It’s been over a year and a half since FileMaker 12 was released ushering in a new familiarity with themes based on html/CSS, a new file format, and many other filemaker_13_boximprovements. Today, FileMaker 13 was released with several new enhancements that make it an even better development platform for building iPad/iPhone applications and now applications delivered via the browser.

WebDirect – FileMaker in a Browser

One main feature of FileMaker 13 is the new WebDirect technology that provides a nearly full-featured FileMaker client in a web browser. This is the beginning of major new way of delivering FileMaker solutions utilizing the full html 5 and JavaScript capabilities of a browser to mimic the desktop experience. In this manner, many new solutions can be built that do not require the workstation to install any special software on their computer beyond a supported browser such as Internet Explorer 9/10, Safari and Chrome. This makes FileMaker a much more attractive option in large corporations where they do not want to spend the extra time and expense necessary to install and test a new specific software package on many workstations. It also makes version upgrades much easier as there is no need to upgrade software on many computers as long as the computer has an up-to-date operating system and browser.

WebDirect is a huge improvement over the old Instant Web Publishing (IWP) which is no longer supported. Now you can have desktop style interaction using a browser. Utilizing similar and familiar FileMaker development patterns you can build an application for three different environments: workstation FileMaker client, web browser, or iPad/iPhone (FileMaker Go).

WebDirect will be best for new solutions that are built and designed for the technology. There are several features that won’t work under WebDirect including PDF printing, multiple windows, client-side plug-ins, ESS from clients, some import-export functions, and interaction with external applications, etc. WebDirect also does not allow for spreadsheet like table view, modification/development of the database, entry of rich text formatted (RTF) data, printing of complete multi-page reports, interaction with the operating in or file system, or customization of the menu bar. So as of yet WebDirect is NOT a full replacement for FileMaker client but we expect that over time it will get better and better. WebDirect is limited to 50 concurrent users unless there is a site license.

An interesting idea is to utilize WebDirect for deployment on Android/Windows mobile systems but its performance is not guaranteed due to the large variation in browser versions and processing power on mobile devices. Much testing of your particular solution on the actual devices to be used would be required.

FileMaker makes it clear that WebDirect is designed for two situations:

  1. Creating new FileMaker solutions that are targeted at the browser
  2. Extending existing solution to include occasional users or remote users

To take full advantage of WebDirect likely requires rewriting or rebuilding existing layouts and scripts. WebDirect is not designed to take an existing FileMaker solution and run it, with no changes, in a browser.

WebDirect is very interactive and even includes the ability to drag and drop into container fields. It is a powerful technology that will show its usefulness quickly.

With the new WebDirect feature, some changes to FileMaker licensing arrangements were required. Licensing FileMaker now boils down to the following rule: Paid client (FileMaker Pro) means free server and free client (desktop browser or FileMaker Go on iPad/iPhone) means paid server. The new paid server options come through purchasing user concurrency packs that determine how many free clients can be connected to the server at one time. PHP-based custom web publishing remains free as in the past.

For an even more detailed explanation of WebDirect and tips for making the most of this new technology, see this article.

FileMaker 13 Server

Server options are simplified with the elimination of FileMaker Server Advanced. IWP is no longer supported and WebDirect is the replacement. The number of connections is always Unlimited.

One very welcome server change is removing the Java dependency for FileMaker Server admin console. Now the admin console is entirely web browser based so there will no longer be issues when Java gets updated. Other changes in server include support for WebDirect and the ability to separate out container files onto a separate data path. This would make it easier to utilize a fast SSD drive on server for the main FileMaker data and a lower cost/higher capacity platter drive for large images or file storage.

fmp13_server admin console stats

TCP/IP port consolidation also goes toward ease of implementation. Asking IT to open several new ports on a Firewall to support FileMaker is sometimes a security challenge and now that burden is reduced.

Server is now supported on Windows 2008 R2 SP1 or 2012 Server or Windows 7/8 or Mac OS X Mountain Lion and above…only 64-bit OS versions in all cases.
Versions of Mac OS X prior to Mountain Lion had an easy to turn on Web Sharing feature to enable the Apache Web Server. Since Apache support is required for WebDirect, you may need to turn on Apache on Mac OS X non-server versions from the command line.

Other New FileMaker 13 Features

Overall, there are more than 50 new features in this upgrade. Many of the new features of FileMaker 13 allow developers to create more interactive applications and richer user interface experiences more similar to what people are used to on iOS. Some other features were available via external plug-ins in the past but are now built directly into FileMaker so that they become more widely used and simplify the implementation. Included are several new controls and options:

  • Slide control – Displays items similar to popular web controls.
  • Popover button control – Non printing. The new Popover control could easily be used to completely replace the Display Dialog script step with more control over all the elements contained on the dialog.
  • iPad/iPhone Gesture recognition through triggers OnGestureTap and Get(TriggerGestureInfo)
  • Screen rotation detection through the OnLayoutSizeChange trigger and Get(WindowOrientation)
  • Set ScriptAnimation and Get(ScriptAnimationState)

Themes

With FileMaker 13 you can now create, reuse, and share custom themes so themes become much more useful than they were with FileMaker 12. Styles are also new in FileMaker 13 so that you can more easily apply consistent interface elements throughout a solution by changing the style in one place.

Additional New FileMaker 13 Functions

  • Base64Encode/Decode – Useful for syncing or transferring container data over the internet as text.
  • Get (Device) – Mac/PC/iPad/iPhone
  • Get (ModifiedFields) return-separated list of fields in base table of current record
  • Get (NetworkType) – None/Unknown/Cellular/WiFi/Wired
  • Get (ConnectionAttributes) for SSL connections
  • Get (WindowOrientation) – Landscape/Square/Portrait, also position of home button
  • Get (CurrentTimeUTCMilliseconds)
  • GetContainerAttribute(“all”) shows a ton of information about what is stored in a container field including: image width/height/dpi/transparency, other, created, modified, latitude, longitude, audio title/album/year/track/genre/composer/coverArt/duration/bitrate, storageType, fileSize, internalSize, externalSize, externalFiles, etc.

Here are also several miscellaneous new features and changes worth mentioning:

  • Now with database Encryption At Rest (EAR) and 256 bit options, FileMaker data is even more secure.
  • The new field picker makes it easier to add fields to a layout with labels attached with various options as well as create new fields easily in a table. This style of developer control is a view into the future of the FileMaker developer interface.
  • The new conditional show/hide (visibility) option for layout objects allows for many new types of user interactions. You can easily simplify data entry by showing only the fields that apply based on selections in other fields.
  • Perform Script on Server provides options to speed up solutions by offloading tasks to the server.
  • The new http post script step makes it possible to more easily integrate FileMaker with external web sites.
  • The starter solutions have also been improved in this version. Even with their simplified data structure, they provide a good starting point for learning how to design a FileMaker solution.
  • Uploading of new databases to server now takes place directly from the client. You must close the database and then choose File>Sharing>Upload to FileMaker Server. It requires an administrator username and password.
  • Tab names can now be calculated as well as custom dialog button names.
  • Container fields now have an attribute function so that it can be specified what type of information should be stored in the container. Bar code scanning and is now built in so it no longer requires an external plugin. The Insert from Device command supports Music, Photo, Camera, Video, Microphone, Barcode (to text/container), and Signature.
  • You can specify the type of keyboard options you want to show up on the iPad/iPhone to make data entry easier. This includes the following keyboard types: default, ASCII, URL, Email, Numeric 10-key, Numeric keypad, Number and punctuation, and phone.
  • Creating a new layout now leads you through the process with a wizard that allows selection of the destination (computer, iPad, printed report) and type (form, list, table, or report).

fmp13_new layout dialog

 

Conclusion

With these new options, FileMaker system requirements are now Mac OS X Lion (10.7) and above or Windows 7 and above. So this is the end for Mac OS Snow Leopard and Windows XP support. On iOS, FileMaker Go requires version 6 and above and iTunes 10.x.

Overall, this is a strong FileMaker update that brings many new and modern capabilities to the FileMaker platform. For the majority of FileMaker users, that have annual licenses and renewal maintenance agreements, it isn’t a question of IF you upgrade, it is WHEN. The smart move is to stay current with software versions even if it is an investment upfront, because it is an investment that will pay off. It appears there will be a grace period on licensing upgrades and renewals for current FileMaker customers until mid/late 2014.

Traditionally, FileMaker upgrades have been well tested and stable. FileMaker 13 is like version 2.0 of the new file format and html display engine (introduced in FileMaker 12) so it includes performance enhancements as well as adding many features. Our recommendation is to start testing your solution immediately as well as upgrading the OS for any older computers in your environment. Play with the new features and plan your upgrades to install in the next month or two. With people taking vacations at the end of the year, it may actually be a good time to do so. If there are any major gotchas, they will likely be fixed with an update release from FileMaker in a couple of weeks so taking a careful and planned approach to upgrades is always a good bet.

Have fun making even better technology solutions even faster and easier!

References

FileMaker Installation and New Features – http://www.filemaker.com/support/product/documentation.html

FileMaker 13 Help Docs – http://fmhelp.filemaker.com/docs/13/en/fmp13_help.pdf

FileMaker Pro/Advanced Release Notes – http://help.filemaker.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/12530

FileMaker Server Release Notes – http://help.filemaker.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/12541

FileMaker Go Release Notes – http://help.filemaker.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/12799

WebDirect – http://help.filemaker.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/12574

WebDirect Guide – https://fmhelp.filemaker.com/docs/13/en/fm13_webdirect_guide.pdf

FileMaker OS Requirements – http://help.filemaker.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/4701