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Top 10 things I like about #FileMaker 10

Over a year has passed since the FileMaker 10 family of products was released. Do you still hesitate to upgrade? I am constantly meeting customers who have not yet upgraded to the latest version of FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Server, so I have decided to share my top ten reasons why "ten" is so great:

1.Script Triggers

The most popular, the longest time awaited and requested, and probably still the most underestimated feature of FileMaker Pro 10 are script triggers. This feature once again completely changes the way FileMaker developers think about their solutions. It opens so many doors and unveils so many new ways to solve the same old issues, that it is really unbelievable.

Before FileMaker 10 you could use plug-ins to trigger scripts when exiting fields. This was done by a trick - evaluating a plug-in's function inside an auto-enter or validation calculation. Script triggers in FileMaker 10 let you trigger script not only after, but also before several built-in events happen, and the ones that are triggered before will even let you cancel/abort the event. This brings a completely new way of implementing a user interface. Instead of spending tens of hours hiding the built-in features and replacing them with buttons and custom menus, with script triggers you can simply utilize as much of the FileMaker's user interface as you want, and override only the small bits that you really need to tweak.

2. OnTimerScript

You can say this is part of the script triggers. I believe it deserves to be pinpointed. FileMaker Pro 10 lets you install a recurring (ticking) script to any open database window. You can let it run every hour, every minute, or even every second if you're crazy enough. You (almost) could do that with plug-ins before already. The cool thing about this implementation is that it is sticked to a window. The script will keep running repeatedly even if the window is in background, without bringing it to front, so if you make the script quick enough it won't bother you while working in another window.

I still have to find out all the possibilities this opens but here is one specific use of an OnTimer script. My company uses FileMaker Pro for physical inventory, scanning part numbers and serial numbers of goods to the database using a barcode scanner. To be able to eliminate keyboard usage we had to avoid displaying dialogs. So we dedicated a space on the layout for displaying warnings and error messages. But any such message becomes obsolete soon after it is displayed. So we used the OnTimer script to replace the red warning/error message with a black help advice after 5 seconds. Simple, and extremely convenient...

3. Interactive Reports

How many times did you wish you could use buttons in the Preview mode? Thousand? Million times? Well, even in FileMaker Pro 10 you still cannot. But! You can do something even more cool - display sub-summaries in the Browse mode. What? No kidding. Seriously, I think this is the greatest new feature of FileMaker 10 after script triggers. Obviously, the immediate benefit of this is that you can finally make your reports interactive.

But try to think a bit out of the box. If you have read my FileMaker Advisor article about Reusable FileMaker Pro Reports you know how powerful sub-summaries can be. In brief, imaging you remove the body part from your layout and use only sub-summaries. Then your layout look can completely change just by changing your sort order. Still missing the so much demanded "sub-layouts" functionality? Try this in FileMaker Pro 10: switch to the Layout mode, double click the Body part and change it to sub-summary when sorted by field 1. Then create another sub-summary when sorted by field 2. Add some fields to each sub-summary, make sure they are editable, then switch to Browse mode in List View. Now sort by field 1. And now by field 2. Don't you feel like Alice in the Wonderland?

4. Set Field By Name

No comment necessary. Less scripting, more modularity, cleaner code.


5. Scripted Printer Selection

You may have not even noticed this because it actually did not require any change in the user interface. In FileMaker Pro 10, if you specify print options in the Print script step, you can select your desired destination printer and it gets saved with your settings. When the script executes, the output from this script step is sent to the printer or fax you specified. If you do not specify an output destination before saving the script or if the specified printer cannot be found when the script executes, the output from the script step is sent to the user’s default printer. No more need for a plug-in to switch printers. It simply just works.

If you have a solution created in previous version of FileMaker Pro you may need to recreate the Print script step to make this work.

6. Overriding Toolbars Buttons

FileMaker replaced the so long surviving Status Area with a new Status Toolbar. Not so good because many developers have to redesign layouts to fit the new window proportions. Not so bad because layout anchors and larger monitors make this relatively painless. However, a huge improvement is that all the toolbar buttons are now mapped to menu items and both their names and their functionality can be overridden by custom menus. Together with script triggers, which let you override layout selections, switching vier modes, and closing the database window, this finally makes the user interface almost fully customizable.

7. Send Mail via SMTP

FileMaker Pro 10 lets you send e-mails directly through a specified SMTP server, with no e-mail client needed. You can do that even from a server-side script. It's a very simplistic implementation, with no support for HTML, RTF, or multi-part messages, so it's not ready for marketing/sales mailing and still leaves enough market space for plug-in vendors. But it's quite sufficient for workflow notifications, admin reports, status warnings, etc.

8. Insert Tab Order

It is now possible to insert objects in the middle of the existing tab order. Let's say you have 10 fields on the layout. You select Set Tab Order... from the Layout menu, and change the number 10 in the last added field to 3. Voila, no more dummy changing of all remaining field numbers, no more unhiding hidden fields, no more resetting the whole tab order. All the fields which originally occupied positions 3 thru 9 in the tab order have now got automatically incremented by 1. How natural. And how darn important!

9. Recover and Check Consistency

As the first version ever, FileMaker Pro 10 lets you check consistency of a database on demand. Simply Choose Recover... from the File menu, select a FileMaker database file, and click Check Consistency. You can even see mode details about discovered issues in a log file. The Recover feature itself now has Advanced Recover Options, which let you specify what to rebuild and how. For example, you can only rebuild field indexex if you want!

10. Server-Side Import/Export

Isn't this self-explanatory? If you're doing any regular nightly imports or exports such as EDI batches from/for other systems, FileMaker Server 10 will finally let you do that using a server-side script, without having to have your database open on a dedicated FileMaker Pro client, without having to stay logged into your system, i.e. without compromising security and safety of your data.

11. Top 10 things i hate about #FileMaker Pro 10 :-)

What do you think, which of these great improvements are worth the upgrade price? I look forward to your comments...

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