Back in late-1988 while working at Tannen’s Magic Store in Manhattan, I was introduced to FileMaker. A discussion arose about using computers to improve the efficiency and accuracy of the pen and paper-based ordering system. To do that, we first needed to enter the inventory into a database. My boss handed me what was then a state of the art personal computer; a Macintosh SE, which was a small box with a tiny 9-inch black and white screen. It was loaded with a copy of the newly released FileMaker II by Claris Corporation. That version was expressed in Roman numerals and this was two years before the “Pro” suffix would be added and the versioning reset to 1.0.
With the computer, a small rolling cart and a long extension cord, I headed into the stock room to begin computerizing the inventory. I barely used a computer prior to that day and it was my first glimpse at FileMaker. I spent about ten minutes becoming acquainted with the software, then quickly created a database file and set up a handful of fields. This rapid adoption is not so much a testament to my intuitive ability with software but more attributable to the extremely primitive nature of that early version. The database I created was extraordinarily crude but it allowed us to begin entering product information and to print on paper “labels” that could be taped onto product boxes to improve the hand-written names and prices.
For the next few weeks, with the help of another employee, I entered batches of products into the database. There was no network at the store at the time, so we periodically shuttled the database by 3.5” floppy disk to the main office computer to print out box labels displaying the information. These were affixed to boxes as the next batch of products were entered. Finally, we had a complete database of every available product. From there, I developed an order management system that pulled product information from that inventory file and installed a small network of computers each with access to a server. The project changed order fulfillment at the store and the course of my life.
Fast forward almost three decades, about twenty significant version increments later and we reach FileMaker Pro 16, an astonishingly powerful piece of software. Keeping with tradition, it is packed with features for users and developers in an integrated application. It contains a development environment and a customizable runtime. It balances an ease of use making it approachable by beginners and contains powerful standard technologies and robust customization options demanded by professionals.
The age of the software and its multi-decade evolution shows in an esthetic hodgepodge of styles throughout the development interface. The design of some dialogs look a little dated when compared to the newer additions; palettes and workspaces sporting a modern design. This seems to hint at a steadfast dedication to stability and a desire to avoid the frequent pitfall of many software titles; changing things for the sake of changing things. This gradual evolution of components contributes to the stable nature of the software across time even as it routinely takes leaps to evolve and keep pace with new technologies.
The complexity of different modes and perspectives so tightly integrated in a single application, and the sheer number of functions, tools and customization options available proved a challenge when deciding how to best present the material in a book. In the end, I divided the material into the following six parts, logically arranged in a hierarchy so that each chapter builds on the previous:
- Part 1 — Using FileMaker
- Part 2 — Defining Data Structures
- Part 3 — Writing Formulas and Using Functions
- Part 4 — Designing Interfaces
- Part 5 — Automating Tasks with Scripts
- Part 6 — Sharing and Networking
My hope is that the arrangement of material might serve both those who want to read it cover to cover and those who use it as a reference guide to look up specific topics and examples. I would enjoy hearing from you about your experience with the book and am open to suggestions for how to improve future editions. If you want to send feedback, ask a question, or read exclusive online content, visit my website for the book.
Unlike those early versions I used decades ago, FileMaker Pro 16 is a mature application with a solid track record, evolving feature set, substantial user base that should appeal to professional developers. And, while no one today should expect to learn it in ten minutes, it is still approachable for beginners and casual programmers. I hope this book convinces people to give it a try, both seasoned professionals and newcomers who are beginning their adventure into the world of custom database development.
Mark Conway Munro