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FileMaker 17: From Products to Platform–An Evolution in FileMaker Licensing

While licensing may not be as headline-grabbing as some of the newer features boasted by FileMaker 17 (I mean, how can anything compete with Master-Detail Layouts or Default Fields?), my vote for the best sleeper feature is this: FileMaker is now officially being sold as a Platform, and not as a grab-bag of different Products.

The Way We Were

Historically the FileMaker family of products consisted of various parts that you would assemble (i.e., FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Pro Advanced, FileMaker Server, Concurrent Connections), somewhat à la carte, to achieve your desired setup. Along the way, you often had to make choices and compromises. Uncertainty about these choices, or the quantities selected along the way, could have a one-, two- or three-year impact on a licensee’s perception of flexibility. It wasn’t that it was a bad situation, just more complicated than it felt like it should be.


The first and most noticeable difference in how the FileMaker Platform will now be licensed is just that – you’ll be licensing the platform and not the products. Your focus will shift from what to buy to how many users (and of what type) will be using my solutions? Instead of trying to enumerate the ingredients necessary to feed everyone at your banquet, you’ll focus on how many people will attend, and in which chair to seat them. The first part of that question is pretty simple to answer (i.e., what is the total population of potential users of the solution?), but the second may require us to define some terms. There are three (3) kinds of users in the FileMaker Platform:

  •  ‘Regular‘ users, who need to be able to use FileMaker Pro Advanced on their desktop workstation or laptop, FileMaker Go on their iOS device, or FileMaker WebDirect via a supported web browser.
  •  ‘Occasional‘ users, who are similar to ‘Regular’ users, but with less frequent use. If they ever need to use FileMaker Pro Advanced, they need to be counted as a ‘Regular’ user, but if they can get by with just FileMaker Go or FileMaker WebDirect, then they can be treated like ‘Anonymous’ users (defined immediately below).
  • Anonymous‘ users who will be just fine only using FileMaker Go or FileMaker WebDirect, i.e. these users do not need (nor can they use) FileMaker Pro Advanced, ever.

The next question will be what program makes the most sense for your particular scenario. Fortunately, there are only three (3) to pick from, and they have fairly distinct differences (with just enough overlap to allow for some discretionary choice if needed):

  • For most businesses, the best and simplest option will be FileMaker User Licensing, i.e. how many users will you have, of any kind (i.e., truly ‘Regular’ or ‘Occasional’ users who use FileMaker Pro Advanced, FileMaker Go, and/or FileMaker WebDirect), and at any time?
  • For some businesses, especially those with many potential ‘Occasional’ or ‘Anonymous’ users, the best fit will be FileMaker Concurrent Connections Licensing, i.e. how many users of any kind will you have, and with what level of simultaneous access?
  • For businesses where at least a third of their employees will be using the platform, the best fit will often be FileMaker Site Licensing, i.e. how many employees do you have?

Now some of those terms might sound familiar, but even so, they have evolved and changed to be more flexible, provide more value and be more clearly differentiated. A few clarifications:

  • In FileMaker User Licensing, there is no such thing as an ‘Anonymous’ user. Whether they are a ‘Regular’ user or just an ‘Occasional’ user, you count them, and you’re done.
  • In FileMaker Concurrent Connections Licensing, it’s not about how they log in, but how many need to log in at the same moment of the day. If a certain number of your users will always be logged in, start there and figure out how many of the remaining potential users will likely join them during peak usage periods.
  • In FileMaker Site Licensing, it’s about the platform for your whole company, even if only a fraction needs it now. Every employee is considered to be a ‘Regular’ or ‘Occasional’ user, and ‘anonymous’ users don’t even need to be counted, i.e. they are permitted by default (again, using FileMaker Go or FileMaker WebDirect only) and the primary limit is solution design and server horsepower.

Last but not least, you need to pick how you want to buy, and the same two (2) options are available:

  • Annual, where you lease the licenses, get all updates during the licensing period, and then must either renew your license by the end of the period or deinstall the platform.
  • Perpetual, where you buy the licenses outright, get one (1) year of updates (aka maintenance) included, and then have the (highly recommended) option to renew your maintenance (and thus any additional updates) each year thereafter.

This calculus has not changed – it’s still much more flexible (and requires less money up front) to buy an Annual contract than a Perpetual one, much like leasing a car vs. buying one.


Since you’re now licensing the entire platform, your business will have access to every part of the platform in some way, shape or form.

For starters, there’s no more FileMaker Pro, just FileMaker Pro Advanced.

You read that right – one (1) application you can install on your Mac or your PC, with all the features the average day-to-day user, citizen developer, or professional software engineer might desire.

  • Need it to work online, with a hosted solution? OK.
  • Want it to work while developing or generating a report while working on a solution offline at 37,000 feet? Not a problem.
  • Have a fleet of Macs and PCs on your desk that you might want to take with you to a meeting, and wishing you could install FileMaker Pro Advanced on every single workstation, just so it wouldn’t matter which you grabbed as you rushed out the door. Go for it.

If you’re a licensed user of FileMaker Pro Advanced, use it where and when you need it. Period.

Everyone gets FileMaker Go.

Put it on every supported iOS device you and your licensed users might ever use. Cover all your mobile bases.

Everyone gets FileMaker WebDirect.

Use it from any supported browser on any desktop, laptop, tablet or phone. Need a list of supported browsers? Here you go.

Everything for Everybody… almost.

There are two exceptions to the exuberant points made immediately above:

  1. As a licensed ‘Regular’ or ‘Occasional’ user, you’re entitled to use any or all of these methods to access your solutions, but if you’re an ‘Anonymous’ user, then you can only use FileMaker Go or FileMaker WebDirect. I know I made that point at least twice above already, but it’s about the only caveat that most businesses will struggle to understand (editor’s note: even I mixed it up a few times while writing this article!).
  2. If you’re not a business that is looking to license for at least five (5) users, but a single user (or a small business) that is  just looking for one (1) or two (2) retail copies of FileMaker Pro Advanced, that’s still available too (Note: I’d still strongly suggest even the smallest teams consider a volume-licensing program described above, each of which starts at five (5) users; read on to see why).

FileMaker Server comes with every order…

In every program for every business, FileMaker Server is now included. You read that right – FileMaker Server comes along for the ride, so you no longer have to decide if you can afford to ‘make the leap’ to take advantage of the performance, scalability, and security that FileMaker Server offers. It’s yours. Actually, in one (1) case (i.e., FileMaker User Licensing), you get three (3) instances of FileMaker Server, which can be useful for staging your development (e.g., development, testing, and production) or for separating teams (e.g., for additional security, simpler cost-accounting or load-balancing).

… and FileMaker Cloud too!

What’s more, if you’re in any Annual program, then at least one (1) of your FileMaker Servers can be used with FileMaker Cloud. No separate FileMaker Server contract will be needed, although you will still need to sign up for a FileMaker Cloud ‘Bring Your Own License’ (BYOL) account with Amazon AWS.

Allow me to (re)introduce you to the FileMaker Data API.

FileMaker 16 introduced the world to an integrated REST Data API in FileMaker Server, but it was under beta at the time. Now, happily, the (officially renamed) FileMaker Data API is ready for prime-time, is included with each licensed FileMaker Server, and configured to provide a pool of outbound data transfer that can be shared by all external applications (e.g., custom websites or third-party systems) that want to get information from your hosted solutions. You’ll automatically get an allotment of 2 GB/licensed user/month (although it’s worth noting that that’s just for calculating the initial limit; the total is a single, large pool for the contract year), a number which can be expanded (if needed) for an extra fee.


In addition to being a simpler choice, and a more comprehensive offering, the new platform also offers some welcome changes to administrators, such as:

  • Once you have licensed your first five (5) users, you can increase your count in any whole-number increment you want (e.g., by just 1, or 2, 17, 36), and those new users are automatically priced and pro-rated to come up for renewal on the same anniversary date as your existing Annual contract.
  • Moving forward, you’ll only have one (1) license key for each contract so long as that contract stays active. Yes, you read that right.
  • The keys won’t change when new versions of the platform are released, or change when the number of users/connections/employees change either. Yes, you read that right too.
  • Licensing at the desktop/laptop level will be enforced on install, and by the End User License Agreement (EULA).
  • Licensing at the server level will be enforced using a new ‘License Key’ certificate that you install (or update) on the server itself.


To make it simple for existing customers to transition to the new version, FileMaker Inc. is going to convert all existing and active contracts to their matching counterparts in the new platform. For most customers, this will mean a net gain in the number of FileMaker Servers at their disposal. Here’s the way things will basically map:

  • First of all, if you have an active Annual contract now, you’ll get a new Annual contract. Same goes for Perpetual.
  • FileMaker Licensing for Teams,  Annual FileMaker Licensing for Teams, Volume License and Annual Volume License contracts will become FileMaker User Licensing contracts. You’ll get at least three (3) FileMaker Servers, or the entire number you had licensed (whichever is greater).
  • Annual or Perpetual FileMaker Servers with Concurrent Connections will become Concurrent Connections contracts.
  • Site License and Annual Site License contracts will basically stay the same, with a singular change: instead of support for an unlimited number of FileMaker Servers, you will now be limited to the same number of FileMaker Servers as you have licensed users, which starts at 25 users (and if you’re a site that uses more than 25 FileMaker Servers, I’d like to buy you lunch).

As you can imagine (and might already be wondering about if you’ve got a ‘mixed bag’ of products now),  in some cases the transition will be simple – one (1) existing contract will become one (1) new contract – while in others it may require the issuance of multiple contracts to ‘map’ what a customer has now to what they are entitled to in the new model.


Fortunately, it appears that FileMaker Inc. has gone to great pains to err on the side of being generous with this licensing update. In every real-world scenario we’ve tested, the outcome of the transition was an increase in the number of available FileMaker Servers and overall flexibility for our customer. That said, we understand you might have questions and we’re here to help. Whether it’s about:

  • Understanding which program is right for you if you’re new to the platform,
  • understanding how an existing contract will be converted,
  • planning how you might consolidate multiple contracts in the future, or
  • exploring how to take advantage of available price protection options for existing licensing customers,

… your resident Skeleton Key licensing expert can happily assist. Just call us at 314-353-4300, or fill out our convenient web-form now.   Mark Richman is President at Skeleton Key and a FileMaker Certified Developer and FileMaker Authorized Trainer.

About Skeleton Key

Skeleton Key helps turn complex, complicated, and outdated systems into true information platforms. Our team of consultants and developers do this by developing custom-fit software tools and reporting dashboards that help businesses find, use, and understand their data, freeing them to focus on and grow their core business. In addition to custom databases and applications, we also provide training and coaching for getting the most out of your existing systems and understanding your unruly data. Skeleton Key is an open-book management company and active player of the Great Game of Business.