Monthly Archives: May 2015

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Best New Features in FileMaker Go 14

Category : FileMaker 14

Every new software release cause for celebration and reassessment. There are always new features that make your working life easier. But even change for the good is stressful since you can’t (at least you shouldn’t) keep doing everything the old way. The upgrade to FileMaker Go 14 is no different. Here are four reasons your mobile life is about to get better.

  • Automatic reconnection
  • Improved performance
  • Android support
  • Signature screen

Automatic Reconnection in FileMaker Go 14

If your connection gets dropped, FileMaker Server can now interact with Filemaker Go to re-open the database, and remember what you were doing when you got interrupted. You may need to log back in (depending on your database’s reauthorization settings), but you won’t have to re-create found sets and active records after you do. When we were testing this feature in preparation for writing FileMaker Pro 14: The Missing Manual, this process was so seamless that we wouldn’t haven’t noticed the dropped connection if we hadn’t been the ones causing it.

True, this feature isn’t limited to FileMaker Go. Anybody who opens a database from a FileMaker Server 14 server will benefit from automatic reconnection. But mobile folks will appreciate it more since they’re often using the database in front of customers or in other situations where disconnections are extra stressful. This way, recovery is more forgiving.

Improved Performance

Here’s another area where improvements to FileMaker Server give a better experience for end-users. The engineering team heard the cries for better performance and dedicated lots of time to making sure that FileMaker Server can handle more Go/WebDirect connections without bogging down. This is critical for wider adoption of FileMaker Go and WebDirect. Although the technology was amazing at delivering FileMaker on mobile or on the web, it was underwhelming, even disappointing, for users who needed to get work done on a tight schedule. Some early adopters were so disappointed that their early databases didn’t gain wide deployment after launch because of their inefficiency.

The good news is that early tests show 2-3x speed increases over Server 13—even when the Server 14 box has fewer cores and less RAM! That means much better performance for small user bases. Even larger deployments will benefit since those same tests indicate that operations that caused a Server 13 deployment to choke at 15 users can sail along with twice the number of users.

Android Support

Some folks who absolutely had to have access to their FileMaker databases on Android devices have been willing to risk using an unsupported technology. Others found the performance buggy or worse and felt left out in the cold. Those days are gone with official support for Android. You’ll need Chrome 38 or later to meet the official tech specs.

Signature Screen

The Insert from Device script step now includes a Signature Options dialog box where you can specify a Title, Message, and Prompt for the signature capture window on FileMaker Go. Each one lets you include static or dynamic text (through the Specify Calculation dialog box). Now when you hand your device over to a customer or client for their signature, they’ll see instructions in context with their signature. This little bit of polish goes a long way toward making a good impression on your users, and on the people they’re serving.

Insert from Device Dialog Box

Set up the Insert from Device script step options

 

FileMaker Pro 14: The Missing Manual is now available for pre-order. Set for release May 23, 2015.

Tell us your favorite features of FileMaker 14. Leave a comment below.


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FileMaker Pro 14’s Best New Features for Developers

Category : FileMaker , FileMaker 14

FileMaker has always had a special place in the world of software. Its legendary ease-of-use is aimed at letting people gather and manage their data without needing to understand geeky topics. So it makes sense that most upgrades have focused on features that are readily apparent to end users. But FileMaker Pro 14 may be the first upgrade that has more to delight developers’ hearts more than end users’.

 

FileMaker 14: Performance, Performance, Performance

That’s not to say that end users don’t benefit. FileMaker’s engineering team always knew that FMP 13’s WebDirect technology was a 1.0 release. It was amazing how well it worked, but all those features came at a cost to performance that some users found frustrating. So the great gift to end users is the fine-tuning of FileMaker Server for increased performance. We’ll see some real world figures drifting in over the next few days and weeks, but before release some folks were reporting a 2-3x speed increase in some operations.

Plus, the new Standby Server feature lets you create a second server that can nearly seamlessly take over in case your primary server fails. Neither of these are glamorous features, but they’re the kind of trust-building upgrades a mature software platform has to provide in the competitive world of database apps.

Features to Make Your Developer’s Heart Sing

As with any upgrade, many features are improvements to old standbys. So you can expect the usual influx of new functions (like a suite that lets you control media playback in container fields), and improvements in existing features. But by far, the biggest change, and the one that will inspire the most love—and maybe the most initial frustration—is the ground-up redesign of the old-school Edit Scripts window.

Script Workspace

FileMaker 14’s new Script Workspace is long-awaited upgrade to script writing. All the functions of two dialog boxes have been combined into the new workspace and the menus. Most interactions with the workspace can be issued through the keyboard, instead of the mouse. You can also choose steps’ option with the keyboard — for the most part. Instead of secondary dialog boxes, most options are entered from a popover right in the Edit Script pane. This improvement will lead to faster script writing that’s more like code writing in other platforms. The Script Workspace also includes line numbers to make finding and reading specific sections of your code easier. A new Description area (under the Steps list) will save trips to the Help file if you need a short reminder about what a step is used for.

 

As welcome as these changes are, the new workflow takes some getting used to. Since you can still point and click, some folks won’t notice the change right way. That’s a good thing for the change-resistant, but it does tend to put the Script Workspace’s light under a bushel.

Here are our tips for learning to use the new Script Workspace without losing your mind.

Specify Calculation Window

The timesaving features of the Script Workspace are also ported to the Specify Calculation window. Select functions by typing, and setup calculations or specify options with keyboard controls. Just start typing the name of your function, and a popover list of functions whose names match your typing appear. When you see the function you need, use the Up or Down arrow keys to select it, and then press Enter. If the function takes parameters, you can just start typing them to see another list.

The popover list of matching functions also includes table and field names. You can enter even the longest fully-qualified field name with just a few keystrokes. For example, if you want to add a reference to the Estimate::Date field, do this:

  1. Type “e,” then press the Down arrow to select Estimate (your table’s name) from the list.
  2. Press Enter. “Estimate::” is entered into your calculation. The list automatically shows the fields from Estimate table.
  3. Use the arrow keys or type a “d” to select the Date field. Press Enter again, and the field reference is complete.

This is one of those shortcuts that takes way longer to describe than to do. And as with the Script Workspace, this keyboard driven assembly will take some getting used to. But after a few hours of practice, you’ll wonder how you ever put up with mouse-based scripting and calculation writing.

Heaven help us all during the switchover period when we’re working in both FileMaker 13 and 14.

Navigation Tools

A new Navigation layout part and the new Button Bar tool lets you create modern navigation bars that float at the top of your layout no matter how far you scroll.

Navigation Parts

There are actually two versions of this new layout part: Top Navigation and Bottom Navigation. Like Headers and Footers, they anchor to the top or bottom of your layouts. Navigation parts don’t print by default, so they behave the way you’d expect them to right out of the box. These parts can’t be scrolled or zoomed, and if you throw a field in one of them, the data from the current record is shown. You can only have one of each part on a layout, but you can create sophisticated navigation systems by putting your main navigation in a Top Nav part, and your context sensitive buttons, or a lower level navigation in a Bottom Nav part.

 

Button Bars

The new Button Bar tool lets you create several related buttons at one time. Each segment behaves like an individual button and can have its own script or script step attached. You can even mix buttons and popovers in a button bar. So even though FileMaker still doesn’t have templates or master pages, now you can create a navigation or context-sensitive button bar and copy/paste the whole bar to a new layout. This will be another huge timesaver for making your database’s interface more consistent and professional-looking. Here are some other ways Button Bars will make your life easier:

  • Button Bars re-size as one unit, so they’ll behave better than single buttons when windows are re-sized.
  • Button Bars can have calculated names. That way you can use one bar on layouts used by users with different roles. Your script can check for privilege set before deciding which action to take, and now the button that runs it can display different text to help orient (or train) users.
  • All segments of a bar share the same style, which makes consistency easier and more fool-proof (you can’t forget to apply a style to one segment, for example).
  • Segments can have their own individual conditional formats.
  • Segments can have their own script triggers.
  • Segments can be hidden with the “Hide object when” option.

These two navigation improvements don’t stop with making development more efficient. Knowing that you can use Navigation Parts and Button Bars can help you think more clearly about your database’s organization before you even open FileMaker to define your first table. Try sketching out navigation along with your ER diagrams and you’ll start to see how quickly your thinking about how a database will function becomes more clear.

Button Improvements

Even without the new Button Bar, Button handling has been upgraded to let you add text or an icon, or a combination of both. When you display both, you can even choose how the two elements relate to each other—you can put text above or below the icon, or to the right or left of the icon. The Button Setup dialog box comes loaded with a set of icons (called Glyphs) that you can choose. Once you’ve selected an icon, you can resize it with the slider that sits just below the glyph window.

Glyphs appear grey in the dialog box, but are black on the button by default. But you don’t have to live with that color. Glyphs have their own object state. Once you have all the options set in the Button Setup window, travel over to the Inspector, click the Appearance tab, and then change the top object state pop-up to Button: Icon. That’s where you change the glyph’s color to match your color scheme.

If none of the default icons meet your needs, you can add your own custom glyphs, as long as they’re PNG or SVG format. Use the “+” button under the glyph window to import the file.

Note that button glyphs are more than just a convenience. Early testing indicates that glyphs help your layouts render faster than text used as icons (say if you used a “+” symbol from your keyboard instead of the glyph).

 

Minimalist Styles

FileMaker’s styles are useful for that quick and dirty database you need to throw together in a few hours. But most professional developers create their own custom styles that matches their clients’ branding (or their own). It’s a huge amount of work changing a mature style since every single style—along with all their object states—have to be updated. New themes, called Minimalist and Minimalist Touch, start out with no pre-defined styles except the Default style for each object type. That way, there are no styles to re-define or re-name and no unused custom styles to delete. Just start creating the styles you need.

That old bane Classic style is no longer included in new files you create with FileMaker 14. But you’ll still see it if you convert an old file, either from pre-12 version that had no styles to begin with, or one that created back when Classic was a thing.

FileMaker Go Script Steps

You’ll have more control over your users’ FileMaker Go experience with a few new script steps:

  • Set Allowed Orientations lets you limit screen flip on those layouts that you design not to rotate.
  • Enable Touch Keyboard lets you enable, or more importantly, disable the touch keyboard. This steps works on FileMaker Go and under Windows 8 touchscreens.

What features are you looking forward to using? Leave a comment or question below.

 

FileMaker Pro 14: The Missing Manual is now available for pre-order. Set for release May 23, 2015.


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FileMaker 14 Is Here!

Category : FileMaker 14

The new FileMaker 14 Platform provides the most complete and flexible experience across iPad, iPhone, Windows, Mac and the web. Millions of people worldwide rely on the FileMaker Platform to share customer information, manage projects, track assets, and more.

FileMaker_14_database_desktop

Sample FileMaker Pro 14 database for your desktop

 

What’s In It For You?

There’s lots to love, whether you’re a new user, an old hand with a mature FileMaker database, or a custom developer.

New Users

Transform your business with the FileMaker Platform. You can quickly create and run custom solutions that work seamlessly across iPad, iPhone, Windows, Mac, and the web — no programming skills needed. Millions of people worldwide rely on the FileMaker Platform to share customer information, manage projects, track assets, and more.

Upgraders

Upgraders will enjoy the same great consistency of experience across platforms. And the new FileMaker 14 Platform provides plenty of features meant to make your database faster and more efficient. FileMaker Server has been optimized to give you your data faster over the Web and on FileMaker Go, plus a new Standby Server feature can protect you from downtime in case of hardware failure. If you’re developing your own solutions, you’ll love the features focused on helping you create a custom solution that lets you focus on your work.

Custom Developers

The new Script Workspace gives you more power and lets you work more efficiently. The redesigned Specify Calculation dialog box uses a similar interface that gives you keyboard power. Two new layout tools—Navigation layout parts and Button Bars—let you create modern apps that perform the way you expect them to. See our review for details.

Then see our article about the best features in FileMaker Go 14 for developers.

Tell us how we can help you. Use the contact form at the bottom of this page, or call us at 480-598-1917.


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Making the Switch to Script Workspace (Without Losing Your Mind)

Category : FileMaker 14 , Scripts

The new Script Workspace in FileMaker Pro 14 delivers on some long-asked for developer features, like color coding, more keyboard access, and a unified interface. But like any new feature, it’ll take some getting used to before you’re fluent with the new workflow. Here are some tips for keeping your sanity while you’re upping your scripting game.

Understanding the Script Workspace

The old Manage Scripts window showed a list of scripts and helped you manage them with buttons for creating new scripts and organizing tools like separators and folders. You’d open a new window to work on a specific script, and you could open as many of these Edit Script windows as you needed. Now all those tasks happen in the same window, called Script Workspace.

Script Workspace

Figure 1. The Script Workspace now has all the features and tools that used to be distributed over two different dialog boxes. Your main task will be to figure out where your favorite tools have gone.

 

All the features you’re used to are still available, you just access them differently. Figure 1 shows the new Script Workspace. The left hand pane shows a list of all your scripts. They’re arranged as you would have seen them in FileMaker 13, complete with their folders, separators and menu states. The three tools at the top of the Scripts pane let you manage the list. From left to right, these tools:

  • toggle the checkboxes you use to put a script in the Scripts menu
  • create a folder
  • create a separator

If you click a script, it’ll open in the middle pane. When you have multiple scripts open, they’re arranged in tabs across the top of the pane. You’ll learn some tips for editing scripts later in this article.

Script steps are shown in the right pane. For new users, the handiest feature is the Description box at the bottom, which gives you info about the selected script. You can filter the list of steps with the search field at the top of the list. Tools at the top of the Steps pane let you mark your favorite steps, so that they appear in a special section at the top, and organize the list alphabetically or grouped by function.

The buttons at the upper left of the Script Workspace lets you create new scripts, run the selected script, and start the Debugger (if you have FileMaker Pro Advanced). Buttons in the upper right show script steps’ compatiblity, toggle the Scripts pane, and toggle the Steps pane.

If some of your favorite features seem to be missing, take a look at the menus.

Many of these commands are available through other means in the Script Workspace, like New Script, New Folder, and others. But Grant Full Access Privileges (formerly a checkbox at the bottom of the old Edit Script dialog box) is only available from the Scripts menu.

Don’t forget the View menu, which also changes context when the Script Workspace is active. Again, most of the commands are available directly in the workspace. But the bottom command, called Syntax Coloring, is where you can customize the color coding that makes it easier to read your scripts at a glance.

Syntax Coloring

By default, script steps are now numbered and color coded. To understand what the colors mean, take a look at the Syntac Coloring dialog box shown below.

Syntax Coloring

Figure 3. The Syntax Coloring dialog box (shown in a Script Workspace with the Script and Steps panes closed) lets you customize the default colors that appear in the Edit Scripts pane.

Script Flow refers to the script steps found under the Control section of the Steps pane. (Well, most of them: Set Variable, Set Layout Object, and Install OnTimer Script don’t get colored.) They’re the steps you use to perform logical tests, branching, looping, calling subscripts, and other meta functions. By default, those steps are shown in blue.

Disabled and Incompatible script steps are shown in light grey by default. Green steps are comments (text notes that don’t perform any action). Note that the blank spaces in the script shown here are just comment steps with no text. One really nice improvement is that blank comments no longer show the # sign at the left. It’s cleaner — now your scripts’ white space really is a resting point that makes your script easier to read — plus it’s more like other scripting environments. Finally references to schema are shown in purple.

You’re free to change the custom colors any way you want, but the default colors are mostly pretty good. They stand out well from the main code and aren’t too similar to one another. The only exception to that is that Disabled and Incompatible steps are both a light grey color. It’s true that neither item will run when the script is executed, but you may prefer to see a little more warning for incompatible steps, like the orange color shown in Figure 3.

Using the Keyboard

Once you get past the rearranged furniture in the new Script Workspace, you could use it almost the same way as the old, two-dialog box model. That is, if you’re just getting started learning to script, you may depend on the step list to remind you what commands are available for scripting. And once you find what you need, you can point and click to add steps and set their options.

But the real power of the new setup is the keyboard shortcuts you can use instead of your mouse. You can’t throw away your mouse completely, but the new Workspace gets us a long way toward the nirvana of typing code manually. Here’s a list of handy keyboard shortcuts for writing scripts without the mouse:

  • Enter or Return key. If no steps are selected, the Enter or Return key adds a new line at the bottom of your script. If a step is selected, the new line appears below the highlighted step. Shift + Enter/Return adds the new line above the highlighted step.
  • Use the Up and Down arrow keys to move the highlight through the script.
  • Hold the Shift key with the Up/Down arrows to select multiple, contiguous lines.
  • Move selected script steps with Command + Ctrl + Up (or Down) arrow keys.
  • The curly braces let you move through the open script tabs in the Edit Script pane. Command + { moves to the next tab, and Command + } moves to the previous tab on the Mac. Use the Ctrl keys instead on Windows.
  • Close a Script tab with Command + W (Mac) or Ctrl + W (Windows).
  • To add a step to your script, create a new line and then start typing the step’s name.

Did you get the importance of that last item? You can add steps to a script just by typing! This is probably the most important upgrade in FileMaker Pro 14 because of the time it will save developers by typing instead of reaching for a mouse. Here’s how it works: once you start typing in a new line, a popover list appears showing all the steps that match your text. So if you want to add a Set Field step, create a new line and then type “set f.” A list appears below the new line, and it’s filtered by what you type.

Once the step you need appears on the list, use the arrow keys to highlight it, and then hit the Enter key to add it to your script. Then hit Enter again to show the step’s options. Use the Spacebar to option an option’s dialog box. When a step has more than one option (for example, the Set Field step has a Specify target field option and a Calculated result option), use the Up/Down arrow keys to move between options. When you’re done setting all a step’s options, you can de-select it with the Escape key, or by creating a new line.

But maybe you think the typing “set f” is too much work. Then you can type the first letters of the name of the step you need. In other words, type “sf” and the list is filtered to show all steps that have any words that begin with both an “s” and an “f” and in that order (Constrain Found Set has words that start with “s” and “f,” but it won’t appear in the list because “Found” comes before “Set” in this step). This rule is harder to explain than to understand. But for those steps you use often, like Go To Related Record or an If test, you’ll soon be typing away without thinking about it.

It’ll take some practice to get all these tricks to become second nature. But most experienced developers report that they’re already writing scripts much more quickly than they used to, and that they’re not nearly as efficient when they have to work in FileMaker Pro 13.

Disabling script steps

The Workspace giveth and the Workspace taketh away. Several of standby favorite commands aren’t nearly as accessible as they used to be. For instance, you can still disable script steps, but it’s gonna take you a while to find the command. Select the step(s) you want to disable, and then choose Edit > Disable. Reverse the process to enable a step.

Fortunately, there’s a keyboard shortcut you can use instead. On the Mac, Command + / (forward slash) toggles your highlighted steps. Use Control + / on Windows.

Note: If you can’t find this command, you may be working with FileMaker Pro. Disabling script steps is one of the developer tools in FileMaker Pro Advanced.

 


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ROI on User Centered Design

You may have heard that User Centered Design (UCD) costs more up front. Project Managers have definitely heard it, and sometimes, they’ll balk at a new approach based on cost alone. In response, you’ll need to give those PMs some arguments they can use to make a case for UCD to their bosses.

When users are involved in development from the beginning the project is much less likely to fail because:

  • goals and requirements are clearly understood by all parties
  • goals and requirements are reiterated throughout the development process
  • if goals or requirements change, then the delivered software can match the the moving target of shifting goals
  • users need little or no training because they’ve been testing and using the software BEFORE launch
  • testing undercovers more bugs before launch, which gives you time to fix them when it’s less expensive
  • tech support costs go down, due to fewer errors

All these items are above-the-line costs. You can quantify the savings when a project launch requires less training and tech support. If there are bugs that cause downtime or financial errors, it’s easy to see how much that would cost.

And that’s just the internal ROI. If the software is for online shopping carts, or retail order fulfillment, then you can include an increase in sales after the software is launched in the ROI calcualtion. Don’t forget the ROI studies specifically on document management have estimated that up 30% of a person’s work week is spent looking for the resources they need. So the ROI on that software is 30% of each user’s annual salary. So that’s the business case for User Centered Design.

But don’t forget the intangible, below-the-line ROI of having passionate users who are now more effective and efficient at their jobs because you’ve created a great user experience for them.

 


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Why Software Fails

Category : FileMaker

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) did a study in 2005 that examined large software project failures (in the multimillion and billion dollar range)  to try and figure out what they had in common. Here are a few facts sobering distilled from that report:

  • $1 TRILLION spent worldwide on hardware, software and services
  • 5 to 15% of IT projects are abandoned before or shortly after delivery
  • Companies budget 4-5% of annual revenue to IT projects (including software and hardware)
  • IT companies budget 10%

In other words, as much as 15% of all money spent on custom software development is wasted because the projects never fledge. That’s staggering. If we cut the 5-15% figure down the middle and say that only 10% of projects fail, we’re still talking about $100 billion dollars wasted annually.

These figures are for in-house projects. Consultant projects don’t fare as well. Those projects have a 15-62% success rate. Also the larger a project is, the higher its risk for failure. Larger projects fail 3-5 times as often as smaller projects. That’s because it’s harder to spec, build, and test a large project.

And as any developer knows, software is inherently fragile. You can have perfect schema, beautiful layouts, and well-thought out processes, but a single bug can cause a critical script to fail. Programmers typically spend 40-50% of their time reworking processes to fix bugs instead of creating new, value-added features. Bugs or errors that make it into a launched product can cost 100 times more to fix than if they’d been spec’d properly or caught and fixed early. Anybody who’s launched a database knows why: real data is at stake, so you have to take twice as much care finding and fixing errors after a database goes live.

One major problem is that old-style development processes—the ones that were more common back in 2005 when this report was written—aren’t optimal for preventing errors. Instead they count on a limited round of testing just before launch to find and fix errors. This is hard enough to do when the errors are programming bugs. But if the errors are due to poor planning, bad specs, or poor communication then it’s easy to see why such software can’t be repaired well enough to launch it. One major solution is to use a method of development that can prevent errors from getting into your software in the first place.

The IEEE report says that IT projects fail when the costs to repair badly-done works exceeds the cost of creating spec’d features. Some of the causes they cite are:

  • Unrealistic or unarticulated goals
  • Badly defined requirements
  • Inaccurate estimates
  • Poor communication
  • Poor management
  • Use of immature, or inappropriate technology
  • Stakeholder politics

Fight Failure with User Centered Design

Next time you get pushback from a client about the extra costs of the planning and design phases of a project, refer to some of these facts about why software fails. It’s easy to see where taking preventative measure gets a big ROI if the project takes user needs into account from the get-go. True, User Centered Design (UCD) doesn’t fix all the problems cited by the IEEE. UCD can’t fix budget, scheduling or bad technology choices.

But even an outside consultant can overcome bad management and poor communication when UCD techniques is applied to a project. UCD is all about developing regular contact with users. So if you’re working on a project where goals are poorly articulated, access to users will help you figure out what the goals are. It’s the same with gathering requirements: when meet with users, they’ll tell you what the requirements mean. And since User Centered Design is all about regular communication, you’ll eliminate the problem of inadequate communication between all the players.

Poor project management can be the result of not knowing how software development works. With a UCD approach, you can effectively become the project manager, or at least steer the manager in the right direction. When you have direct access to users, you can give more weight to the Pam Halberts on the team over the Dwight Schrute types who’d rather see a project fail than see other team members succeed.

Download the full report.