I just coughed up nearly $200 to enter the 21st century with FileMaker Pro’s latest database update. I’m sure a lot of Mac users don’t know it, but FileMaker is a hugely popular database application which kinda sorta started life first on the Mac, then Windows.
The latest version moves forward, does more (Mac or Windows), and comes with a bunch of Starter Solutions to, well, you know, help you get started. Why? Setting up and managing a custom database is not child’s play.
The Mother of all Mac Databases
FileMaker Pro really began life back in the early 1980s as Nutshell, a DOS database, developed by Nashoba. When the Mac hit the streets Nashoba’s database went all GUI, moved to the Mac as FileMaker.
Later, Apple formed Claris which bought Nashoba and FileMaker.
By the early 1990s, Claris became FileMaker and the database went multi-platform, running on both Windows and Macs.
Why is FileMaker such a popular database application? Is it the database Mac users really need?
FIleMaker Pro 11 vs. Bento
What usually happens with applications that can trace heritage back to a previous century is simple. Complexity. FileMaker’s claim to fame is a database app was relatively easy to set up and use.
At least, that’s what it was years ago. At $300 for the basic version you’re not getting anything that’s really easy anymore. If you don’t want to build your own database, try Bento (which shares heritage with FileMaker) which runs on Mac and iPhone.
Bento comes with dozens of templates which are simply pre-made database applications for everything from contacts to money tracking to inventory.
The new FileMaker Pro has a similar package called Starter Solutions which are more complex database templates—a few for business, some for education, and others for personal use.
Starter Solutions Make Complex Easy
I’m impressed with the Starter Solution package. It’s difficult not to find something of benefit for a business—contact management, event management, invoices, event registration, business inventory, and even email campaign management templates are included.
These are literally one-step set up database, pre-packaged, ready to go. The larger your business the more complex your needs, but it’s easy to see why FileMaker Pro is so popular among small business operations.
The Mac, of course, is highly popular in schools, and so is, it turns out, FileMaker. The Starter Solution package has some of the same templates as the Business package, but modified for schools.
Also included are apps for Faculty and Staff, Student Records, Student Emergency Cards, Registration and others. Make no mistake, the $300 price tag is nominal compared to the value of the template apps in the Starter Solutions package.
Home users are not left out, either. While it seems overkill to use FileMaker Pro for recipes and a to-do list, the Inventory, Movie Library, Music Library, Home Budget templates are all top notch, and come with more features and capability than similar templates for Bento (which is a mere $50).
To be honest, my reason for jumping back into FileMaker had more to do with the Starter Solutions than the upgrade price.
Check Your Credit Card Balance
Sure, Bento and FileMaker share a template philosophy and both have the good looks of ease-of-use. But the differences begin rather quickly. FileMaker Pro starts at $300, which, with the Starter Solutions, is a bargain.
The Advanced version hits the lower atmosphere are $500, FileMaker Server hits $1,000, with the advanced version three times that. This is not your mother’s database, but more like the mother of all Mac databases.
What do you get for the extra money?
Apple’s famed ease-of-use extends to FileMaker Pro, of course. But the very need to ship a few dozen starter templates tells you that database management can get very complex and very expensive very quickly.
The entry level price tag is just that—single user, Mac or Windows, basic database. Yes, you can roll your own, so to speak—but any database that needs to be accessed by more than one person, particularly on a network operation, or even over the web, becomes a substantially more complex operation.
I’ve gone through the Starter Solutions and I’m knee deep in customizing one to match the needs of an organization my wife belongs to. But anything beyond the templates requires a lot of thought and effort and time.