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FileMaker Pro 6.0 review:

FileMaker Pro 6.0

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The Good Simple installation; instructive manuals; knowledgeable tech support; low learning curve combined with high-end functionality; XML support; easy-to-use interface.

The Bad Doesn't let you customize toolbars.

The Bottom Line The FileMaker Pro 6.0 relational database provides power without forcing you to learn a programming language like Access does. For newcomers and business experts alike, FileMaker is a powerful, intuitive, less expensive alternative to Access.

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CNET Editors' Rating

7.3 Overall

Database programs let you store, retrieve, organize, and analyze all sorts of data, from complex billing records to home-video collections. FileMaker Pro 6.0 lets you manage vast quantities of such information and also allows you to share this information quickly with other applications. FileMaker's attractive, straightforward interface and relatively low $299 price make it easier and more economical than Microsoft Access. We heartily recommend this database program for everyone. Although it's simple enough for novices, it also supplies sophisticated, higher-end features that will suit database veterans. Database programs let you store, retrieve, organize, and analyze all sorts of data, from complex billing records to home-video collections. FileMaker Pro 6.0 lets you manage vast quantities of such information and also allows you to share this information quickly with other applications. FileMaker's attractive, straightforward interface and relatively low $299 price make it easier and more economical than Microsoft Access. We heartily recommend this database program for everyone. Although it's simple enough for novices, it also supplies sophisticated, higher-end features that will suit database veterans.

Set up with ease
FileMaker Pro 6.0's installation process is relatively simple. It follows all of the familiar software setup steps, with one exception: you don't use the code on the CD-ROM sleeve to activate the product. (That code merely identifies the CD-ROM.) The activation information comes in an easily overlooked, two-page booklet entitled "Service Directory and Installation Codes."

Standardized interface
Even database novices will be able to understand FileMaker's intuitive layout. The program's menus resemble the Windows-standard interface (File, Edit, View, Insert, and so forth), except that FileMaker has replaced the Tools category with one called Scripts (wherein you'll access FileMaker's scripting tools, more on that later) and dispersed its Tool commands into other categories. For example, you'll find the Security menu under File > Access Privileges. The new arrangement will take some getting used to for Microsoft Word users. Unfortunately, you can't customize FileMaker's individual toolbar buttons either, as you can in Microsoft Access, but the toolbar selections provide most of what you need.

In the beginning
To create a database from scratch, you can either walk through a simple design process, which involves naming and defining fields in a dialog box, or enter data into an uncomplicated database template. FileMaker supplies roughly two dozen of these prefab templates, tailored to a variety of uses, including family medical records, time billing, and contact management. (Access also has such templates.) If you've created databases in other programs--no problem. FileMaker easily imports files in a host of formats, including comma- and tab-separated values, Excel, Lotus 1-2-3, and HTML.

You'll have no trouble performing all of the typical tasks, such as sorting records and importing files. The Records/Sort submenu lets you right-click to arrange your records either alphabetically or by any field.

If you want to perform complex automated database operations, such as e-mailing a data file or launching your Web browser from the database, FileMaker does it the easy way. Microsoft Access, for example, lets you build database scripts if you're fluent in Microsoft Access Visual Basic. But FileMaker's wizardlike ScriptMaker lets you build scripts using natural English commands, such as "Go to next field," Show All Records, and Send Mail. You can achieve some truly sophisticated results using ScriptMaker in a fraction of the time required to learn Access's Visual Basic. When it comes to ease of use, FileMaker Pro 6.0 beats Access hands down.

XML support
Of all the new features added to FileMaker Pro 6.0, support for XML is the most significant. FileMaker 6.0's XML templates allow the program to import and export a much broader range of document formats, including Excel 2002 spreadsheets, and it does it much faster than previous versions do.

Reliable assistance
Even in FileMaker, you may encounter a problem that you can't solve--it happens to the best of applications. Luckily, you can turn to FileMaker's thoroughly annotated help files and lengthy but well-written manual. What's more, FileMaker's first-rate tech support offers a large, online reference database of articles, as well as a newsletter, FAQs, and knowledgeable phone support. You get free phone support (via a toll call) only for installation and a single troubleshooting call (Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT). After that, you must sign up and pay about $45 per incident for Professional Support Services.

Well worth it
Overall, FileMaker Pro 6.0 combines the complexity that you and your business need with tools that bypass the difficult programming that Microsoft Access requires. FileMaker is straightforward and power-packed enough to appeal to both newbies and vets. Add in its new XML support and slightly lower price tag than Access, and you have a sure winner. Go ahead and try it for free if you don't believe us.

FileMaker Pro 6.0's ScriptMaker makes it easy to design scripts that automate complex tasks.

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