FileMaker 9 Bulks Up without Adding Complexity

Review:Version 9 of FileMaker Professional builds upon the back-end connectivity strengths of previous versions with a new capacity for forging connections between FileMaker databases and SQL data sources.

FileMaker Inc.s FileMaker 9 Professional is the latest in a long line of desktop database products that, as with previous versions, distinguishes itself with its ease of use.

FileMaker is best known as a productivity tool for individuals and small groups. However, the product has, over its past few iterations, grown thicker back-end roots—most apparently through the addition of the FileMaker Server variants.

Version 9 of FileMaker Professional builds upon the back-end connectivity strengths of previous versions with a new capacity for forging connections between FileMaker databases and SQL data sources without requiring users to craft a single SQL command.

FileMaker 9 Professional also impressed me with its new support for conditional formatting, which enabled me, for instance, to highlight empty fields in red as an alert that they need to be filled in.

FileMaker 9 Professional sells for $299 for a full version, or $179 for an upgrade version. The product is available for purchase directly through FileMakers Web site at, and may be ordered in physical media or immediate download forms. (For an extra $20, you may download immediately as well as receive the physical media.)

FileMaker 9 Professional comes in both Windows (XP SP2 or better) and Apple OS X (10.4.8 or better) flavors. I tested the product on an HP notebook running Windows Vista Ultimate. FileMaker 9 Professional works with MS SQL Server 2000 and 2005, Oracle 9g and 10g, and MySQL 5.0.

SQL Connectivity

I set out to test FileMakers new SQL database connectivity by firing up in Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, an rPath-based Mediawiki software appliance. Mediawiki stores its page data in a MySQL database, which I intended to manipulate through FileMakers friendly interface.

I downloaded an ODBC driver for Windows from MySQLs Web site, and installed and configured a system data source name (DSN) on my Vista test system for my MySQL server.

Linking up to the MySQL database through FileMaker was fairly easy—I created a new FileMaker database, clicked over to the database management entry in the applications "File" menu, and selected my Mediawiki MySQL database from the products data sources drop-down menu.

However, I hit a snag in my effort to edit my wiki pages through FileMaker, which, as it turns out, does not support the BLOB (Binary Large Object) data type which Mediawiki uses for its page data.

It would be great to see BLOB support make its way into a future version of FileMaker, as this appears to be a frequently used data type. While trawling the Web for a workaround, for instance, I noted that others have bumped up against this data type limitation while working to link up FileMaker to images stored in SQL databases in BLOB format.

I turned instead to a different MySQL-backed Web application, the Scuttle social bookmarking project, which stores its link descriptions in a plain text format. I linked my test FileMaker database up to the MySQL database of the Scuttle test instance Id set up, and I used FileMaker to browse through and modify the Scuttle link entries.

From there, I was able to tweak the form layout that FileMaker generated to map back to my Scuttle bookmarks table, and add in FileMaker interface niceties, such as the applications new conditional formatting controls. For instance, I configured the description field for each bookmark to appear highlighted in red for records in which the description was blank.

I could then shuffle through my bookmarks, noting, with the aid of the conditionally formatted FileMaker interface Id created, the records that lacked a description, and adding that information.

With previous versions of FileMaker Professional, users could work with SQL data by querying SQL data sources and copying these query results to a FileMaker table for further processing or reference. In Version 9, SQL links have gone live. Sure enough, as I modified the records in my test database, the changes appeared immediately on the Web interface of my Scuttle instance.