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FileMaker 11 now available with charting, reporting improvements

Apple subsidiary FileMaker has been busy; the flagship database app grows by another leap today with the release of version 11. We were lucky enough to get a pre-release demo at Macworld Expo in February and were duly impressed. As someone who's been using FileMaker since version 6, I'm thrilled with some of the additions to this update; let's get to it.

Launch

Right off the bat, the introduction screen is new (after the splash screen "wobbles" into view). It's wider with more options, like a link to the online resource center. There you'll find video tutorials, starter solutions (more on that later) and access to consultants. They're all extremely useful and aimed at users and developers alike.

Charts

The big news starts with built-in support for charts. For years, developers and users have employed plug-ins and other 3rd-party solutions to get charting done, or they simply exported data to Excel. Now those extra efforts may be a thing of the past.

As you would imagine, adding a chart is super easy. While in layout mode, use the new chart tool to drag out a charting area. From there, the setup screen appears.

This is a real pleasure to use. You can select between a bar graph (horizontal or vertical), line chart, area or pie. Give your chart a name, or base its name on a field or calculation. Likewise, the X and Y axis can be labeled with your own titles or a field or calculation. If you've got more than one Y axis variable (for example, number of occurrences and procedure duration) adding each is as simple as a click. Finally, you can pull data from a found set, the current record only, or from related records -- which is awesome.

Now it gets fun. Click "Format Chart" to style all aspects of your chart. Select your color palette (options are presented as cute color samples), fonts, backgrounds and axis labels plus scale minimums and maximums. It's full-featured and nearly everything I wanted when I was stuck routinely exporting data to Excel just to make charts with version 6. In my testing this was simple and effective.

The only thing missing for me is a scatter plot option, but a line chart could do the job in a pinch.







Snapshot Link

Another feature I'm excited about is the snapshot link. Let's say you've got to share a subset of your data with a colleague, like sales figures generated from the state of California, for example. First, perform a find for invoices with "CA" in the state field, then set the sort order and layout that you want. Then, select "Snapshot Link" from the File menu to produce a snapshot of that found set as a new file, including the sort order and layout that you chose.

From there, you can email the resulting file to your colleague and s/he will see the very same found set of records, sort order and layout on their machine running FileMaker 11 (assuming they have access to the same original database). But wait, there's more! If either of you edit those records, the change will be reflected on the other's machine. Awesome, right? Yes it is.

Recurring Import

Here's another welcome new feature. Recurring Import lets you designate a .csv file or Excel spreadsheet as a target data source that will be imported each time a given database is opened. To set it up, use the import function as you typically do. But, just before you click OK, select the "Setup as recurring import" option. From then on, any changes made to that file will be sent to that database (read only) whenever that database is opened. FileMaker even creates a layout and script for you (of course, you can tweak either).

You say you don't want to re-launch the database just to update that layout? No problem. Just click the "Update" button to grab the latest data on the fly.

Back in the day, I managed a huge Excel spreadsheet of thousands of incident reports that had to remain in Excel for legacy support. We had an elaborate and time-consuming method of pushing that data into FileMaker. This would have been a lifesaver.

Quick Reports

Here's one that developers will appreciate. Quick Reports is a new way to make on-the-fly reporting incredibly easy. In fact, you don't even have to leave browse mode.

Quick Reports treats your data as if it were a spreadsheet. That's clever, as many users are coming from spreadsheets (or still tied to them), and it's a concept they're comfortable with. You can add fields and records by clicking a column or row, and even change a field's type (number, text, time, container ... even calculation or summary) right then and there.

The best part is that you can create a report with grouped data from browse mode. No more setting up the subsummaries, fiddling with layouts, etc. Just add a break field to automatically generate the summaries, add a subtotal type and you've built a grouped report in table view. That's awesome.

There's even more to this incredible release. Quick Find is like Spotlight for your database. Again, back in the day we wrote elaborate search scripts that aren't necessary anymore. Quick Find is always available and searches all of the fields in the current layout for your search term. It also automatically saves recent searches for quick access in the future as a drop-down list.

The Inspector acts much like its counterpart in some of the iLife apps. Familiar functions like alignments, positioning (front, back, etc.) and text properties have moved to the Inspector. Remember when they were in that left-hand sidebar? Me, too.

Additionally, along with the 30+ bundled starter solution databases for common home and business needs, there's a new invoice starter solution. For basic client and billing management, it may do the job for some small businesses that otherwise would have pushed towards a narrower invoicing solution.

I know this is an epic post, but it's only the beginning of what's new in this release. As a long-time customer, I'm excited about it -- even more so than when we made the leap from version 6 to version 7. If you use Filemaker in your day-to-day work, you'll absolutely want to check out this update.

A single license of Filemaker Pro 11 costs US$299. Upgrades from Filemaker Pro 10 and 9 are available at $179. Additionally, those using version 8.5 and 8 are eligible for upgrade pricing until September 23, 2010.

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Apple subsidiary FileMaker has been busy; the flagship database app grows by another leap today with the release of version 11. We were...