Category Archives: FileMaker Resources

Ma.gnolia bookmarks group for FileMaker

Magnolia_logo

Hi folks. Ma.gnolia is a lot like del.icio.us. It is a bookmarking sharing site. But it’s a little newer and nicer than del.icio.us. Three distinguishing features are that it looks better and it has powerful support for groups and has an easier to comprehend UI.

The advantage of these kinds of sites at minimum is that you get humans (your peers) helping you find cool stuff on the web rather than relying solely on your own efforts to find cool stuff that matches your interests and priorities. If you find some people who share some of your interests, sharing bookmarks saves time and increases the value of your internet time.

When you join Ma.gnolia, you can join any of the existing groups or create your own. There’s a FileMaker group already that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention thus far but I thought I would tell you about it and encourage people to start sharing FileMaker-related bookmarks in Ma.gnolia’s FileMaker group.

By the way, you don’t have to join Ma.gnolia. The FileMaker group is open to the public. If you do register, it consists of selecting a username and password and giving them an email address of some sort. Easy.

I like playing with new social software like this and hopefully sharing with fellow FileMaker developers to our mutual benefit. Places like this keep things interesting and afterall we are software developers and like to play with new software don’t we?

Update March 23, 2008. Since telling you about the Ma.gnolia FileMaker group, I’ve discovered Diigo which seems to be a more full-featured, firefox-supported bookmarking site. Anyone like that? Let me know if you have a preference or even prefer del.icio.us. One major advantage of del.icio.us is that it is most widely adopted. There are also rumors of a new version of del.icio.us and more social bookmarking features in Google Reader. No matter. But I would love us to collaborate around sharing links pertaining to filemaker. Let me know your thoughts here or via email.

Using BaseElements for FileMaker Pro 9 to get PrivilegeSet data

Baseelements_privilegesets

I purchased BaseElements from Goya in mid December and it is a must have tool from my perspective as a FileMaker developer. I need all the help I can get to document my solutions, check them for errors and find my way around my solution when I’m building new features or debugging something that’s not working the way I want.

BaseElements takes the XML in the DDR and puts it into nice little FileMaker records where we can see exactly what is going on and get to the heart of the matter in a hurry.

I’m enjoying having this tool very much but I found it even more valuable after making a discovery. The solution is pretty open but where it is really wide-open is when you create new layouts. I was trying to get all the table and field access details of the 16 privilegesets in Studio Manager into records so I could print them out as documentation and use them as a reference without having to go into Manage Accounts & Privileges.

It wasn’t obvious how to do this because all I could see was a privilegeset record with some tabs, one of which showed each table in a portal with things like whether you could create, edit or delete records in that table given the current privilegeset. I wanted all the custom field access. What fields could they not see? That seemed to require getting down to a lower level of granularity but there was no tab for that.

I happened to try creating a new layout and voilá all the related tables within the PrivilegeSets table were there for my choosing. End of problem. You can export data too. I don’t really need to export, but creating a simple custom report layout will give me what I need.

My next experiment will be to try out the compare file capability introduced in version 1.6 that lets you compare one version of a solution with another. I already purchased and wrote about FMdiff and recommend it to the skies for those who need a near instantaneous way of comparing two filemaker files.

Customizing with FileMaker Pro 8.5, Part 1

I have long intended to write more about how to customize my FileMaker-based Studio Manager product. I thought I would blog about FileMaker and use simple examples from Studio Manager along the way. First off, are some essential FileMaker resources at your disposal.

Studio Manager is about 99% unlocked. It is targeted towards firms and individuals who want to shape their mission critical software, at least to some extent, to their own unique needs.

To get the full value out of any FileMaker-based product (that is not locked up tighter than a drum), you need to get your hands dirty and learn a little FileMaker.

When I made a mind map on the subject of customizing Studio Manager, the first thing I noticed is that fully 80% of the topics were simply FileMaker basics. I realized that it makes no sense for me to duplicate what is already in the 108-page FileMaker 8 User Manual that comes in the box.

FM 8 User Manual

By the way, even though FileMaker Pro 8.5 is a $100 upgrade to FileMaker Pro 8, it is still FileMaker Pro 8 and therefore, the user manual is a guide to FileMaker Pro 8, not 8.5. FMI provides a one page listing of 8.5’s new features in the installation guide (see cover below) but the informational meat about FM 8.5 is in the online help.

FM85 Installation Guide

Attention Beginners: you gotta check out and use the FileMaker Pro 8 User’s Guide if you want to take charge of your database and make it do your bidding.

I am going to slant this series towards people who have purchased a FileMaker Pro 8.5 template or who have chosen to use one of the free FileMaker templates that come in the box.

Now is the time to crack open the user manual and learn a little bit about FileMaker. There is a great little overview of FileMaker on pages 9, 10 and 11 that will give you a thumbnail sketch of what FileMaker can do. The bottom of page 11 and all of page 12 tell you what is new in FileMaker 8 which is of interest if you are upgrading from a previous version of FileMaker.

This is a well-produced manual. The pages are horizontal, 6“ x 9” with two columns. Very readable and friendly. Every time I cover something related to this manual, I will give you a page reference so that you can get the straight scoop from FileMaker. And then I will embellish, provide examples and apply the basics. I will provide the real-world portion based on my 20 years of FileMaker customizing experience.

When you buy FileMaker, you get a full pdf of the user manual too. It installs automatically when you install FileMaker if you choose the default install. Two cool things about a PDF, (1) you can get to it without getting up and finding your manual and (2) it is great if you have lost your manual and (3) it is searchable by keyword.

Creating a database in fmp 85 CvrI should mention another resource in case you are not aware. FileMaker Inc. is currently giving away an introductory ebook on FileMaker Pro 8.5 when you buy a copy of FileMaker. It is called: Creating a Database in FileMaker Pro 8.5 and is a Visual QuickProject book. What is cool about this book is it is totally hands on. You are led step-by-step through a FileMaker project. This is a great way to get yourself over the hump of actually using FIleMaker as a casual developer. Highly recommended.

By the way, Amazon is selling FileMaker Pro 8.5 with free shipping for $268.99 as of this writing. You can get the ebook this way too. The free ebook deal expires on June 21st and does not apply to upgrades. For details. You can see and read some book excerpts on O’Reilly’s book page by clicking the Start Reading Online button.

FileMaker users can be classified into the following groups:

(1) data-entry basic

(2) data-entry advanced

(3) data users

(4) advanced users

(5) beginning developers

(6) intermediate developers

(7) advanced developers

(8) professional developers

If you have been tasked with entering data into a FileMaker database to perhaps enter all your company contacts and that is all you plan to do, you do not need these references. Just get a 15-minute briefing about the specific entry screen and data you need to enter and be on your way.

Otherwise, you are going to benefit greatly from these information sources. If you are already advanced, chances are you are more committed to learning FileMaker and even though you will know quite a bit of what is in these resources, there is always that tidbit now and then that will make the reading worth your while. Read for your type of use or development and skip over what doesn’t interest or apply.

The Online Help. Don’t forget the online help when you have FileMaker already fired up. Sometimes, if you have a big screen, it is easier to just have the online help open beside your database and use it there when you have a question.

Just type Cmd-? or choose FileMaker Pro Help from the Help menu. Beginners should click the first link called FileMaker Pro Basics and go from there. FileMaker’s online help is an invaluable reference. It greatly exceeds the printed user manual in the depth of its coverage.

FMP Online Help

These introductory comments are just the tip of the iceberg on this topic. I intend to talk about creating and modifying layouts very soon. Perhaps by the time you read this, you will see several other posts in this series. Our goal for the Studio Manager product is to create an entire little manual on customizing Studio Manager.

These blog posts are intended to be chunks of content that will go into our customizing manual. We just didn’t want to wait until the whole manual was done to get the information out to you. As my fellow developer and creator of FileMaker Magazine, Matt Petrowsky, says, happy FileMaking!

New Tech Brief on Migrating to FileMaker 8

Techbrief Tab

Bob Bowers, FileMaker book author and CEO of Soliant Consulting, one of the top FileMaker consulting firms, has written a very practical and experience-based guide to migrating pre-7 solutions to 8. It is available as a pdf at FileMaker’s website. It’s called Best Practices Upgrading to FileMaker 8: Migrating pre-.fp7 solutions to FileMaker 8 and getting the most out of the new FileMaker 8 features.

Read this before you upgrade from FileMaker 4/5/6 and you should be in good shape. Much better shape than you would be without it. Don’t forget to complete the checklist.

Many of the other technical briefs are now referring to FileMaker 8, but some seem to have just be superficially refreshed. There may be some important changes here and there, though, that I haven’t spotted yet. Please let me know what you find. All the technical briefs are available here.

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New FileMaker 7 Training CDs

A couple weeks ago, FMPTraining announced their new 8-CD set. The trainer, Jerry Robin, is known to be a great FileMaker trainer, so I was very interested to see this new offering. I spoke with Jerry and found out that it’s a hell of a lot of work to do something like this.

The price for each CD is a VERY reasonable $39. The set goes for $299 but there seems to be a special on right now for $269. Each CD has about two hours worth of training on it.

Here’s what he’s got:

Volume1: Using FileMaker Pro

Volume 2: Building a Database

Volume 3: Layout Design

Volume 4 & 5: Relational Database Design (2 CDs)

Volume 6: Importing, Exporting, and Reporting

Volume 7: Security

Volume 8: Introduction to Scripting

The material is beginning to intermediate. If you don’t know FileMaker 7, even if you are a hot shot with FileMaker 6, you are probably in the intermediate category with a lot of this material, especially the relational database design and security CDs.

As I see it, CD training provides us with a great compliment to our other FileMaker learning resources:

  • Books
  • An array of Classroom Training options
  • The FileMaker Developer’s Conference
  • User Group meetings
  • One-on-one tutoring
  • Matt Petrowsky’s FileMaker Magazine Online Training
  • FileMaker Advisor Magazine

What I like about the CD’s is that they fill needs that the other alternatives don’t such as:

  • Stimulation. More compelling. Lots of people these days have trouble getting through a technical book. Instead, you’ve got a real person talking you through a series of training exercises. A lot more warm and fuzzies than you can get from a book (Of course, a CD can’t beat the engagement you would have in a live training with a top trainer like Jerry).
  • Timeshifting and Personalizing the Pacing. Like a book, a CD can be used whenever it is convenient. You can do 2 CDs if you really want to learn something one day. You can decide to do one a day for 8 days for an intensive learning experience. You can watch something twice – either repeat the whole CD or just rewind a bit for something you need to hear twice to really get it.
  • You don’t have to wait until the class is offered in your area.
  • It comes to you. They ship you the CDs. You don’t have to travel. You don’t have to be able to afford the airfare and lodging and time off. This feature gets really important when you live in a remote area and don’t have the time and money to travel somewhere to learn from the best.
  • It’s Cheap. You get over 16 hours of training from a world-class FileMaker trainer for the price of 1 day of training at your local computer training outfit.
  • It’s Portable. You can take the CD’s anywhere. If you are going home for the holidays and you aren’t going to be busy with really fun stuff every minute, you could bring a couple CDs for a break from the festivities/family.

That’s probably enough of a prelude. Soon, I’ll be able to tell you firsthand what these CD’s are like. They are on the way and should be at my house by Saturday. I’ll report back to tell you how it goes. I’ll probably go right to relational design and security because I can use all the help and different angles on these topics I can get.

FileMaker Advisor Magazine Rocks

Filemakeradvisor

I just renewed my subscription to FileMaker Advisor magazine. The reason I did with pleasure is that they’ve got all their articles for the last three years online. I didn’t have to wait after I subscribed. The subscriptions person I reached by phone (800-336-6060) was able to walk me through the process and even change my username and password for me to what I preferred.

Now, instead of waiting 4-6 weeks for a paper copy of the latest magazine to arrive, I have access today to all the articles in the Dec/Jan 2005 issue!

Plus, I get a retroactive 3 year subscription for the price of one future year. The subscription for 6 issues in 12 months is $49. Given the massive amount of new and valuable information that is being generated by top FileMaker developers in this magazine, the money is very well spent.

If you want a quicker and easier way to climb the FileMaker 7 learning curve, FileMaker Advisor is one of the best information sources there is. If you aren’t a subscriber or have let your subscription lapse like me, head on over and check it out.

Book Alert: Learn FileMaker Pro 7

Learn FM7 bookThis is the first book I’ve seen that actually covers advanced topics in some depth. List priced at $36.95, it’s available at Amazon for $25.13. It just barely exceeds their free shipping threshold so you can get it pretty quickly without paying extra for shipping.

Here’s the scoop. It’s level is listed as “introductory to advanced.” If you are on the advanced end of the scale, you can scan and skim the introductory material looking for the *good stuff* like explanations of more advanced new features, gotcha warnings and relational design concepts. I’ve got a text file going so I can make some notes on the good stuff for future posts here.

The book is 515 pages in all – and those are densely packed with information including a good index, a glossary and questions at the end of each chapter with answers in the back of the book. The teaching-effectiveness-quotient of the book is upped a few notches by the able assistance of Nonie Bernard, director of curriculum development for FMPtraining – one of the very best FileMaker training outfits.

I love the fine balance they’ve struck between advanced and beginner. That’s a tough proposition but they’ve made some of the tougher subjects seem easy. I’m betting that more of you are in the intermediate to advanced level than beginner, so will address the advanced coverage next.

There’s a lot of advanced content in this book! They devote page 88 – 134 to “Working with Related Tables”. That’s not a cursory glance like you see in a lot of FileMaker books. Calculations are covered in three chapters from page 181 to 227. Scripting is 230 to 263. There are brief sections on XML (9 pages) and Conversion Issues (8 pages).

Overall. If you need to know FileMaker 7 now, get this book. This could be a great primer for you if you are going to the FileMaker Developer’s conference on August 29th. You’ll know what the heck people are talking about and get more out of the conference – which will be full of FileMaker 7 content.

New FileMaker 7 Graph Rules Video

Graph-Rules-Petrowsky

Matt Petrowsky has done it again. He released a free one hour video on Saturday that walks you through a particularly confusing aspect of relationship creation in Filemaker 7. The video article is called Graph Rules – Four rules to remember and is available at the ISO FileMaker Magazine site.

I recommend this video for anyone who is grappling with how the relationships diagram works. If you are knowledgeable about FileMaker, you probably will get more out of this than if you are a newcomer because you have habits to break. But he’s managed to make it work for either audience by covering basic principles in the first part and then tackling a tricky *rule* later on.

Matt includes a free download with before and after file examples so you can practice and experiment with the first and doublecheck yourself with the second.

His four rules are a little hokey but effective:

1. There shalt not be any circular references. Thou must have a start and an end between table occurrences.

2. Thou shalt have as many table occurrences as needed. The key to the graph is organization.

3. From wherest thou is, if thine eyes cannot see what thouest desire, another TO is what ye may aspire.

4. Along thy relationship chain, any given TO knows of all others but only through his brother.

Right now, if you plan to do even moderately sophisticated development with FileMaker 7, you probably need all the help and repetition you can get. Take the hour. I followed along while lying on my couch with my Powerbook.

FileMaker 7 Migration Bootcamp Day 3

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Day 3 wasn’t quite the triumph I was hoping for, but it delivered the goods. I suspect we were all too exhausted for it to be as ecstatic as it might have been. Nevertheless, we did find the consolidation of knowledge we were looking for.

By day 3, brain death was still an issue for me. I was in bootcamp, and I was getting tired, so it was sometimes hard to think clearly. However, armed with the previous evening’s clarity in written form, I was able to ask the questions I needed to ask and get a sense of closure from my 3 day inquiry and education.

Sitting here in my living room, the day after a good night’s sleep, I am feeling powerful, excited and confident to move forward with dispatch on the process of migration. This training has been such a positive experience that I’m now considering taking The Support Group‘s 4 day FileMaker 7 training called What’s Next? in the next couple of months. They do kick ass training too and offer classes near me in San Mateo. For now, though, I’m going to give myself some time to assimilate, incorporate and elaborate on what I learned here.

Planning and being organized about migration have been key themes. My good intentions about planning the process and adhering to the discipline of tracking every step along the way have been strengthened mightily. Trial and error testing is a great compliment but a poor substitute for using the MetaDataMagic tool to get a list of possible conversion issues and addressing them one by one.

I had two goals going into the training. (1) Get a handle on migration issues and (2) learn a lot more about FileMaker 7. These two goals were accomplished. My approach and strategy for converting my powerful and complex in-house filemaker system and my product has changed. On my own, I’ve tried both ends of the spectrum: (1) Build from scratch and (2) Convert and run and modify. I’m abandoning both of these approaches for a better third approach. And, I’ve learned a great deal about 7 so that knowledge will inform my work.

My new *big picture* migration plan:

  1. Create an action plan even if it’s only the first phase – I can do phase 2 after I’ve gained some experience in phase 1. This will include a list of key business processes that need to work correctly – giving me a master checklist against which to measure my progress.
  2. Fix the file references and make sure passwords and groups are set-up cleanly so the conversion will work. Use MetaDataMagic to help with this.
  3. Use MetaDataMagic to identify conversion issues and handle as many as possible in FileMaker 6 prior to conversion. The free Conversion Issues Database is very helpful here.
  4. Convert to 7.
  5. Handle the rest of the identified conversion issues to clean things up with testing as I go along. I received a great set of example files mentioned yesterday that will let get some hands on mastery with key conversion issues by playing with the files.
  6. Avoid introducing 7 features into the converted files because they were designed in an environment where multiple windows and multiple tables in the same file were not possible. The logic within these converted files will work surprisingly well as long as I don’t complicate things.
  7. Then – the fun part. Create a new UI file to start creating new FM7 features. This gives me a sandbox where I can learn 7 and start gaining benefits from it.
  8. Rebuild the converted files in a new 7 file. One approach is to call it data but there are many more options. Using FMrobot and other tools, it is surprisingly easy to do this in 7. This step can be done over a period of months. There’s no hurry.

The migration plan above is directly based on what I learned in this class. Knowing what I know now, I am certain that I will be worlds better off with this approach than with what I had going before attending the class. This class gave me the concepts and information I need to move forward in a bold, clear-eyed way. Very exciting! More FM7 insights coming soon.