Have you ever thought about the future of FileMaker? Here you a first glimpse at some awesome new features.

FileMaker will deny any information you will see here about a future version of their database program. I am under no non-disclosure agreement. The only NDA I got says something about FileMaker 10 (a typo?). FileMaker 10 is already available since January 2009, so I do not need to keep my mouth shut and I will write about these amazing new features in FileMaker.

Alpha Pre-Release (Interface Logic)

Splash Screen

I got my hands on an alpha pre-release. The splash screen actual says in stylish red FileMaker Pro Advanced 11.0 v01.04 alpha pre-release (Interface Logic). More about this interface logic a little bit later.

With this early version you might expect an unstable program with many crashes and possibly unfinished or missing features. Still this is already a great program showing you where FileMaker might go.

As always, FileMaker does not says anything about what features will make it into the final version.

Something about Toolbars

I know more developers who hate than love the new status toolbar from FileMaker 10. It uses too much space, it is not flexible enough, … but after a while, we got use to it. Now you have to start learning again. But believe me, learning is worth it. I love the new status toolbar. The bulky toolbar from FileMaker 10 is still available, but now you can choose a smaller version, too.

toolbar-status

And something is new you cannot see right away. The Toolbar is totally flexible. Everything can be changed, manual with simple mouse clicks or – and this is the fun part – per script commands. You can enable/disable whole toolbars or single toolbar icons, change the order, hide elements, or modify the size of the elements. The setting ‘small’ makes the toolbar as little as 30 px high, similar to the Arrange or Align Palette.

You can create your own icons for the toolbar and assign a script to it.

The toolbar is now part of the window content. That means, hiding the toolbar will not change the size of the window, just more window content will be visible.

A new layout element: System Object

With the new System Object you will not need the toolbar anymore. Placed the object anywhere in the layout and assigned a toolbar icon to it. It reacts like the original toolbar icon. Now you can build your own toolbar or something similar anywhere in your layout. FileMaker calls it System Object, not Toolbar Object, because you can use more than just icons from the toolbar. Depending on the operating system you might be able to assign other objects as well, for example the buttons to control a movie (start/stop/pause).

FileMaker has two different icon styles available, a theme called ‘Eleven’ and another one called ‘Classic’. I am not sure whether users can create there own themes.

With the System Object come some new functions and script commands: GetSystemObjects(), SystemObjectAttribute(), Change Toolbar, Create Toolbar, Delete Toolbar, Arrange Toolbar Object, Add System Object, Remove System Object, …
I assume, these features are the reason why FileMaker choose the name affix ‘Interface Logic’.

New Layout Features

Auto-named Objects

Every object placed in a layout is automatically named: text1, text2, … box3, line4, … webviewer5. If the object is a field, the field name is used as the object name. If there is already a field with the same name, a running number is added to the object name. Of course you can rename every object, one at a time. Or you select multiple objects and assign a new object name to them. Every object will receive the same name plus a running number to keep the object name unique.

Object Info

object-infoThe Object Info is still available. Only on a second glance you recognize something different. Two small register tabs are visible at the top of it: Position and Attribute.

‘Position’ shows the well known Object Info. Clicking on ‘Attribute’ will change the size of the little window. It now shows a list of all attributes of the selected object.

object-attributeLooking at this list will reveal some new attributes. For example it is now possible to assign different line colors to the four sides of a field. And you can define a second background color (for patterns; in the past it was always white).

Not only are there more attributes available, every attribute can be read with the function GetObjectAttribute(). And every attribute can be modified with script commands (Set Object Attribute).

Looking through

I already mentioned the new System Object. There is another new object available for layouts called Layout Viewer. Similar to the web viewer it opens a window to a different layout. You can assign any layout (from the same module) to be shown in this window. This is a great feature, for example to create a standard menu and display it in every other layout. Changes in the menu are done in only one layout, the results are shown right away in every other layout.

Or you can show different, unrelated layouts side by side. Just place two large Layout Viewer object in one layout. That’s it! In the alpha pre-release it is not possible to cascade a Layout Viewer within another Layout Viewer. The inner Layout Viewer is displayed as a gray box.

Similar to the web viewer you can decide whether the user can interact with the Layout Viewer content. This and other options can be changed with script commands, including the assign layout. Actual, this is a common theme in Filemaker 11. Almost every attribute and every option can be modified with script commands. This gives a lot of control into the hands of the developer.

Merge Fields

Dimension Control

Have you ever used a merge field in FileMaker? With descriptive table and field names the merge field will be large, either a very wide text, perhaps overlapping the text next to it, or its height is to large to fit comfortably into the layout.

merge-field

FileMaker offers now much more control. You can change the dimension of the merge field to a proper size. If the content of the merge field is to large to fit into its borders, it will be cropped. This feature works also with any text object.

Functionality

It is now possible to use functions with merge fields. The formula has to be written within the double opening (<<) and closing (>>) angle brackets. It works like the Evaluate function. Everything between the brackets will be evaluated. If the expression raises an evaluation error, the original text expression is returned. For example, the merge field <<Year( Get( CurrentDate ) )>> will result as 2009 in browse mode, something like <<Year(>> will return <<Year(>>.

Layout Fields

Usually a field object in a layout requires a table field assigned to it. This changes in FileMaker 11. A field object without assigned table field will work as a layout field. This is a global field only available in the layout. You do not need to create this field in the database definition window.

Any data type can be assigned for this field (using the Object Info window). The field can be a calculation field. The formula is also assigned with the Object Info window. The field is accessible via the object name. The short form {{Object Name}} makes it easy to use this object in other expressions.

Table Fields

Text Wrap

An old, annoying behavior was the automatic text wrapping in table fields. For example, the field item has the data “blue hippopotamus”, the field size in the layout is to narrow. The text is wrapped and only “blue” is visible, followed by a long emptiness. Not anymore in FileMaker 11. Text is not automatically wrapped but cropped it at the end of the field. Now it shows something like “blue hippoptam” before cropping the rest.

This behavior can be controlled. The field object attribute AutoWrap sets the option on or off.

Custom Functions

Register Custom Functions

A big surprise with custom functions. No more complicated copying of custom functions from one FileMaker file to the next. FileMaker 11 lets you register in the current module one or more FileMaker files. All custom functions from these files are then available in the current module.

You need full access rights for both files to initiate custom function registration. This will prevent third parties to steal your database.
After removing a custom function from the registered file, all other modules will lose access to this custom function. Adding new custom functions will immediately be recognized in the other modules. Registered custom functions will be displayed in italics in the function list.

New Function Editor

There is a new editor with syntax highlighting and auto-entry function available. After entering a table name plus two colons will open a pull-down list with all field names of this table. Or start typing the name of a table or function (including custom functions) and a list with fitting table names and functions will appear.

Placing the cursor behind the name of a function will activate a tool-tip, showing the function definition including parameter names. This is very helpful for functions with multiple parameters, to enter the values in the correct order.

More Control Structures

New control structures like Do … While … and For … Next are available. These statements are allowed in the function Let. Programming loops will be much more easier than using recursive function calls.

Scripts

New Script Editor

Instead of putting single script commands together you can use the new free-text editor. It is actual the same editor as for custom functions. Auto-indentation, syntax highlighting and input suggestions are available. The editor recognizes whether you are entering a script command or a function. Cut, copy, paste works like you know it from every other text-based editor.

Each script command requires a semicolon and a line break at the end. It is not possible to place two script commands in the same line. FileMaker does a syntax check after going into a new line. As soon as you finish a script command, the line is parsed and any error is high-lighted red.

Find and Replace

Of course you can search text in this editor and replace it. Something similar is possible in the old script editor, making it easier to find specific commands.

Portals

Sort Portals

A long requested feature is finally available: sorting in portals. With the new script step Sort Portal the sort order of a portal is set during run-time.

Subtotals

Now it is possible to display subtotals in portals. The option ‘Use subtotals’ in the portal setup window controls this setting.

More new features

There are so many more new features in FileMaker 11 and so little time. Here is a short overview of some of the new features:

Conditional Formatting

To the already available options for conditional formatting come new options like background patterns or the text color None, that hides the whole object. Conditional Formatting can be assigned to every layout object including box and line.

Format Function

A new format function similar to other programs like Microsoft Excel (#.##0,00) gives more control into the hand of the developer.

Value Lists

Value list can display more than two columns. The list is not automatically sorted and you can use global and unstored calculated fields to populate the value list.

And some more features:

  • A grid in the database viewer makes it easier to place objects.
  • POSIX regular expressions
  • Internal date and timestamp calculation with Unix date
  • Improved way to change the tab order with a list of of layout objects
  • Improved management of import order
  • Constant values in table relations: tabA::isSet = “1″
  • Using global or local variables for fields in user-defined dialogs
  • Searching in database relationship graph

Conclusion

There are many more features in Filemaker 11. After this first glance at so many new features, I am totally in awe. Now I can hardly wait for the final release of the new version.

I hope, you enjoyed reading this article as much as I did, putting it together. The only thing left for me to say is, have a great April Fool’s Day.

7 Responses

And not to mention the legacy DBF import and export formats are back!

Ship it!

PS. Very nice list, some interesting ideas.

Arnold, really excellent work. I agree with Rick, Ship It! Well Done. Are you, perchance, from the Future?

Very creative Arnold. I agree, ship it.

[...] sein erster Erfahrungsbereicht. [...]

Guys,

I just used FM Pro Advanced 11 but can’t find “Set Object Attribute” script step. Where did you guys see that?

Sorry when you are confused. My article ‘Something about FileMaker 11′ is an old post. I wrote it a year ago (April 2009), kind of as an April Fool’s joke (you can discover it in the very last sentence of the post). But you could see it also like a wish list for features I like to see in a future version of FileMaker.

So to answer your question, there is no “Set Object Attribute” script step (yet). Keep sending it to FileMaker’s feature request page, perhaps we will have it with the next version.
Still, have fun with your new FileMaker.

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