Experiences of a FileMaker Pro Database Developer

FileMaker 12 Review – Part 1

We’ve been running the FileMaker 12 family of products since August 2012. These are my impressions and experiences in a real world, live development environment. My experience is taking an existing FileMaker 11 solution and converting it to run in FileMaker 12. I wrote this up a few months ago and have noted a few updates since then. I will have a followup post with any new developments or findings soon. My findings are based on FileMaker Server (FMS) running on a Windows Server 2008 with both FileMaker Pro clients on Mac and PC. My workstation is a Mac, so many descriptions are based from FileMaker Pro on the Mac.

The Good

  1. Overall, bottlenecks are fewer. FMS seems to manage multiprocessors much better. And, the extra cache seems to help.
  2. Progressive backups and hard links really help solve a huge bottle-neck.
  3. The ability to control and restart specific processes on FMS is huge. This is really helpful if a server-side script is hung. The users never know I restarted the script process and I’m back in business.
  4. CSS, themes, fewer objects, new button controls, image fills, etc. are good things, although I’m just now beginning to learn and use.
  5. I’m trying to find other positive things about FMP client, maybe it’s ExecuteSQL but that’s a big nut to crack, see conclusion. I just have to keep reminding myself that this is version 1 of a new file format and good things will be coming.

Problems, Issues, Complaints

  1. Temp files haven’t really changed. What goes to temp, still goes to temp. Although the cache has increased considerable, things like imports still go to temp files, among other things.
  2. Things are sluggish, but it’s hard to explain. I’m not sure if it’s due to the “classic” custom theme due to conversion or not. Maybe when I redo my layouts, it will be better. Here are some of the slow areas, IMHO.
    1. Switching layouts.
    2. Going to Manage Database (this is not consistent and seems to be file related). Also seems like it’s more of a delay (with beach ball) the first time you enter. I also notice this in other development areas when you click OK to a calc or to a script. Just seems like saving schema changes are slightly paused or delayed.
    3. Same is true with layout work. Just switching to layout mode may cause a delay or beach ball, and saving it too. Again not consistent.
  3. Our overnight routines just take longer. I was hoping FMS 12v2 would solve this with the import issue being fixed. It did help, but only by about 30 minutes. So, it’s still a good hour longer than FMS 11. UPDATE: By the way, FMS 12v3 has not improved this either. I guess the good news here is, I rewrote my overnight routines, so it forced me to think about optimizing my code.
  4. There are problems with layouts after conversion. Not everywhere, but some elements get shifted. I’ve had to adjust a few summary sections in reports.
  5. Some sub summaries don’t update on a re-sort. I had to put in the old standby of Browse Mode -> Preview Mode -> Browse Mode. UPDATE: The FMP 12v3 updater solved these problems.
  6. I have sporadic problems in both lists and portals where clicking on a button selects the record above. This is extremely annoying and I cannot pinpoint when it happens and how it happens. I’m thinking it has something to do with the status bar if you show the status bar and the layout shifts down it’s not updating all the elements on the layout. This was a problem early on when FileMaker changed the position of the Status bar from the left to the top . UPDATE: Seems like the FileMaker 12v3 updates have solved these issues.
  7. I don’t think FMP 12 likes XP as well as Windows 7. Seems to be more problems on my XP machines that in Windows. Specifically font issues and FileMaker Crashing when saving a report to PDF. It’s more proof that XP is at the end of it’s life cycle.
  8. PDF files are a general issue, from bloating to crashing. Just MAKE SURE all your scripts are updated to save in Acrobat 7 or higher. If not, you’ll have PDF bloat of 10 times or more of the size the file should be. I think some of the crashing issues may be due to layout issues or Trebuchet! UPDATE: I’m not positive about layouts causing crashing and our crashing issues seem to be less and less now.
  9. Layout tools and behavior is taking some adjusting, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it. I just wish somethings had been thought out better. Here are a few annoying ones (UPDATE: This is not much better after some extensive use):
    1. Drag copy is totally bastardized – wish we had constrain back. Why can’t it at least snap to the grid when dragging? And, don’t decide to click the option key after you’ve positioned the element, it won’t copy. You must click the option key while the object is moving.
    2. If we have snap to grid turned on, why can’t the guides snap too?
    3. Selecting a guide and being able to enter it’s position numerically would be helpful.
  10. Themes – someday these will be great, but much improvement is needed. Some thoughts:
    1. More themes and customized themes, need to be able to create your own.
    2. Apply themes to multiple layouts and then manage these as a theme group. Change the group theme and all layouts get updated.
    3. Would love to have Custom Styles more like Quark and Pagemaker where we could attach a custom style to elements, edit this style and all the elements are updated across all layouts, etc. that have that style.

Conclusion

Because some of the major bottle necks are gone, specifically with Finds and other areas related to server, the “sluggishness” is tolerable and a trade off. I hear less grumbling. I really wish we had FileMaker Pro 11 with FileMaker Server 12. I really think FMP 13 is going to be what 12 should have been, but we’ve been down that road before.

ExecuteSQL

I really tried to put this in practice for an addition to a report we put in place last week. Specifically, calculating the response rate based on Nielsen Household Demo impressions and calls received from commercials running on the networks. Thanks to Kevin Frank and his blog for great ExecuteSQL examples and a good place to start learning. I still need to wrap my head around this a bit more and I just wasn’t successful in a real world application. I found it too slow to calculate what I needed and it’s so un-FileMaker like. I ended up going back to the traditional FileMaker route and adding a few more fields and some more TOs than I really wanted, but the end result is quick and solved the need. I’ll try to revisit when I can carve out some time. I just may have had tables or statements not in the right order or something. I see the application for using ExecuteSQL for some things, but it’s not a be all and end all and you have to be very careful not to make it too static. We love to change field and TO names without having to think about the impact and ExecuteSQL will break if you do and you didn’t make the code dynamic. UPDATE: I’ll have a separate post soon on ExecuteSQL since I have used it since I wrote this, but I feel it only has specific uses.

Post to Twitter

Comments

  1. Nice description of your upgrade. I have a medical office running FM 12 server using a Mac Pro as a server. Our problem is that when the system backs up as scheduled each keystroke takes about 1 minute and this can last up to 20 mins. This is difficult as we are using this system for electronic medical records. We arrange the integrity checks for the evening. Is this something you are noticing?

    • Hi Adam,
      Which backups are you referring to? A scheduled backup or the new Progressive backups? Are you backing up to the same drive and volume as the live databases? Are you using any kind of RAID drive system and if so is it hardware or software RAID. What size files do you have? One of our main systems is running FMS on Windows 2008 server class equipment (DELL R710). A fast and robust hard drive system is one of the most important pieces to deploying FileMaker. I spent a lot of time tweaking this and backups. We are not experiencing the problems you are describing.
      Our databases on this system are now a total of 25GB and we do not feel it when backups run. I use progressives to backup every 10 minutes and then I do a full scheduled backup every 2 hours. Backups ALWAYS occur to a separate drive subsystem so you get true Async reads and writes. The live databases reside on a server class SSD RAID card and are backed up to the RAID 10 drive system.
      Sorry for late reply, but let me know more details and I’m sure we can work this out. What you are experiencing is not normal behavior.
      Best Wishes,
      Matt

  2. We have an extensive filemaker deployment to manage all areas of our operation. FileMaker Server Advanced, 60 files, millions of records, Instant web publishing, php custom web publishing. I’ve waited over a year because I’m not sure it will really be better than version 11. How soon might version 13 come out? Should we just wait?

Speak Your Mind

*