Claris’s Plans for FileMaker Bode Well for Individual Users

I’m feeling really skeptical about this when a months-old video is the sole source. You would think there would be a more concrete announcement.

As a long-time FileMaker developer, I have to say it’s not unusual for the information released by the company to be confusing. But maybe I can help:

The tech stack for the FileMaker platform continues to include the Draco database engine, the scripting engine and the interface management tools. The codebase for FileMaker Pro and Claris Pro is going to be exactly the same, but I believe integration with Claris Studio will be enabled in Claris Pro using a connector (same as ODBC). Claris Studio is making use of custom web authoring tools and MongoDB and is undergoing MASSIVE development to be ready for prime time - it’s in private beta right now, and the feature set growth in the last six months has been satisfying.

Historically, FileMaker/Claris has always had trouble with defining and implementing licensing changes. The backlash has been so strong that some customers have grandfathered license plans going back more than a decade, which adds to the company’s problem. I think this Claris re-branding is at least partially an attempt to create a clean break on the licensing side of things; the industry (and parent company Apple!) is using metrics of monthly active users and a new subscription model would make it far easier for Claris to generate that information.

The decision to change the company name to FileMaker back in the day made sense when Claris was forced by Apple to stop work on all the other products (rumour has it that FileMaker Pro remained by the skin of its teeth because of the revenue it generated) and it makes sense to have the company and product names be the same thing. The company changing back to Claris… well, the CEO has his reasons and spoke about them publicly (Introducing Claris International Inc.). And the FileMaker name, while it has history, means very little to people who encounter it for the first time - one developer acquaintance of mine was aghast that the company didn’t rebrand to “AppMaker” before Google came out with its product of that name, after spending a lot of time in the developer community talking about using the platform to develop “apps” rather than “databases.”

To answer some of the specific questions above:
@mike_vlasman Transferring data from Bento into FileMaker needs a special tool (ClarisPKB) but should be possible for many years to come. The last time FileMaker changed file formats was in 2012 and to this day the Pro app will convert the previous file format to the current one.

@mark4 As with the present release, files can be stored locally (Mac/Windows/iOS) or hosted by FileMaker/Claris Server on whatever machine you choose (Mac/Windows/Linux) - you can buy special hosting from Claris, FileMaker/Claris Cloud, that is deployed on AWS. The client software will continue to be installed on the user device; Claris Studio is a hybrid beast but since it uses MongoDB there will supposedly be no restrictions on where that can be hosted - the client is web-based so theoretically you could do that on your own machine.

Your second comment relates to FileMaker Server and the email from Claris isn’t including some pertinent information. Again, their licensing configuration is, uh, troubled. Claris wants you to buy user licenses, but historically they also sold FMS as a separate product, then they thought they should bundle things and now everyone is scratching their heads. I’ll try and clarify this but I’m not an expert on their licensing so don’t take this as gospel: when you have a licensing agreement with Claris that includes FileMaker Server, you automatically get access to the client software on your Software Downloads page (Pro is the only thing you’d care about, since Go is free and WebDirect means using a web browser). The actual cost of this setup is dependent on the number of users; once you have 5 or more there’s a different licensing agreement and all the software is included. You get a lot of benefits from the FMS software but the price is steep for a non-commercial setup.

head: There is no question that a lot of very smart people work at Claris; what has impressed me is the willingness to try new approaches and change what isn’t working. There have been stumbles over the past five years or so, but the course corrections have been noticeable and almost exclusively for the better. The developer community has been noting with concern the average age of the membership (as have Claris) and the freemium model has been an obvious option for more than a decade - Claris have made some user- and developer-hostile moves in that area but this new approach has a lot of us excited.

davidbauguess: I can confirm that the Windows version will be affected by this change. As with a lot of software these days, Claris is treating its products more as a service and it therefore is doing its best to create a uniform experience for users of all platforms (Android being the exception, for obvious reasons).

alixLC: Peer-to-peer sharing has been deprecated as of FileMaker 19 (ClarisPKB), released about two years ago. Deprecated features can hang around for a while but my approach would be to investigate alternatives starting now - perhaps keeping your desktop as the one true database and using your other devices to remote desktop into it when required? This article (Claris Community (English)) and others on the community forum can offer some assistance.

Shamino: As I said above, licensing has not been Claris’ strong point and I think a significant goal on their part is to solve their issues on this point. The future is cloudy on that aspect of the announcement, but I can say that Claris representatives have confirmed that FileMaker Pro and Claris Pro are the same product on a technical basis and will share the same unchanged .fmp12 file format so there will be no issue opening the files with either application.

silbey: FileMaker is at least being more open than it used to be. Time was, you’d have to spend time and money on attending the official developer conference to learn about this stuff and now everything (including developer-centric information) is on YouTube. This situation is also a result of the rapid development being undertaken on Claris Studio and the policies of parent company Apple. Nobody outside Claris knows what exactly is going to ship; all I can tell you is that the developer community is looking at this very positively.

There’s more I can add, but I’ve spent a lot of time on this already so I’ll stop for now. Happy to keep the conversation going.

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Thanks, Unhinged, for the great exposition on some of the background concerns re. the FMP->Claris evolution.

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As a fellow FileMaker developer from way back and still active, Unhinged has encapsulated the situation with great clarity, something Claris needs to work on… Actually, what are we going to call ourselves now? Claris developers? Sounds very odd still.

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The current advice is to call ourselves “Claris FileMaker” developers, no doubt with the expectation that over time we will become “Claris” developers. Perhaps “Claris” application developers? “Claris Problem Solvers”?

There’s been a general trend to try and de-emphasise the technology stack being used, and have the tool allow us to just build apps without the end user needing to care about what’s under the hood. I think the issue you’ve raised will continue to be with us for quite some time.

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For anyone who wants to get the latest info directly from Claris, they are hosting a webinar tomorrow. Sign up info is available at:

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This is actually exciting. I was assuming they’d announce that Filemaker was going into a browser-only experience, killing 25+ years of Applescripts and similar other tools. Fingers crossed that this will allow us to upgrade our old databases (currently FM16).

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All this technical jargon leaves me in the dust. I WAS a longtime Filemaker Pro user, only because a consultant said that I needed it to create a custom database (for client contacts) that he insisted was best for my needs. In hindsight, from the minimal way I used it, it was serious overkill. When I was finally obliged to jump from MacOS Snow Leopard to Monterey, I couldn’t update my FMPro database without paying some $500 for a subscription to Claris’ latest “solution,” which I couldn’t afford. I was told that the only other option was to export my old FM database to an Excel spreadsheet, which is totally unsatisfactory. Does this news mean that Claris will be introducing something that will allow me to affordably update my old FMPro database to something I can use on my new MacBook Pro? Please & thanks!

FMPro can export to a variety of standard formats, not just Excel:

  • Tab-separated values (a text file, with one record per row, tabs between values)
  • Comma-separated values (similar to tab-separated values)
  • DBF (the old dBase III format)
  • Merge (meant for mail merge in word processors like Microsoft Word)
  • HTML Table (for embedding in a web page)
  • FileMaker Pro (make a new FMP database)
  • XML
  • Excel Workbook (Excel)

If you want to export your data in a way that can be easily imported into another database app, I recommend using XML, since that seems best able to preserve a database’s schema.

If the destination database can’t import XML, then I would suggest comma-separated values or DBF, and be prepared to run some macros/scripts over the result in order to deal with some of FMP’s capabilities (e.g. multi-value fields, fields that are selections from lists, etc.) that don’t translate well to those formats. Check with the importing app to see what will be compatible.

If the receiving app supports importing from ODBC, you can set up FMP as an ODBC data source and serve the records that way.

The only real problem (at least for me) is that embedded media (that is, container fields used to store images, audio or video) can’t be exported to any format. You’ll have to jump through some hoops to transfer them (assuming your destination database also supports them, of course). I assume you’ll need something like an AppleScript that can walk through one database, locate the corresponding record in the other, copy the media object from one and paste to the other. Definitely doable, but not something you should expect to find built-in to any database app.

See also

That’s what it seems like at the moment, but nothing is clear to me. My opinion is “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

Once they actually release that free-for-single-user version of Claris Pro, then we’ll be able to find out exactly what it is, what the license terms are, and if it will be able to import FMP databases without mangling anything.

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To the point that I understood it, VERY helpful reply. Thanks, David. Yes, I’m hoping that with whatever Claris releases, I’ll be able to simply update my old FMPro database into the new Claris thing, and use it like I did before. Now retired, I have no need for anything more sophisticated than that; just want to be able to view my FMPro address book as I did in the past.

Again, thank you!

-Scott

You can also investigate using the free FileMaker Go client on an iPad. It doesn’t allow you to do any development work, but for just accessing the data it’s a great option. With Apple’s recent efforts to allow iOS apps to work on macOS, it may be something you can eventually use on a desktop or laptop.

File backups are more convoluted on an iOS device, but if the data rarely changes the inconvenience factor won’t be too high.

Thank you…I’ll check it out!

Adam has encouraged me to share some further thoughts here from a separate conversation I had with him. So, with the understanding that what follows is almost entirely speculation and personal opinion (and trying not to share anything I learned under NDA conditions):

Claris have known for at least a decade that they needed a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the changes happening in the industry and the growing average age of their developer base. Internally they were comparing themselves to Adobe as a way to measure their market relevance and performance, then they started looking at AirTable and similar startups and noted (along with Apple) that they did not compare well in terms of attention (and presumably market capitalisation, although as a subsidiary of Apple I don’t know how that calculation was performed).

CEO, Brad Freitag, initially joined the company in (I think) 2013 as VP of Marketing. I’ve met him in person, and he’s the right man for the job - committed, capable and clever. He previously worked at Oracle, and I think that experience added some momentum to FileMaker’s push to grab more of the enterprise market. They started talking about “Low Code and No Code” tools and giving us developers information about there being a shortfall in the supply of software developers relative to the demand from businesses for custom tools to automate their processes and take advantage of the data they already collect to improve their efficiency.

Around 2015 folks started talking about “the API economy” and Claris gave us the Insert from URL script step, which they quickly enhanced to essentially be a front end to the cURL library, and boy that went down well with a lot of devs - suddenly we could integrate with web services like any other software client. That’s the point where FileMaker became a platform that could build fairly comprehensive applications rather than just being “a database” app. Great move, high fives all round.

Integrating with APIs, however, can be a substantial amount of work no matter what your development tools. One obvious approach is to solve that integration problem with one central system that handles the worst of the configuration details and provides a more uniform interface that is much easier to work with; Claris ended up buying a startup that had this technology and rebranded it as Claris Connect (around 2019). The pricing of this service remains contentious, but there are some in the developer community who insist that the value is there - much like the FileMaker app, you pay a higher price for hosting and operations than some competing technologies, but your development time is drastically shorter; minutes rather than hours or days in the case of working with APIs.

But the pressure was always there to have an even better web presence. The WebDirect technology is unique in the industry; performance sucks compared to everything else but it’s “flick a switch” to implement and speed of development has value. A lot of people wanted to use it as part of a regular website so that it was easier to implement a form, implementing workarounds so that reliability was good enough for global access, and Claris for some reason decided in around 2017 that they would change their licensing to prevent that.

My personal opinion is that Claris had their long-term plan of the Connect approach in mind at this point. The technology didn’t exist, nor did the startup that they eventually bought, but they knew what they wanted and they expected to be able to implement that in some way. As an architectural and business approach - integrate with best-of-breed that’s already out there - this is not without merit, but they didn’t share their internal plans and a lot of people felt burned. Capturing data in a form is the original value proposition of FileMaker, it’s the soul of the product; handing that feature off to a web service somewhere (that probably requires its own subscription!) felt wrong at a very deep level.

I think the big factor is that Claris either didn’t understand or didn’t value what their existing customer base wanted: extend the capabilities of the existing product to make developing for the web easier/better/cheaper. Let the people who’ve been supporting the tool for decades leverage that investment to remain relevant in a changing world.

The approach they took was to chase the new customers - people who had data but didn’t know how to take advantage of it to improve their businesses (the days of being a product for end users have pretty much come to a close). Tap into the IT startup business model of $x per user per month that is an ongoing service people will get locked into. Cloud first architecture that supposedly scales to meet any user’s needs and tries to ignore the legislation and policies around the world that apply to where and how certain types of data must be stored. But, sure, we still support on-prem.

Needless to say, the approach they chose has not worked out. They brought in fresh people, who were very clever and know their stuff about cloud implementations but were woefully lacking in their experience with supporting a developer community through change or actually dealing with the many challenges of on-premise installations. Brad mandated that all relevant staff undertake the FileMaker Developer Certification process to promote understanding of what the community live with, which was another great move, but the problems Claris faced were largely those of direction rather than implementation.

I want to be very clear: Claris have done a lot of things right over the past decade. I, and others in the developer community, are very impressed not only with the technical achievements but the willingness of the executive team to acknowledge mistakes and make changes that support what the existing customers want while still trying to drive growth. They face a massive challenge and they are working their backsides off to overcome it.

While the new Claris Studio product is still under development and we don’t know how it will pan out, I reiterate that a lot of us in the developer community are excited by it. Not just because we will finally have something that we can put out there as a standard web solution but because Claris is making what appear to be reasonable changes to their licensing and the expectation is that this will bring new users to the platform. I don’t know when the new stuff will be publicly available (my guess is late November or early December of this year), but I can hardly wait.

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Interesting read - far more informative than the gab-fest Claris ran on Youtube this week.

I turned it off after 25 minutes as it just seems like a bunch of executives talking about themselves - very poor attempt at explaining and marketing (and this is from someone who’s been a Filemaker developer since V3).

It’s been clear for a number of years the end user was no longer a target - the price was just too high. The changes they’re suggesting should have a solid uptick of users and that’s from where the developers will come.

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Yes, the company’s official announcements are now coloured quite heavily by Apple media training.

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Once again, excellent stuff. Thanks!

Well. Having consumed a bunch of information over the past few days about what is now the new public release, I am more confused than ever. Some of the implementation details have changed, for mostly-understandable reasons, but in my opinion Claris should have kept Studio in developer beta for a lot longer.

Trying my best for a quick summary:

  • The Claris suite of products requires a Claris ID to use and it includes Claris Pro/Go/Server, Claris Connect and Claris Studio. Pricing is higher to reflect the two latter items, but there will be a free version.
  • The FileMaker suite of products is not going away, primarily because the Claris suite is not yet supporting all of the features (external authentication, ODBC, running on-premise without an internet connection) that the FileMaker suite currently provides.
  • Claris Server only runs on Linux, not Mac or Windows, but the Pro client is the same as the FileMaker Pro client.
  • The file structure remains unchanged, but the file extension is different between the two suites. The conversion is one-way, so test thoroughly before committing to the Claris suite.
  • Claris expects to continue selling both suites for several years; on the Pro products new features will be added at the same time to both suites and Claris is working hard to bring both suites to feature parity as soon as possible - once this is achieved, well, that’s probably where we will see the FileMaker suite retired.

If you’re wanting more details, you can watch Claris FileMaker Product Launch - with Richard Carlton and Rick Kalman - YouTube for a relatively straight-forward interview between Richard Carlton (a major, successful FM developer) and Rick Kalman (Director of Product Management at Claris). There’s more out there, including official Claris stuff, but in my opinion this YouTube video is the best bang for your buck.

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Slightly off topic from a new release, but I worked with FMP in the way past (think, small Mac screen) and would like to dabble in it in my retirement, but have found locating resources for re-teaching me very difficult to find. FMP community has always seemed protective, and when I go looking for a sample database (I learn best by example and then drilling into the workings of the file), I am frequently presented with “Just fill out all your information and I will send you a copy”. And then when I use a @mac.com or @gmail.com address, it refuses and wants my “work email”.

I would love to find a place to get info (FMP help site is very tedious and overly detailed) on the basics of FMP and building simple relationships. I can visualize what I want, I just can’t seem to build it.

There’s a bunch of free videos on YouTube - my personal recommendation is to make use of the resources offered by Richard Carlton at https://fmtraining.tv where the material is practical and covers a range of experience levels. The livestream videos can be watched directly on YouTube or you can download a FileMaker database that holds a list of links to the videos hosted on Vimeo (you’ll need to provide your contact details to download this Video Player file, but in several years I’ve never been directly approached for a sales conversation, it’s just a mailing list with a general message about the benefits of being a paid subscriber). The sample files range from the full “FM Starting Point” CRM (free, but again you’ll need to provide contact details and will be added to the mailing list) to some technique-specific files for more esoteric or specialised approaches.

If your budget extends to the paid subscription, it is absolutely worth the money. The same is true for Matt Petrowsky’s https://filemakermagazine.com but that caters more to experienced developers. Other great resources to explore once you’re feeling comfortable with the basics include Kevin Frank’s https://filemakerhacks.com, Daniel Wood’s “Weetbicks” blog (Team DF and Weetbicks blogs and news), Vince Mennano and the team at https://blog.beezwax.net, the amazing crew at Soliant (Software Development Best Practices from Top Developers) and the insightful Proof+Geist (Recent Blogs | Proof+Geist). There are many more I could mention, but I have trouble finding the time to keep up with even this short list.

DM me here at TBT if you want more of a discussion.

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Join the club. :blush:

The Claris Community is actually very good. There are a number of people who are very active and generally pretty quick to respond. Claris completely rebuilt the site a while back and it was a painful transition from the old one, which contained so much useful info. I tend to search with Google as it seems to be better at finding relevant threads than the Community itself, which is somewhat ironic. There are other resources too as ‘unhinged’ mentioned. One I’ve found really useful, but sadly is no longer maintained, so it’s a bit wobbly, but still there, is John Mark Osborne’s - Philosophy of Filemaker. Some really useful stuff, well explained.

On top of that, I’d add that FM is moving in the direction of javascript and json and whilst you don’t need to learn them (I haven’t) they will be increasingly useful. One of the great things about FM is its incredible depth, built over the decades, however, this also makes it tricky, because there are sooooo many ways of doing something. Fun for a retiree though! I’d recommend spending a LOT of time thinking about any project and how you want it to work, prior to delving in. For me, my rule of thumb is ‘less is more’.

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