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FileMaker Pro 12 offers new design features, improved iOS compatibility

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I started using FileMaker Pro way back with version 6, when I was developing solutions for a residential school. I grew to love the pro database software, and since then it's gotten better and better.

The new version 12 of FileMaker Pro, announced today, continues the trend of improvement with fantastic new features like enhanced charting, strong iOS support, vastly improved design capabilities and a lot more -- including free iOS versions of the database app, which previously were paid apps. Here's our first look at FileMaker Pro 12.

Design

FileMaker Pro 12 features a new theme architecture and 40 total themes to choose from. Several of the new themes have companion "touch" themes, which have been optimized to run on the iPhone and iPad. FileMaker followed Apple's Human Interface Guidelines while developing the touch themes, so every field, button and element is legible and usable and Apple's mobile devices. Also, new guides and rulers (or "stencils," as they're called) make it easy to create a layout that fits your target device's screen. There's no guesswork; just tell FileMaker which device you're designing for and the layout guides jump into place.

Version 12 also features improved layout object formatting, including object states. Anyone who's made a button in FileMaker Pro will appreciate this. Instead of a static image, FileMaker Pro 12 lets you assign three states to your buttons: normal, hover and pressed. Use the inspector to customize the button's appearance in each state, even with gradients. Now buttons behave much the same as they do on websites, making them eminently clickable.

New Starter Solutions

FileMaker Pro 12 comes with 16 new starter solutions. The folks at FileMaker told me that one half of its customers use a starter solution as a launchpad for their database projects. When I was learning years ago, these templates provided a great start for me, and poking around to see how things worked was very educational.

All About iOS

What's most impressive to me about FileMaker Pro 12 is the amount of attention the team has clearly paid to iOS. When you consider the touch layouts, web support and FileMaker Go for iPad and iPhone (now free apps!) you realize that small business owners or even individuals who lack the time or resources to create a custom iOS app have a solution in FileMaker Pro.

During the demo that I saw, an iPad running FileMaker Go was able to view an iOS-optimized layout, stored remotely. What's more, when changes were made to that layout, they showed up automatically on the iPad. Also, new ways container fields handle images (automatically creating thumbnails) and video (streaming from FileMaker Server), not to mention gesture support, further enhance the iOS story.

It's important to note that both flavors of FileMaker Go -- v11 and v12 -- remain on the App Store at this time, and each comes in a separate iPhone and iPad package. Version 11 is still a paid app, and will open databases created with the older versions of FileMaker Pro. Version 12, while free, will only work with databases created in the new desktop v12; you can't use the older files with it.

Enhanced Container Fields

A container field is a special type of field that can store images, QuickTime files, audio, and several other types of files. Container fields are greatly improved in version 12. First, you can add items with a drag-and-drop. You'll also notice that FileMaker Pro automatically manages and encrypts remotely stored files.

Now the app automatically generates photo thumbnails, and FileMaker Server lets you stream videos, music and PDFs. Scroll through multi-page PDFs right within a container field.

Improved Charting

All those years ago, when I was rocking FileMaker 6, there was no charting. We had to rely on 3rd-party solutions and, more often, scripting acrobatics. Today, FileMaker's chart support is extensive. It now supports ten chart types, five of which are new, including Bubble, Scatter and Pos/Neg charts.

FileMaker Pro 12 is a 64-bit application. It also features progressive backups that won't bog performance down for connected users and a nice web-based group start page (Server Advanced only), so users can find just the database they want easily.

Compatibility and Pricing

One drawback for longtime users: FileMaker 12 features a file format change, so you won't be able to mix and match older clients with new files. FMP12 can upgrade old databases to the new format.

Here's the pricing breakdown (all prices are USD).

  • FileMaker Pro 12: $299 ($179 upgrade)
  • FileMaker Pro 12 Advanced: $499 ($299 upgrade)
  • FileMaker Server 12: $999 (599 upgrade)
  • FileMaker Server 12 Advanced: $2999 ($1799 upgrade)
  • FileMaker Go for iPad: Free
  • FileMaker Go for iPhone: Free

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