FileMaker’s Developer Tools: A Love-Hate Relationship
FileMaker is a great platform for development and I owe most of my professional success to its success. There are some things about FileMaker Pro that I love and, of course, as with any passionate relationship, there are a few things I would like to see improved. This article will strive to expose my passionate feelings about certain developer features in FileMaker Pro that I both love, and hate, with equal verve.
I love Layouts. FileMaker makes it easy to display data from a table in your FileMaker solution via the use of Layouts. You can tie a Layout to any table in your solution and it will display the records for that table. This can be done with little or no effort by even a non-developer-user and in a very short amount of time. We’re talking seconds. That’s pretty amazing, especially considering the learning-curve and setup time that many other Relational Database Management Systems require to get that far. I hate Layouts. FileMaker made the decision to tie one, and only one layout, to one, and only one table, in order to provide the ease-of-use most developer-users seek. While this keeps things simple for non-developers, it greatly constrains the flexibility of how data can be displayed within a single layout. Any data shown must either be related to the layout’s base table in some fashion, or cached into variables to achieve a desired effect. It would be nice to dedicate portions of the layout to certain tables rather than the entire layout outright. This might make FileMaker more complex, but it would also make layouts, and thus the interfaces they express, much more flexible and elegant.
I love Layout Tools. FileMaker provides quick-access to field, button, tab control and portal widgets so you can quickly get things done, without mucking around with getting the tools to work. They already work; you just point them to the table and fields from which you want to display data. I hate Layout Tools. FileMaker’s current interface widgets harken back to the times of early black and white Macintosh interfaces. While I love the Mac, some of these widgets are horribly antiquated. So much so that some developers see fit to obscure them with images or methods involving complex stacking and grouping of objects to pretty them up. Revisiting such a layout to make a change can be frustrating, especially when it requires unlocking or ungrouping multiple sets of items just to make quick changes to a text label or to change the position of an item or to add a field.
I love Scripts. It’s like a huge Lego kit – it provides a list of script steps in the left pane that allows a developer to create a script by combining different steps to solve a particular problem. Just like a big enough pile of Legos can be used to build a Death Star, the vast selection of script steps in FileMaker scripting engine can be used to create a sales report. Much to Darth Vader’s chagrin, however, it’s far easier to create a sales report in FileMaker than to build a Lego Death star. That says something profound about FileMaker’s ease-of-use, it’s second-to-none (and stronger than the dark side of the force). I hate Scripts. As a developer, sometimes I need more power than FileMaker’s Script Editor can provide. I might need to make a sweeping change across several scripts or even multiple files, especially in the case of a conversion from an older, multiple-file solution created in an older version of FileMaker Pro. I might not want to visit each file and script to make the change, but I have to. If I create a php application, I can search and replace all the text in all my scripts in one fell swoop. I’d like to be able to do the same in FileMaker Pro.
FileMaker’s flexibility and ease-of-use keep me coming back, and I’m optimistic things will only keep getting better with time. FileMaker, I love to hate you. Graham Sprague is a FileMaker Certified Developer at Skeleton Key. About Skeleton Key Skeleton Key is an accomplished team of technology consultants who solve business problems. We specialize in the rapid development of custom applications, integrating Macs and PCs in the professional workplace, and providing personalized FileMaker training and coaching. Despite our end-to-end technical skills, we are consultant first and technologist second. We know that you don’t just need technology. You need to know that the technology you choose to deploy will provide the results you desire. Skeleton Key is a Platinum Level FileMaker Business Alliance company, an Authorized FileMaker Trainer, a member of the Apple Consultants Network and a Microsoft Registered Partner. …