Business-like, isn't he?



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    Data management answers for small business needs

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver November 29-December 5, 2005; issue 840

    High Tech Office column

    Individuals and business people often need to keep track of data, whether organizing who's been invited to a daughter's wedding or keeping track of sales contacts, personnel records and more. Our data organization needs haven't always been well served, however. Simple lists can be kept in a spreadsheet, and personal information managers and sales contact software can let us keep track of some kinds of data, at least if our data and work style fit the pre-organized software.

    There's a big industry based around storing and serving huge corporate databases. But there are few options for creating easily customized databases for people and customers who lack access to a corporate IT department or a database design consultant.

    FileMaker's self-named software has long been the best way to quickly organize personal and small-business data. The previous version added features for working more easily with multiple sets of data.

    The new version 8 includes a number of features, making it easier than ever to share the information contained in Filemaker databases, including enhanced ability to share data with Pocket PC and Palm PDAs.

    Both the basic FileMaker Pro 8 (about $400) and FileMaker Pro 8 Advanced (about $625) versions include a set of 30 predesigned templates for customer relationship management, purchase orders, expense reports, asset and personnel management and other business, education and home uses.

    Over 400 additional templates can be downloaded.

    The program's design tools can be used to relatively easily customize these templates for your business, making it straightforward for users who've never worked with a database program to get up and running.

    Filemaker has added built-in support for Adobe's Acrobat PDF file format. PDF reports can be generated showing data ranging from a single record on up.

    Because FileMaker is the first non-Adobe product to license the Adobe PDF library, these PDF reports can include security features, controlling who can view your data.

    Also new to version 8 is the ability to export information directly to Excel. (As with previous versions, Excel data can be imported into FileMaker.)

    A built-in e-mail feature can create mass e-mailings of reports right from FileMaker. E-mail messages can be customized based on the included data. (An E-mail Campaign Management template is included.) One limitation: e-mails are text-only.

    Some other improvements: real-time spell checking, optional auto-completion as you add information into database fields and a new right-click context "fast match" menu to quickly find records with similar information.

    The advanced version (replacing earlier Developer versions) offers additional features for customizing layout and menus and for building and debugging complex databases.

    As with earlier versions, well-named Instant Web Publishing tools make it easy to share database information online. As with the PDF export, users can choose to make such information freely available to anyone with a browser or to securely control access.

    Both the basic and advanced versions allow data sharing with up to five Windows or Mac users (though each user needs his or her own FileMaker licence).

    Also available: server versions and a mobile version for Pocket PC and Palm-based mobile devices. Windows and Mac versions are included in the same package.

    Upgrade and educational pricing is available along with a 30-day free trial version, downloadable from

    Microsoft Access (bundled with Microsoft Office Professional) offers more high-end developer-oriented options, at least if you need to distribute data only to Windows users, but realistically requires a dedicated database developer.

    FileMaker stands out as easier for non-professional users, whether at home, in small businesses or in enterprise workgroups.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan