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The Road Ahead

This is kind of a cool development. FileMaker, Inc., has been taking some heat in the last year or so for being too secretive about future development plans. If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts about the Developer Conference, then you know I generally can’t reveal future plans for the platform because those “sneak peek” sessions are held under nondisclosure agreement.

Seems that’s changing. The company just released a product roadmap, and even covered it in a publicly-accessible webinar (which I attended). So the change in policy is pretty cool, but the plans? Now, what they have planned for the platform is really cool.

The roadmap is divided up between “next”, “in development”, and “under consideration”. Features in the “next” category are planned for the next release. (The marketing people are kind of amusing here; they insist on referring to the next release as “FileMaker Next”, but all the screen shots during the webinar said “FileMaker 16”. Heh.)

Features “in development” have been green-lighted for future inclusion, but probably won’t make it into the next release. “Under consideration” is pretty much self-explanatory, but these are items that are still in the planning stages and haven’t been released for development yet.

Naturally, the roadmap comes with heavy doses of legalise that basically says, “We’re not guaranteeing anything here, so don’t make any business decisions on this information.” But, in times past, FileMaker has been pretty good about following up on their plans. So let’s get to the exciting part: The plan for the next release!

I’m going to cover just the features I think are especially impactful. And the ones I really like. Because I’m just that way. 🙂

  • Windows user interface update: This has been a source of annoyance for years. Windows users of FileMaker probably have noticed that the application runs with the old-style MDI (Multiple Document Interface), where the application itself has a window, and all windows spawned by the application end up inside that window. This setup makes it hard to use FileMaker apps on multiple monitors, for example, and the fact that it takes over the whole screen if you want enough real estate for multiple windows is irritating, too. In the next release, they’re planning to upgrade FileMaker to the SDI (Single Document Interface), which will make the application work much more like modern applications on Windows (and how the Mac has always worked). So you can pull windows around, move them to different monitors, etc. This will be very nice.
  • PDF support in WebDirect and FileMaker Server: This is huge, huge, HUGE. For years, if we wanted to produce a PDF using a server-side script, we had to resort to web coding methods or the use of a “robot” FileMaker client. The former requires web programming chops (which not all FileMaker developers have), while the latter is consuming a client license for no other reason than producing PDFs. Painful. By introducing support for server-side PDFs, FileMaker opens up a world of possibilities. WebDirect support for PDF generation has been a bone of contention with many developers since WebDirect was introduced, so this addition will be welcome.
  • FileMaker Data API (Application Programming Interface): Well, this will upset the apple cart, for sure. When FileMaker Cloud was released, one notably absent feature was support for the PHP API for building web pages via Custom Web Publishing. It was speculated at the time that FileMaker would be moving more towards an API model, because that model is way more flexible than tying it to a specific technology. (A large reason why this is the way the industry has trended.) Seems the speculators were right. The FileMaker API will be based on JSON, which is an industry standard similar to XML, but much easier to parse and work with.
  • JSON parsing: Speaking of JSON, they’re also including a number of functions for parsing JSON text blocks to allow developers not only to interact with the new API, but with other web services and systems that use JSON. This is a very welcome development as well – it opens up a huge integration capability for the platform that was previously accessible only to those with a higher level of programming skill.
  • WebDirect scalability: One of the limitations of WebDirect is the limited number of client connections a typical server can support. (This is due to the rich experience WebDirect delivers; all that niftiness comes with the price of overhead at the server.) By allowing multiple worker machines to host a WebDirect solution, FileMaker will make it possible to extend the number of users of a WebDirect solution much more than currently available.

Like I said, those are the highlights. There are a lot of other cool features that are planned for the upcoming releases. If you’re curious, by all means, check out the roadmap. And don’t hesitate to contact us if we can help you answer any questions.

Exciting times ahead in the FileMaker world!