First Thoughts on FileMaker 17

The FileMaker 17 Platform has arrived. While the newest release provides many performance and feature enhancements for both the user and developer, I would like to share my thoughts on a few of the changes that have made an immediate impact in my little corner of the world.

First, there has been a redesign that becomes obvious when one enters Layout Mode. The floating Inspector, Field Picker, and Layout Object windows are no more. They have been replaced with a Field / Objects pane anchored to the left side of the window and an Inspector pane anchored to the right side of the window.

I must admit this change required a short adjustment period when working in Layout Mode. However, it is a feature I have quickly grown to appreciate. As someone who still has a 30-inch Apple Cinema Series display on his desk, I was forever losing the floating Inspector and Layout Object palettes among the 25 other windows I have open at any given point in time. With these tools now anchored to the window where I’m modifying the layout, I know exactly where to find them. If you are developer that likes to have multiple Inspector windows open so you can see multiple tabs at once, have no fear. You are still able to open additional Inspector windows from the View menu.

In Layout Mode, toggle buttons are in place to show or hide either of these two new panes. Another aspect related to this feature that I really like is the automatic resizing of the window when changing modes. Upon entering Layout Mode, the window expands to both the left and right to reveal the two panes if they are set to ‘Show’. When switching back to Browse Mode, the window shrinks to show only the visible part of the layout you want, and not an “extra wide” window with unused space that you have to resize manually if you want to see what the end user sees.

Second, group object selection has been improved. I think we’ve all been there so tell if this sounds familiar. You have grouped several layout objects and added a button action to this group. Then, you discover that you need to change the size/color/font of one of the grouped objects. At this point, you have two options. You either ungroup the object (which removes the button action), make the change(s), regroup the objects, and restore the button action. Or, you just ignore the request made by the user and declare it impossible to make the requested/suggested change.

With this feature enhancement, we are now able to select a group of objects and click again to select an individual object within that group. Now, we can make changes to just this single object without going through the process of ungrouping and then regrouping the objects. Besides the obvious changes to size, color, and font listed previously, we can resize the individual object, reposition it, or even delete it from the group. I am already making plans for the time this is going to save me in my own layout development.

Third, both the Perform Script and Perform Script on Server script steps have been updated. For a number of years, we have had the ability to navigate to a layout or set a field by calculating the name of said layout or field. That functionality is now available when performing a script. This feature may not generate the same level of excitement in users as some of the other enhancements found in FileMaker 17, but I think developers, of which I am one, have been anxiously waiting for this update and are ready to begin implementing it.

One of my first tasks when I began my FileMaker journey over 15 years ago was to automate a series of inventory reports for a manufacturer. These reports, in various combinations based on position and need, were sent to the sales staff, the production planners, and the management team. A script was written to generate each report as a PDF and sent if via email. Then a “master” script was written to call each of the report sub-scripts. Naturally, this technique worked and continues to work well. However, any change to the report needs of the company requires a developer to update the script.

With this new feature, the script names can be added to a Reports table as individual records. Then, the master script loops through the records in this table to send each report. On the surface, this change may not look much different but it allows for greater flexibility. General users now have access to the list of reports and can easily mark a report “Inactive” or select which days of the week a report is to be distributed. Then, the master script generates a found set for the given day based on the proper criteria and sends the appropriate reports for that day.

Finally, the last change I would like to discuss is one I feel is both subtle and obvious, depending upon your perspective. The FileMaker 17 Platform includes FileMaker Pro Advanced, FileMaker Go, FileMaker WebDirect, FileMaker Server, and FileMaker Cloud, but not FileMaker Pro. As a long-time user of FileMaker Pro Advanced, I feel like I’m at a disadvantage whenever I have to sit down at a computer that isn’t mine and try to debug a script using FileMaker Pro. As such, I would have missed the fact that FileMaker Pro no longer exists had it not been explicitly pointed out to me. On the other hand, a novice user may feel intimated by using any product with “Advanced” in its name and continue to search his hard drive for a copy of FileMaker Pro.

Despite any trepidation, I feel this is most definitely a positive change for the FileMaker Platform. The Advanced features are now available to everyone and the full set of development tools are available to all developers. In those cases where out of sight – out of mind is the rule of the day, developers can control the availability of the advanced tools when deploying FileMaker Pro Advanced.

While these are my initial thoughts, there a number of features I’ve yet to explore. As with the few changes detailed here, I’m confident they will improve our collective skills as FileMaker developers and the custom solutions we build.