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FileMaker Pro: Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News?

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FileMaker Pro: Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News?

To some extent, Servoy was born out of frustration over legacy tools like FileMaker (also known as Claris FileMaker, an Apple product), which did not support things like Cloud-based web browsers, connectivity to external apps and mobile devices. FileMaker also lacked SQL support and its scripting (business logic) was limited, creating the need for constant workarounds. At the same time, we have to admit, we admired the rapid application development (RAD) or “low-code” or “no-code” capabilities of tools like FileMaker, FoxPro, Delphi and others. So where is FileMaker right now, and does the future hold for this still-popular tool?

First: The bad news

When you look at the future forecast of FileMaker Pro, you have to consider these limitations:

  • Scalability for large/complex applications remains an issue
  • Cloud deployment (without virtualization) is not viable
  • Its web/browser capabilities are weak and have failed to evolve further
  • Support for mobile and tablets was gaining traction, but was limited to Apple device support and apparently lags behind now

And yet FileMaker continues to have a following of devoted developers (you know who you are) for software companies. We get it.

Now: Ready for the good news?

This leads us to ask: Is there any good news for ISVs and enterprises with larger FileMaker-based business applications?

We’re happy to report that there is good news, such as:

  • Support for SQL has been steadily getting better over the years (although synching and such is still an issue)
  • APIs now exist, allowing FileMaker Pro to interface with external platforms and applications
  • Apple continues to invest in the platform and is, at the time of publication, still being sold in Apple stores

What are your options?

You’ve decided you want to move your application into the 2020s, with functionality for the Cloud, web browsers and mobile.

If you have a large business application, here are our recommendations based on experience with our FileMaker Pro customers:

  • Define a minimum viable product (MVP).
  • If possible, try to find a module, capability, maybe a web portal or mobile app that can bring you net new business or value.
  • The most successful mobile apps we see are sales and logistics related, often with mapping/route integration, barcode scanning, pictures and signatures. Typically, they have 10 screens or less, and deliver immediate value to your customers/stakeholders.
  • Web applications we see most often are external customer (supplier-facing) portals, such as order tracking, changes, delivery, and product inventory levels.

How should you handle data migration and data synchronization for a web portal or mobile app?

There are two possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: Data migration (moving to a SQL backend) only applies if you are looking at a total rewrite. For example, if you have to go to a full Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, you probably have no other option. Migrating data is typically not a huge deal, though you will probably have to normalize it and make changes to your structure.

Scenario 2: Data synchronization (connecting to legacy databases) often sounds like a simple task, but once you get to the error-handling part, things get complicated really quickly. Be sure to allocate enough time for this and talk to other companies that have gone this route.

What technology stack to pick? One that offers:

  • RAD capabilities that you are used to. Don’t assume that you can learn and synthesize many new tools and frameworks (like Angular, React, NodeJS, C#, PHP, Python) AND meet tight deadlines.
  • Continue to focus on lower code constructs that reduce complexity for developers. Remember the problems that FileMaker solved for you out of the box (such as data binding, visual editors, value lists, relationships, user management)? You don’t want to code these from scratch.
  • Ease of deployment. Avoid building and maintaining your own web stack (no one wants that).
  • Cloud-ready support for any cloud, such as AWS, Azure, private, on-premise, hybrid.
  • Full web and mobile support including x-device native support and IoT integrations (think scanners, GPS, camera, Gyros).

We’ve got more essential tips on how to easily modernize your FileMaker Pro development process based on our vast experience with companies still using it for large business applications. Let’s talk. Or sign up for a Servoy platform demo.

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