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FileMaker's 7 "biggest" change (And it seems to be a secret!)

Volume Number: 21 (2005)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Review

FileMaker's 7 "biggest" change (And it seems to be a secret!)

by Neil Ticktin

To say FileMaker 7 is a significant upgrade from FileMaker 6 is a major understatement. As you will see when your read the FileMaker 7 Developer review in this issue of MacTech, (Page 38, What's New In FileMaker 7) 7 allows for real relationships, has a better set of tools, and offers major enhancements across the board.

As a FileMaker user since FileMaker Plus, I'm excited about one change that not a lot People seem to know about, but could well be the biggest change in FileMaker since it went multi-user ... and that is how FileMaker Server now deals with remote users.

It used to be that all the heavy lifting in FileMaker -- calculations, sorting, etc... all took place on the client end. But, with FileMaker 7, the processing has been moved to the server, (where it belongs) and all the client receives is the relevant data. This is a huge shift, and will allow FileMaker to be deployed in ways it never could before. Let me explain.

Let's use an example of a sort or calculation in FileMaker. In FileMaker 6 and prior, FileMaker Server would send little bits of information, one piece at a time, to the client. The client would dutifully respond to the server confirming the data. While some would say "Why do I care? I've got a T1 and plenty of bandwidth!", that's not what's relevant. The real issue here is not bandwidth, but latency. When little bits of data are sent, and then confirmed, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth ... you end up with a type of behavior known as "thrashing".

Now, if you are on a LAN with 5 milliseconds or less latency, it doesn't matter. But if you are closely tied (maybe the next building), you may see 20ms latency, or on a good Internet connection, maybe 80-100ms. God forbid that you were on a DSL or cable modem connection with 200-300ms latencies.

Since milliseconds are thousandths of a second, this seems petty -- but, it's not. We put FileMaker 7 to a typical MacTech-style real world test. We moved a good size database (about 50,000 records total, making up about 110 MB) from FileMaker 6 to 7, and deployed it with both local users, and users across the country over the Internet.

The end result was we found FileMaker 7 to be significantly faster. Much more important than just some random bench test or statistic, 7 ended up moving us from a situation where the system was just too slow to use to one that is now very usable.

We'll keep this short and sweet -- and give you two extremes of the testing that we did. The first test is a relatively simple test: opening files, running basic scripts, etc... The second test is a brutal report that even locally takes over 10 min to run.

                    FileMaker 6   FileMaker 7 
                     hr:min:sec    hr:min:sec
Simple test                3:00          1:34 
Complex report          1:27:04         12:32

End result? Well appropriately so, FileMaker 7 is more than 7 times faster than FileMaker 6 when it comes to sharing databases over the Internet.

Porting from FileMaker 6 to 7 did have its issues. There were some scripts that broke, we had to learn to reference the table and the field, not just the field (because FileMaker is now relational). In short, it did take effort ... but from what we can see, it's well worth the effort. We look forward to moving our multi-file databases that have pseudo-relationships and glue files to a single file, to a true multi-table solution and take advantage of many of the other new features of FileMaker 7.

If your mind isn't cranking on all the new possible uses, it should be. Go get to it!

Neil Ticktin is the publisher of MacTech Magazine.


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