management answers for small business needs
Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business
November 29-December 5, 2005; issue 840
High Tech Office
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
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
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
Also available: server versions and a mobile version for Pocket PC and
Palm-based mobile devices. Windows and Mac versions are included in the
Upgrade and educational pricing is available along with a 30-day free
trial version, downloadable from www.filemaker.com.
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.