FileMaker DevCon 2010 – San Diego

With some of the best developers from around the world gathered once again to share knowledge, information and products at this years conference was as good as ever.

The highlights for me came in three different areas. With the recent launch only weeks before of FileMaker Go, obviously this was one of the key discussion points at the conference. Whilst there were only a few key talks on FM Go, it was already obvious that there was a lot of excitement about this new product to the FileMaker family. I’m not going to go into great detail on FM Go in this blog as that will be covered in more detail in an up-coming blog – watch this space.

The next point, which I’d like to discuss in more detail, was the use of Script Triggers.  We’ve had triggers for two versions of the product now and it was good to see how other developers are using them in creative ways.  For instance David Knight gave an excellent session covering areas such as providing visual feedback and advanced help to the user through the use of script triggers and merge variables/fields. He also showed how you can use OnObjectModify to auto highlight words in a large text field that the user might be searching for.

Geoff Coffey also had an excellent session on Practical Script Triggers and was showing how you could use the OnValidate trigger to allow users to enter data shortcuts in a field. For example allowing a user to type the word ‘today’ into a date field and using the trigger to run a script to convert that into the current date.  He also highlighted the need for good script management and utilising guard variables within triggers to help prevent erroneous behaviour – something we at Linear Blue are a big proponent of.

A session from Bob Bowers helped to tie Script Triggers into my third key area, that of performance within your solution. Bob helped build on David’s session and showed how we can use script triggers to grab data on the fly, whether it be for reporting, charting and even just to enhance the speed of searching within FM Go.

Let me give you a very simple example, which will hopefully highlight the point.  You have a parent record which has a portal through to a child table.  Your user can enter numbers into a field within that portal, perhaps payments for an invoice. Traditionally you would then have a calc field in the parent record that performs a Sum function on the related number to give you a total.  There are obvious advantages to this in that FIleMaker does all the work of keeping that field always up to date.  The disadvantage is that searching on a related un-stored calc field like that can be very slow.  So instead you create the ‘Sum’ field in the parent record as a number field.  You then populate it through an OnObjectValidate Script Trigger than runs when you exit each field in the portal.  This does require a little extra work on the developers side but if developed properly can give the user a field they can now search on virtually instantly.  If you expand this theory into many different areas of your system, the overall effect can be impressive.

So this leads into my third key discussion point from DevCon 2010, that of performance within your solution. I think Tim Neudecker’s session on Performance Tuning Your FileMaker Solution helped summarise this quite nicely. Tim covered some of the key features and settings with FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Server to get the most of your hardware and system; along with digging behind the scenes to look at how the FM engine thinks and works. Knowing this can help you write your solutions optimised for speed from the start.

Optimising your solution for WAN against LAN can also be tricky and Tim reminded us that FileMaker 10 & 11 have both offered significant performance improvements over previous versions of the product, in some cases increase of over 50% can be found.  So if you are still using FM9 or below and are having speed problems, maybe now is the time to look at upgrading.

In addition to some great topics at this years DevCon we also saw some great product upgrades and launched in the Showcase. Beezwax launched their new version of Inspector which is now even better and fully supports FM11.  WorldSync took the opportunity to launch a new version of their world class software SyncDek, now version 8.  This offers many enhancement and features, is easier to implement and can now not only synchronise FM to FM but also FM to SQL, immensely useful when you have to keep a separate website database and your FileMaker solution up to date.

360 Works also launched their new plugin ‘Scribe‘ which among its many features allows us to easily pull the data from various text files including PDF and Word for indexing purposes within your solution.  So if you are using FileMaker as a document management tool and need to search on the linked files, Scribe can help you do this.

Finally we saw an update to the server hardware from Econnectix. Now not only can it backup any file size in under a second but it can pretty much restore your solution from a backup, if there is a crash, just as quick. So if you’re constantly having to wait for backups to run, slowing down your business, but your data is business critical, then this is the server for you.

That pretty much concludes my round-up of this years DevCon. Just leaves me to say thanks to all the people who organise and donate their time to speak, making DevCon what it is. If you haven’t been before and you’re a commercial developer, put it in your diary now for 2011 and hopefully I’ll see you there.

Paul de Hallé

Paul de Hallé

Paul de Hallé is the CEO and founder of Linear Blue, having set up the company in 1999 to focus on intuitive database solutions and web integration. Paul is a FileMaker Certified developer; and has also been a key player in the implementation of the FileMaker Certification program since it's inception with FileMaker 7. A regular guest speaker at FileMaker Business Alliance & Technet meetings in the UK and the FileMaker Developers Conference in the USA, along with contributing to various technical publications around the world.

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