For the last few years, the FileMaker application's biggest competitors have been the spreadsheet applications. Spreadsheets are simple to understand, 'good enough' for keeping lists of things, and great for 'doing graphs' of most persuasions.

For the casual user, FileMaker Pro 11 may prove itself a spreadsheet killer. It can now create gorgeous 2D and 3D bar, line and pie charts with not a plug-in in sight: charts are straightforward to design and extremely easy to tweak, putting to rest a glaring omission from previous versions.

But charts aside, it's the overriding 'ease of use' theme that's the real story here. Spreadsheets beware Prior to FileMaker Pro 11, you had to go about creating a database via the Define Database dialog box.

With 11, however, creating a new database is done in Table view, with controls for adding columns across the top and rows down the side – just like a spreadsheet. Except that here, columns are really database fields, and rows are database records. You can rename columns by double-clicking them, and specify their types and options from a drop-down menu.

Using the same drop-down menu, it's possible to add live grouping and sub-summaries to your table. Suppose you have a table of month, year, and sales data – you can sort your data by month and year, and an automatic subtotal row will be added to show a sales subtotal for every year, something that in Excel might require pivot tables.

Version 11 of FileMaker Pro offers two more prongs of attack on its spreadsheet rivals. First, there's Quick Find, which gives you a Spotlight-like search field in the toolbar that can be used to seek out all the indexed fields on the current layout. You can also customise Quick Find to look for a particular term and show matching records only in the fields you specify.

Second, there's Recurring Import – a way for you to specify a file (of the Excel, CSV or TAB variety) that should be imported every time your database is opened. (The one catch is that the imported data is read-only, but this is ideal for things like pricing data or exchange rates.)

The easy way

It could be argued that both of the above features could be achieved in version 10 via the use of scripting, but FileMaker Pro 11 makes it almost childishly simple.

Combined with the charting and table input features, casual users are more likely to reach for FileMaker than a spreadsheet when they just need to throw some data together quickly.

charting

Version 11 also has plenty to offer the experienced FileMaker user. In Layout mode, an Inspector palette offers complete control over fields, portals, and tabs without you needing to resort to contextual menus. Object badges identify conditionally formatted elements on a layout, and those indexed fields are searchable via Quick Find. You can also select which fields Quick Find searches on a per-layout basis.

When adding buttons to a layout, you can create new scripts on the fly. (In Advanced mode you can do the same for script triggers and custom menus.) Layouts can now be grouped into folders, portals filtered via calculations, and script variables used in both find requests and displayed as merged fields.

In terms of compatibility, the FP7 format is retained so that older clients can open version 11 files, but there's now an option to make files require 11. Given that lot, it's a winner.

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