 

And of course FileMaker allows you to deploy it as a stand-alone system (no WAN), or on a client's (LAN) server.

 

But here's the thing that I still don't understand... I hear you when you say I need to make WD layouts, and I've done that.

 

The very first layout I did has 2 fields, 1 graphic, 2 buttons. See attached video. I want to type "hello" in field one.. <TAB>.. then "there" in field two. It's a mess. And to confirm... server with zero load, brand new, i7 Mac Mini, etc.

 

And back to my original attachment of the tabs... I draw a new layout with a tabbed object and all the tab objects are transparent / render weirdly. Does that mean tabs are a no-go in Web Direct? Sure it's version 1.0, but it says it can do tabs, the tabs function fine in WD, why are they not rendering properly?

 

My point is... I'm all for working within the constraints of Web Direct, but it's not even useable to me... not even on a basic level.

damn_wd.mov

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a webdirect layout with 2 fields not working...

 

I'd say webdirect is completely unusable.

 

Like Josh,  I don't see that problem.  A movie does not help much, this is something that needs to be diagnosed hands-on because clearly something is out of tune that should be fairly easy to remedy.  But it will take a complete look at the file and its design and the whole deployment.

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Like I said: it needs a hands-on troubleshooting session to figure out more.

 

First thing to try would be to set up your own server so that you have full control over the deployment and you know the exact specs.  That will give you a baseline to compare against.

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I have my own server... Mac Mini i7, 16GB, SDD.

 

Fresh install of OS X 10.8, FM Server 13 (latest version).

 

I appreciate it's hard to offer any advice but I can't even think of what I'd do to test this. I can try a whole new server but that'll cost a bit... I can try reinstalling everything but it's only been set up 60 days ago.

 

Anyway... I think I've decided to just forget about Web Direct.

 

Maybe I just needed to rant haha!

 

I do appreciate the responses though... I guess I was hoping for someone to know something... some little trick I didn't know about... or a known bug... or something.

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As Wim said, without access to the file to get a complete picture, it's very hard to diagnose. It could be a design issue that's slowing down the data entry, it could be issues with add-ins in your browser, or hardware issues on the client machine, or the server, or a lag in the network. There are a lot of things at play.

 

If you have Dropbox syncing files, or backup software running, or Antivirus running...all can affect that action. VPN connections could also contribute. Cache settings on the server, busy ports, etc. There really is a lot that could either singly or cumulatively cause the issue you are seeing.

 

That's why developers get paid so much. They are always balancing all these variables. I don't believe the issue is Web Direct itself, per se...because I simply don't see that issue, unless I'm doing something silly.

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We built support for WD into FMSP...and it sucks.   I think it will be better on the next release.   At least FMI is indicating they want to make it better.  We'll see.   I think we're looking at WD 1.0.  

 

I wouldn't make any plans until I see the next iteration of WD.

 

- RC

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Thanks for the idea Josh... but there's zero going on with this server... no background anything... just 10.8 and FM Server hosted with MacStadium - Gb connection.

 

No one connecting - just me.

 

Richard... I'm now firmly of the same opinion as you. WD sucks balls.

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In the movie with 2 fields, are you hitting the Tab key at any point?  What I've seen is that the Tab key is unreliable, e.g. if you type:

 

ABC[TAB]DEF

 

You won't end up with ABC and DEF in the two fields.

 

This seems like such a basic function that it's hard to believe FileMaker messed it up.

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Yes, I've been playing more and the tab key is definitely something to avoid.

 

It's laughable. I've already started re-coding it all in PHP / HTML5 / REST / etc.

 

Sorry FileMaker... Web Direct just doesn't work. I'll keep the FileMaker solution for in-house servers / stand-alone use in the cases where people want lots of fast customisation and / or to be able to interact with the file system.

 

What I *might* do is sync the data between the MySQL system and the FileMaker system so I can continue to develop both the HTML and FileMaker versions of this CRM separately but keep in sync with each other.

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The thing is, I've also had the same thought as you "Oh, I'll just do it in PHP/HTML5 then".    I think there are some cases where that's fine (e.g. if you have a really simple web form).   However, if the solution gets much more complicated than that, you'll find that WebDirect is *so* much easier and faster to design.

 

I'm hoping that FileMaker gets its act together and fixes these bugs in the next WebDirect releases:

  •  tab key
  •  inability to pass data via URL

With those simple fixes WebDirect would be nearly perfect for what I need.

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And what is important to remember this IS still a v1 feature. It will get better. IWP has been horrible for years. WD is a giant step forward. Yes they still have some progress to make...but it represents a large, and positive, move forward for the platform as a whole.

 

I'm hoping that FileMaker gets its act together and fixes these bugs in the next WebDirect releases

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And what is important to remember this IS still a v1 feature. It will get better. IWP has been horrible for years. WD is a giant step forward. Yes they still have some progress to make...but it represents a large, and positive, move forward for the platform as a whole.

 

Yet, just like IWP, I'm afraid that FileMaker's progress at improving WebDirect is very slow:  We are on FM13v5 now and they've only fixed a couple of critical WebDirect bugs.   Given how expensive the WebDirect license is, this is not encouraging.

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I used to be afraid of stuff like that too. But then as I've done more business, and more research...every company that has been significantly successful has had points in the life of a product where it undergoes drastic change, so they can move forward.

 

For arguments sake, it's very much a "take one step back, so you can take 10 steps forward". The old path was going to limit us from moving forward at all.  In the video game world, Madden NFL did the same thing a few years ago. They reworked their entire gaming engine for the game. The first release of that was a stripped down version that had a few new feature and missing a bunch of oldies but goodies. But that gave them the platform to launch dozens of improvements and gaming enhancements.

 

I saw the move to fmp12 as one of those steps for the desktop and server end. I see the change to themes as much the same process. I see WebDirect as the same thing for the web side of the database platform. The platform has steadily moved forward for many years now. It's not going to stop now. Issues with WD only affect you if you were actually using IWP for business critical stuff. But done right, WD can be useful. It's limited for now, it will get better.

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