In Filemaker 8.5, the database maker incorporates a powerful, new set of features that broaden the scope of its abilities. We liked the last version, Filemaker 8, for spiffing up its interface and being able to export PDFs. Filemaker's latest upgrade allows you embed Web pages within database layouts.
Filemaker 8.5 is a user-friendly database application that will display and play anything your Web browser can: HTML, PDF pages, QuickTime videos, Java applets, and Flash animations, as well as SVG and PHP content. Therefore, you can view Google Maps, FedEx packages, Wikipedia entries, and more without leaving Filemaker to open a browser window. We haven't seen anything like this in competing software, such as Microsoft Access.
The browser capacity within Filemaker 8.5 opens the door to all sorts of creative uses. For instance, it lets you feed any data that gets updated frequently on a Web site, such as stock prices, directly into your database, live, without having to manually retype it. You could also drop an online map within a Filemaker layout to show the location within a contact's address field. Other Web data tie-ins could include currency exchange rates, contact details from a company's "about us" Web page, or whatever you dream up. If your database tracks, say, contacts in the news media, you could connect a particular reporter's latest stories with his or her listing in the database.
The browser content appears seamlessly within a Filemaker window, so on the surface, you can't tell where the database ends and the online content begins. While the embedded browser doesn't include an address bar or Back and Forward buttons, you can add those and other abilities with the Web Viewer script step. You'll need reliable Internet access, of course. Filemaker 8.5 uses the default browser for your operating system. The database can also display mobile Web pages to keep the browser views small and simple.
It's painless to embed Web sites into your database designs: just enter Layout Mode, choose Web Viewer from the Insert menu, draw a box where the Web content will appear, and type a URL. We dropped an eBay auction page into a Filemaker 8.5 template within about a minute. However, we anticipate that quirks may crop up over time--for example, if data fields from the Web change stop matching those linked within your database.
Additionally, Filemaker is introducing new Object functions and script steps. Version 8.5 now allows developers to name Objects, thereby reducing the use of hidden fields. A revamped Learning Center includes video tutorials and other online help to step you through the functions. And Filemaker 8.5 operates on both Intel- and PowerPC-based Macs, which purportedly runs twice as fast as version 8 does on a PowerPC. Once we spend a bit more time with Filemaker 8.5, we'll post a rated review.