Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Filemaker Pro 8.0 offers many timesaving features

I've been evaluating Filemaker Pro 8 and I am very pleased with the enhancements included in this release.

The new table import function makes conversions of Filemaker 6 or older files to the new multiple tables in a single file structure of Filemaker 7/8 much easier. The import table function automatically creates the table and appropriate field names with correct data types and, for calculated fields, the formulas as well. The main thing you will need to do is establish a relationship to the newly imported table, remove the relationship to the old external file, and correct any field calculations in the parent file that are based on the old external relationship.

You will still need to add any value lists that existed in the old external file, copy and paste any layouts you wish to retain that were in the old file, and then import any scripts you need from the old file but its still a big time-saver. Recreating the fields was very time-consuming with Filemaker 7 ( I only wish I had version 8 about two months ago when I converted our entire student information system to the new structure!) By the way, if you convert files in the order I suggested - import table with fields, recreate value lists, copy layouts, then import scripts - this will minimize the amount of work you will need to do during the conversion process. If the value lists exist before you copy the layouts, the drop-down or radio-button fields will not have to be reformatted. If the layouts exist before you import the scripts, your script steps calling particular layouts will come over without errors.

Another terrific feature is the new Tab Control object. Each year when I teach the Filemaker Pro interface design workshop, I spend half a class period teaching students how to create a tabbed layout from scratch. Now, you simply choose the tab control object from the tools palette, type in the names of all the tabs you wish, and the tabbed layout is created automatically with each tab already scripted to switch from one collection of data to the next. If you drag and drop fields onto one of the tab layout areas, it automatically becomes grouped with the tab.

To share reports electronically with administrative staff that may not have or know how to use Filemaker Pro, Filemaker Pro 8 now offers a PDF and Excel Maker. You just select Save/Send Records As and choose PDF or Excel. You'll be asked if you want to send all records being browsed or only the current record and if you wish to email it. If you check the email with attachment option, your email client pops up with the file attached for you to add a message and send. You can also send the contents of one or more fields by selecting File -> Send Mail then right-click in the Message Box and select the fields you wish to send. If you address your message to the database email address field (if one exists), it will mail an email to each person with their related information in the message box field.

The new Fast Match function lets you right click on a field with the contents you are interested in and select "Find Matching" and it will automatically find all records containing the same contents. Then you can right click on another field with contents you want to focus on and select "Constrain Found Set" to further filter your results. For example, if I am looking at a set of student records and right click in the last name field of a record containing Harrsch, and select "Find Matching" it will find all records with the last name of Harrsch. Then, if I click in the First Name field on a record with the First Name of Mary and select "Constrain Found Set" it will filter out all records from the first find that do not have Mary in the First Name field. For single criterion finds this fuction is a real timesaver.

A couple of other nice tools include the ability to choose to display a calendar drop-down in a date field format to ease data entry. The new Field list filtering feature automatically limits your sort function field list to only fields that are on the currently selected layout so time spent scrolling to find the appropriate field to sort by is minimized. There is also a spell check as you type function that, like Microsoft Word, underlines possibly misspelled words and suggests replacements. It also now provides mouse-wheel support to scroll through records in a database.
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