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“Not Your Parent’s FileMaker”: How We React When We See Older Versions of the Platform

When organizations come to Skeleton Key to build an application in FileMaker, it’s not always the case that they need something built “from scratch.” In fact, a significant portion of our potential clients already have a FileMaker solution in place—they just need it to be updated and modernized.

That FileMaker is widely used is not surprising. The platform itself has been around for just over 30 years. By Claris’ own numbers, more than 24 million copies of FileMaker have been delivered, with over one million users under active subscription. So chances are good that almost anyone has (or will) run into a FileMaker application “in the wild.”

What does take us by surprise is when we find that their current solution was built a decade or two ago using a much older version of FileMaker—like FileMaker 6 or 7. (For reference, the current version as of this writing is FileMaker 19.)

On the one hand, there’s a sense of pride that swells up when we see this, as it’s a testament to the stability and robustness of the FileMaker platform. It speaks volumes when a business builds a custom app to support its unique workflow with FileMaker and is still using that app some 20 years later.

Indeed, one of the great things about FileMaker is that it affords customization and expansion. We’ve had clients with critical systems built in earlier versions of FileMaker who absolutely did not want to “reinvent the wheel” with a newer version. In many of those instances, we were able to take their core system and add functionality to it without a rebuild, piecing together modern functions that they needed on top of existing data structures. In a day and age when users are asked to upgrade or replace their core systems every couple of years, if not every couple of months, that kind of combined backwards compatibility and future-proofing is a rarity.

That said, the FileMaker of today is different, in many ways, from the FileMaker of 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. So, if your last encounter with FileMaker was one of those older versions, you might not be aware of some of the notable evolutions that have happened in the platform, and you might well be asking the wrong questions when it comes to custom development platforms in general.

Here are some of the myths and misunderstandings we hear often:

  1. FileMaker is Just Microsoft Access on Steroids
  2. FileMaker is Another Database Solution With a Fancy Front End
  3. FileMaker is for Mac (Apple) Environments Only
  4. FileMaker is Good for Small Offices, but It’s Not Robust Enough for Larger Organizations
  5. You Need a Full-Time Database Person to Administrate FileMaker Once It’s Up and Running

#1 “FileMaker is Just Microsoft Access on Steroids”

From the start, Access was meant to be a means for companies to create simple databases and forms for small teams of Windows users…and it never really grew beyond that. (Indeed, Microsoft itself states clearly that “We no longer recommend Access Services for new web apps and web databases.”)

FileMaker, on the other hand, was always intended to be a development platform. Today’s FileMaker supports modern security, integration and interface standards, native servers on Windows and macOS, and hundreds of simultaneous users on both native and web-based clients across multiple operating systems and device types. Thus, it has many more features and a much wider application than Access or other database software in its class.

#2 “FileMaker is Another Database Solution With a Fancy Front End”

It’s true that FileMaker has a very user-friendly interface, and can be used to create other user-friendly applications, even by people who don’t have a lot of experience with coding or creating databases (i.e., “low code”). But it would be false to say that FileMaker is simply a “fancy front end” to an otherwise “plain-vanilla” database.

For one thing, there are several FileMaker products that work together to do different things. The different parts of the platform offer more modern connectivity and data management options. For example, FileMaker offers a native REST API and can integrate with third-party systems using REST, JSON, JavaScript, cURL and various forms of ODBC.

There are also features that help integrate FileMaker applications with other useful tools. On iOS, the FileMaker platform offers camera, gesture, GPS, and sensor integration.

The server and workstation components of the platform also support an extensible plug-in architecture, with a rich ecosystem of plug-in developers.

Needless to say, the capabilities of the platform go well beyond that of a traditional database, even one with a user-friendly GUI.

#3 “FileMaker is for Mac (Apple) Environments Only”

Yes, Claris (the makers of FileMaker) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Apple. But FileMaker goes beyond Apple products. It also offers native clients for Windows and a browser-based client for several brands of supported browsers. This means that applications built with FileMaker can run on virtually any workstation, tablet, or mobile device, independent of the operating system.

#4 “FileMaker is Good for Small Offices, but It’s Not Robust Enough for Larger Organizations”

Today’s FileMaker can easily scale to support hundreds of simultaneous users on a single instance of FileMaker Server, offering a secure and scalable cloud-based option for hosting solutions with high availability and an extra layer of security.

Indeed, some of Skeleton Key’s best clients are larger organizations, including Bass Pro Shops and the Public Works Department for the City of Florissant, Missouri.

#5 “You Need a Full-Time Database Person to Maintain and Administrate FileMaker Once It’s Up and Running”

Untrue. In fact, very little knowledge of coding or database management is needed to use, modify, or otherwise maintain a custom solution built and deployed in the FileMaker platform. All you need is a little familiarity with the platform, an understanding of your own workflow and a little training.

That said, many Skeleton Key clients do re-engage us periodically to upgrade or enhance their FileMaker solution for them. Most find that doing so can add capabilities and yet still be more cost-effective than commercially available SaaS solutions.

Can We Show You the Latest FileMaker?

Curious about what the most recent version of FileMaker can do? Of whether it might be a “fit” for the project you are working on? We would be happy to discuss your particular needs and workflow and give you an honest assessment of if and how FileMaker can help. To start, simply fill out this form.