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Ernest Koe goes under the hood

Another belated post and thanks to Ernest Koe from The Proof Group, who brought the fmSpark and NinjaCal Roadshow to Portland for our May meeting. fmSpark is Proof’s mail-merge solution and NinjaCal is a super-easy-to-integrate native FileMaker calendar widget.

We got to see not only how these products work, but also a look at the thought process that went into developing them.

It was an under-the-hood session covering a range of topics including scripting practices, working with multiple developers, MVC design and other FileMaker goodness.

360Works makes cool plug-ins

Nobody wrote up our March 2009 meeting, so a belated retroactive “thanks” to Jesse Barnum of 360Works who demonstrated many cool things you can’t do in FileMaker – unless you have the right plug-in! Among the demos:

  • Install plug-ins onto your users desktops without having to touch their computer or even restart FileMaker
  • Super-easy audit logging with FileMaker 10 script triggers, with color-coded changes highlighted
  • Search the text of PDF documents inside FileMaker
  • Grab files and images from a MySQL database, gmail account, and FTP server
  • Suck the contents of a web page and all of its images into FileMaker fields
  • Send an HTML-formatted e-mail message, with a link to trigger a FileMaker script from the email viewer

Check it out:

Google-like searches in FileMaker

Matt Navarre describes a technique for scripting searches across multiple tables in the same solution, and presenting your users with an intuitive list of the results.

Nice job, Matt!

FileMaker 10 a crowd pleaser

We weren’t able to “live blog” last night’s meeting, so here’s a recap:

We had 43 people sign the guest list, and there may have been a few who didn’t sign. It was standing room only!

Alexei Folger, Sr. Systems Engineer from FileMaker gave an overview of FileMaker 10’s new features, including:

• New Interface
• Script triggers
• Subsummaries in Browse mode
• Saved Finds
• Send Mail via SMTP
• Advanced Recover

Alexei spent some time discussing the new advanced Recover options, which gives you a more detailed log about the recovery process, and lets you control more of what happens in that process. One useful item is a checkbox to rebuild your indexes (Now or Later). If you use the Save as compressed option combined with rebuild index later, you could safely save a nice compact copy of your file for archiving. Alexei will be doing a session on the new Recover features at DevCon this year, should be a good one.

Looking at the new status toolbar, keep in mind that it is tied to the application, not the file. I.e. you cannot customize the toolbar and then distribute a file with those customizations. It’s quite handy though to have one-click access to data viewer and debugger, as well as all the Manage… menu items.

Note that if you use custom menus to rename a menu item, that name will be reflected in the toolbar button. Buttons that a user’s privileges have blocked will be dimmed. Hiding/locking the status toolbar via script behaves just as the old status area did.

On to the big one, Script Triggers: Alexei said there were two and a half ways to trigger a script. First there are field/object triggers (OnObjectEnter, OnObjectModify etc); and then there are layout triggers (OnRecordLoad, OnLayoutLoad etc). She showed some examples: typing shift-arrow up or down to increment a date field; keyboard shortcuts to emulate spreadsheet behavior in a portal, (go to the same field in the next row, or fill down); and adding notes to a text field for an activity log.

Another very welcome new feature is that you can now work with Sub-summarized records in Browse mode. The sort order is maintained and updated as you edit. E.g., if you’ve sorted by state, and you change a record from AL to AK, that record will jump to its correct summary group.

This can work well in conjunction with script triggers, e.g. you can click a radio button field to trigger a script that re-sorts based on your selection. Or, a simple script to go to next record makes it a snap to assign records to different groups – kind of have to see this one in action.

Alexei recommended that FileMaker Technet members download the recent white paper on script triggers.

Oh, and the “half” trigger she mentioned is the new “Install OnTimer Script” script step. This starts an “egg timer” that will run the specified script after the specified interval. Lots of potential there!

[For more on script triggers, I highly recommend the recent FileMaker 10 posts at SFR.]

Still reading?

A couple of new features clearly target end user rather than developers: saved Finds and table view editing. Saved Finds, be aware, are tied to accounts. They can’t be exported/imported to another file. One quirk: Finds that are saved while the file is not hosted will be available to all accounts when the file becomes hosted.

Table view has a new option: the user can add a column (field) to the table, even when that field is not on the layout! This cause a minor stir in the audience, which prompted Alexei to demonstrate that when access to a field is restricted via account privileges, not only would the field not be visible in table view, but it won’t even appear in the list of available fields the user can insert. So don’t panic.

The new SMTP mail feature is just what it says: you can send mail directly from FileMaker, no mail application required. [See: Zawinski's Law] You’ll still need a plugin to send multiple attachments, HTML and that sort of thing.

There are more features that will have to be saved for future meetings (e.g. new functions, and set field by name).

Server 10 was just briefly touched on. Server can now import/export and email. It has some better scheduling for multiple backups, and better log viewing.

The door prize for this meeting was a copy of FileMaker Pro 10 ADVANCED. Congratulations to winner James Robbins!

A big thank you to Alexei Folger for a fantastic presentation! Thanks to Phil Smith/FileMaker, Inc. for the pizza and door prize. Thanks to Fiddlehead Software for the beverages. Thanks to MacForce for the top-notch facility. Thanks for coming, everyone!