FileMaker plans - not fulfilled?

Back in August 2022 TidBITS reported on Claris’ plans for FileMaker, which foreshadowed a freemium version for individual users who don’t need to share data (Claris’s Plans for FileMaker Bode Well for Individual Users - TidBITS). Sounded great. But am I right in thinking that Claris has now gone in a quite different direction? As far as I can tell from the Claris website I’m up for over AU$500 just to upgrade from my current FileMaker 17 to the latest FileMaker Pro 2023. Having been a FileMaker user for about 20 years I have a collection of personal databases on which I’ve become quite dependant, but the cost of keeping up-to-date is becoming punitive.

Anyway, does anyone know if the freemium concept is dead or still coming?

Peter T.

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It looks like there’s a freemium 45 day FileMaker trial:

Want to learn more about FileMaker? Explore a breadth of resourcesto help you get started, and when you’re ready, give FileMaker 2023 a test drive with a free 45-day trial.

There has always been a 45 day period to use Filemaker Pro.
You should know there’s an invisible file in Users->YourUser->Library->Application Support->L845etc whose Creation Date determines the 45 day period.
No need to tell you the rest
Francsico

Andrew LeCates, Director of Product Marketing and Evangelism at Claris, recently posted an update on major changes to the Claris product roadmap. If you’re interested in FileMaker, the post (and the comments on it) are well worth reading.

It’s incredibly confusing, but evidently the whole “Claris Pro” model announced with such fanfare in 2022 has been abandoned after barely a year. Claris has announced a revised platform and licensing approach that includes Claris FileMaker, Claris Connect, and Claris Studio, but drops Claris Pro, i.e., Claris Go, Claris WebDirect, and Claris Server.

I originally wrote a much longer post, but really this is just the latest warning to take any tech company’s public announcements with a grain of salt and to be very careful about investing effort, time, or money in any platform that does not have a history of clarity and consistency.

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The entire website, descriptions and product lines are ridiculously confusing. It’s hard to believe anyone would go to Claris.com and come away better informed. It stands as a beacon to obfuscation and vagueness.

It’s like a company run by a committee of committees.

Clear as mud. Whilst I still support several solutions I’ve built, I’d find it very hard to recommend the platform going forward. Some of the comments on that update perfectly describe my feelings on their confusing, fractured approach to the product line.

The lack of clarity in the documentation is a pretty good match for the lack of doing anything useful in the latest update (to “FileMaker 2023”). Their sales pitch lists a whole bunch of new features which all seem to have to do with incredibly weird web functions, but nothing that makes it a better database. I upgraded to FMP 2023, but that’s only because they keep threatening a subscription model, and I don’t want to subscribe, thank you, so I have to have the newest possible version for when they ruin things.

But I’m still writing code intended to run in FileMaker 16 or higher, because I want it to run on old versions of FileMaker Go. Because I’m using it for public databases for which I make no money.

From my standpoint, Claris is doing nothing but charging money to take away features. The only thing they’ve added since FileMaker 16 is ARM native code. (Which, to be sure, was probably a big job.) But they’ve forgotten that they’re supposed to be writing a database!

The flip side is, what other programmable, relational, cross-platform database is there, any more?

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I’ve been using Tap Forms, which is not a complete replacement, but it’s a good solid relational database (Mac only). I went from FMP to Bento and the switched to Tap Forms when Bento got squashed.

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I tried TapForms for several months. It was OK but sufficiently quirky in its interface, and sufficiently different to FMP, as to make the crossover quite difficult.

The other thing was the small (compared to FMP) user-base making it hard to get community help if you stumble into a problem.

Everything I saw on the Claris website today seems to confirm that the freemium version of Claris Pro is vaporware.

Which is even worse than it sounds, because the implicit promise (when they killed the runtime modules in FileMaker Developer and pretended that FileMaker Pro 19 was a replacement – blatantly untrue) was that FileMaker Go would be made available for Mac and Windows as well as iOS. Note that there is now no way to make a standalone solution for Mac or Windows – only for iOS. And who is going to use iOS for serious database work?

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Hey all. Great to see such passionate people talking about Claris. I’d like to provide some first-hand context to this conversation to give some clarity to the goings on around the Freemium path at Claris. I’m not sure if any of the team at Claris will respond, because this is a paid access.

Having talked personally with several people at Claris, and being a member of the Claris MVP group ( which includes meetings monthly with Claris ), this is what I know:

  • Unfortunately, the Freemium stuff was delayed because of a technical issue around the signup process. But they were in the process of testing everything, so a lot of the work is already done.
  • Claris realized the confusion that was caused around having a Claris branded product-line in parallel to a FileMaker branded product-line. The confusion was made worse by the fact that the 2 lines were nearly identical. This was all intentional, but caused a lot of confusion, as we all know.
  • The need to bring the Studio connector and Connect functionality into FileMaker took precedence over finalizing the Freemium tier.
  • It is still Claris’ plan to release a Freemium tier. That can only happen once they resolve the technical side of signing up, and for those that need it, to upgrade. Those have to have a working path before they can launch it officially, obviously.
  • The new marketing director seems to have made a strong push to reemphasize FileMaker. This is an extremely important, and positive, move in the branding and future of the product. It backs up what the people at Claris have been saying all along, FileMaker isn’t going anywhere.
  • Claris never pretended that FileMaker 19 was a replacement for Runtimes, ever. The message was just that Webdirect could allow you to serve clients without installing FileMaker client on the user machine. And yes, as one would expect, requires a license. That is just how Claris makes their money. And if we want the product to stay around, is the right move.
  • There was also no promise to make Go available for Mac and Windows. That was the community pipe-dream. Claris only said they heard the demand for something, and that they were looking at what might be possible. And currently the options are Pro, Webdirect, CWP.
  • As for comments about new features, that is an area I disagree. When trying to go back to, as referenced, FMP 16, it’s torture. There are a lot of new and updated features that make doing development better. I’m not going to say there aren’t areas that feel like they took a step backwards, because there are. However, Claris is listening and adjusting. This is the best I’ve ever seen it in the last 20 years. Performance has been a big focus, and in a lot of ways, they have made things better and more stable.

Another note on the freemium tier, you can sign up for a Claris Connect free account ( limited by the number of flow calls per month, I believe ). Studio free tier is also in the plans. All really positive movement, even if delayed.

Feel free to ask questions if you want. I will do my best to answer with what I know and can answer.

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I’m afraid this response to jormond is going to sound rather hostile, which is unfair to jormond, but understand that what Claris is ruining thirty years of my work, so perhaps you will understand why I don’t think much of Claris.

Case in point: Claris never pretended that FileMaker 19 was a replacement for Runtimes, ever.

I agree. They didn’t. They deprecated runtimes – and then raised the price of 19 so that it cost as much as the Developer version of 18, without the main point of buying Developer, which was the runtimes! If they had eliminated runtimes and kept the price of 19 the same as the non-developer version of 18, that would have been a reasonable commercial decision. One that I would still have hated, but it’s not raising prices while taking away features.

Look, I have a need, a very specific need. I have an internationally recognized database of information about traditional folk songs which I give away. (You can see it at http://balladindex.org/.) I have spent thirty years on it; it started in FileMaker 3.0, I believe it was.

The web interface at that site is not very good. Google searches aren’t any good. DuckDuckGo searches aren’t any good. There is no budget for this thing. Remember, I give it away, because I consider it very important, and so do other researchers in the field, but it is a field where there are no grants. All money comes out of my pocket.

What do users want? They want to take this database out in the field, without needing a web connection (that I’m probably not competent to design anyway, because it needs advanced search capabilities). They want it to reside on their non-web-connected computers.

I could do it with runtimes. I could do it with FileMaker Go if Claris would produce a version for Mac and Windows. (Which they obviously could. Just take regular FileMaker and disable the “Manage” menu command!)

I don’t care if it’s a runtime. I don’t care if it’s FileMaker Go. I’m even willing to pay a certain amount for the software to create it, as long as there is no per-copy licensing fee since the product I distribute is free. But I need the ability to create free standalone products for Mac and PC as well as iOS (and ideally Android, but I have no illusions about that). I had that. Claris took it away – just as Apple was switching to ARM, so that even the old runtimes aren’t any good.

All I’m asking for is the ability to do a public service, and Claris’s response is “Nyah-nyah, pay $300 to upgrade to a program that doesn’t do what it used to do.”

Commercially defensible, perhaps, but don’t try to convince me that they couldn’t have done better.

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Note that there is now no way to make a standalone solution for Mac or Windows – only for iOS. And who is going to use iOS for serious database work?

Much of this depends on your client base. One could also ask, what business does serious work on a standalone runtime?! If nothing else, things have really moved dramatically to a collaborative, and often cloud-based, infrastructure. Sync is hard, and has a lot of it’s own problems, so that often isn’t the answer either. ( Edit: to clarify, I completely understand this doesn’t apply the same way to the generous work you are doing with your custom app )

I’ve worked with both 2 people operations, with 100+ users with over 160GB of text data, with 50+ separate entities in a more vertical market product…and FileMaker ( Cloud or on-prem ) work superbly. Really, really, really well. In the end, this is really all that matters for most of us.

I don’t take anything you have said personally. Passion, you have passion. Nothing wrong with that. Hopefully nothing I say comes across as hostile either. I care deeply about the public perception of FileMaker. It affects all of our businesses, both their success and their failures.

Pricing has changed, but mainly only on single licenses. Everything else stayed, until very recently, the same price for nearly 5 or 6 years. Now, that doesn’t help you in your situation. I get that. Freemium will allow you do continue your work… I think that is important too. The idea of Freemium isn’t dead. Just delayed. Everyone at Claris I’ve talked to feels the same way about it. They see the value.

As for runtimes, there are platforms that still provide the functionality… but they are dwindling very very fast. Claris isn’t the only company that stopped supporting it. And, if we are both being honest, they stopped actually updating the runtime engine long before they officially pulled it from the product.

From the business side, it’s just really hard to support a business, like Claris, on just the dev licenses. The money just isn’t there to support the whole company. It’s sad for the kind of generous work you are doing. I talked with one of the VPs at DevCon in 2018 about the Runtime stuff… and he had a sad look on his face, then when on to tell me about a dozen companies that continued to support ‘legacy’ features ( runtimes was just among those features we talked about ). And all but 2 of those companies no longer exist. I think his point was obvious. To think that Claris has been successful and profitable for so long…it’s really amazing. And I know I don’t need to tell you this, you have been in the trenches longer than I have.

I have a hard time complaining about the cost of FileMaker, simply because so many other platforms are much more expensive, or you have to do a lot more coding yourself. There are things like Swift. Listening to a podcast the other day with a developer that talked about Swift on Windows, Android, iOS, and Mac. Really fascinating to see how far Swift has reached. But there is a obviously a lot more coding work and complexity around using a language like that vs FileMaker.

It’s definitely getting harder to find offline-apps, for sure. And I don’t have a solid answer for you. I do hope Freemium comes quickly, so that your work can continue.

Let’s make partial peace here. :-) I certainly agree that it’s hard to make development products, and survive doing it. I used to write my own code, back before they took away my procedural programming tools (growf), so I know how many have withered away! And products as user-friendly as FileMaker are rare indeed, and a lot of the attempts to make such were slow (4th Dimension) or just godawful (Helix); FileMaker has a great mix of ease-of-use and power. I was very lucky I put this database on FileMaker rather than 4th Dimension, since I at least have the data, and all my 4th Dimension databases are basically just tables of random numbers. :-)

I would even grant the point about price as a web development environment – but it seems to me that FileMaker’s real competition is Microsoft Access, not some web development tool, and Access is at about the same price point. Admittedly FileMaker is vastly easier to use and is cross-platform, but I doubt that makes much difference to the average IT budget hawk. You may be right about volume licenses, but that’s tough on individual users…

And I could make a case that truly supporting FileMaker Go could be a commercial opportunity. “Like this database? Want to modify it yourself? Upgrade to FileMaker Pro now!” Admittedly a lot of people would be afraid of the result. But I suspect it would drive more sales than the current situation. :-)

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I think everything that someone uses to run their business is competition. That’s the landscape Claris faces. Web, local, doesn’t matter. Most of the time, the technology doesn’t really make any difference when solving a problem. If the problem is solved and the thing works, users and businesses just don’t care.

The number of times I’ve talked with IT departments… and they see that it is natively cross-platform, they often don’t believe it. But often web tech runs cross-platform, and cross-browser, so that is where a lot of products and companies have gone. Each tech, each approach, has it’s own “complexity demon spirit” ( as this hilarious article talks about: https://grugbrain.dev/ ). So business and us, as devs, have to decide which problems we are willing to tolerate.

We are at peace. It’s all really good info and perspective. Hopefully, you can trust that Claris is still on the same mission to provide the Freemium tier. I think that will help draw a lot more devs into the space. I have pushed and advocated for a Freemium approach myself. Along with an annual subscription that makes sense for 1-2 person operations.

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The inability for a database company to build a sign-up platform - something they already have for their existing product - is certainly not encouraging. Perhaps they should have done the logical thing and require no signup for Freemium - just require it for an upgrade to a paid service.

I’m not sure the sort of users looking for Freemium are going to be enamoured by talk of web connect and ‘flow calls’ (whatever they are).

My faith in Filemaker (and I’ve been making reasonably sized solutions since version 3) has dropped to near zero.

This is a bit of an oversimplification of the problem. Also, the problem is not at all that they couldn’t build a sign-up platform. Not having a sign-up process just isn’t option.

Largely, this was just a timing issue. It was working during testing about 90% of the time. The problems that are encountered with a ‘sign-up’ feature… aren’t always fully in the control of the developer team. There are multiple components involved where something could go sideways and figuring out how to mitigate the problem, just isn’t always that simple. Think, email delivery and blacklisting problems to a large number of people. Then the team had something else more urgent to work on, remerging the platform back into a FileMaker’s code base.

They will solve it, and for the most part they already have it working. Again we are talking about them building something in the midst of them integrating an 2 entirely new products, Connect and Studio.

I actually much prefer that they have been open about the journey versus in the past where they were just silent on it until it was complete. They have reached a much more “give you a feature and iterate on it constantly for a couple years” development cycle. That’s actually kind of awesome to see.

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Much of what you’ve said sounds encouraging, both around the product and the freemium version. As to the latter, I have the user base in mind, and here’s my beef. Since FM is so capable, it’s almost impossible to name all uses. But one thing is sure: many users need it only for themselves (like me) or for a relatively small group. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars every few years updating since FM was born, but I decided to stop at v. 19. The bells and whistles (many of which, again, may be quite useful for some) have become increasingly irrelevant for my use; I just want what I’ve got to keep working, and certainly not to become more complex.

How does that relate to the freemium version? First, it should be produced and widely advertised. So far, Claris has done almost the contrary. 1-1/2 years ago Claris announced its plans for it, published on their site, and one could sign up to receive news about its progress. I never received any such news, and at some point all mention of it had been removed (I may have missed something, but I looked pretty hard). Second, it must be easy to use. I don’t mean it should be a dumbed-down version, but it shouldn’t require developer know-how, either.

With all respect to you, jormond, that still sounds like vaporware to me. That’s bad on two accounts. First, a company like Claris should never, ever, put themselves in danger of being called a vaporware producer. Second, but also connected to the first, it’s bad for business, not just their reputation. If they really offered this free version I’m sure many would try it. In turn, as they become comfortable using it, many will surely come to feel they could use the whole professional package, and would buy it, = more $$$ for Claris (and no more angry users, to boot). So, until Claris puts something encouraging back on their site, prominently displayed, they’re still guilty of vaporware. I’d enjoy being convinced otherwise, but I’m not holding my breath.

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