Are FileMaker plug-ins dead?

The release of FileMaker Go has added a new variable to the equation we use when considering whether to use a FileMaker plug-in. We are experiencing a big shift to mobile solutions. Within less than a year ignoring the iOS platform became an unforgivable mistake for every FileMaker developer.

When creating a new solution, adding at least one layout and checking the application platform in the startup script is now almost mandatory. If not to make the solution usable on an iPad or iPhone then at minimum to prevent iOS users opening the solution and running a script that behaves differently in FileMaker Go.

One of the features that’s not available in FileMaker Go is the ability to extend its functionality with 3rd party plug-ins. Although FileMaker is working hard to get Go in line with Pro, Apple’s protective restrictions may never allow creating plug-ins for FileMaker Go.

Does this mean that plug-ins are effectively dead?

The truth is that plug-ins are more alive and more important than ever before. Only the game rules have changed and we have to learn how to play by the new rules.

Some rules are not so new

The situation with FileMaker Go is not much different from what we already know for years – the Instant Web Publishing. We never could use client-side plug-ins with IWP. Some other native FileMaker Pro features, such as printing, imports, and exports, are unavailable or limited in IWP as well.

This has not stopped us from using plug-ins even in solutions that provide IWP access to users. Plug-ins can still be used for desktop specific features and FileMaker Pro can still offer the largest client-side feature set. Most solutions with IWP or FileMaker Go interfaces still also have desktop users with FileMaker Pro.

The only difference is that FileMaker Go is a lot more attractive and efficient than IWP and so its user base is growing much faster than the IWP’s user base. FileMaker Go is even more often replacing some FileMaker Pro clients, especially for users who need mobility more than many features. We have to take that into acount.

Plug-ins can be used in IWP and FileMaker Go

This is not new either. Both IWP and FileMaker Go can utilize server-side plug-ins. It’s not as straightforward as using plug-ins for FileMaker Pro but it’s not rocket science either. You just have to create an unstored calculation field involving a plug-in. When you perform a find in FileMaker Go, searching for a value in this field, the calculation is evaluated on FileMaker Server, thus using the plug-in. Jake Traynham wrote a very good article explaining this technique.

There are other ways to extend FileMaker Go

Additional functionality on iOS can be also achieved by integrating FileMaker Go with other iOS applications. Any iOS application can register its own custom URL protocol (just like Safari uses http and FileMaker Go uses fmp7). You can then use the Open URL script step to open such custom URL. As a result, the corresponding application is launched and processes any data you have passed to it in the URL.

Other opportunities are available through the Web Viewer. It lets you display any web page within a FileMaker layout. You can also generate the web page dynamically using a FileMaker calculation and the “data” URL scheme. This does not even require you to have an internet connection.

New rules and new opportunities

I have no doubt that the world we used to know belongs to the past. IPhones, iPads, and other mobile technologies have changed the way we access information. Forever. Even FileMaker indicates recognition of this fact by not accepting solutions which are not FileMaker Go ready as candidates for their Solution of the Year award.

The new rules are going to end the life of some plug-ins and new plug-ins are going to appear. We are probably going to see a boom of server-side plug-ins and maybe some new players. New plug-ins are likely to be more expensive because reliable server-side plug-ins are harder to develop.

More than ever we have to think about the ROI rather than deciding to use or not to use plug-ins. But the most important thing is that thanks to FileMaker Go the market for us, FileMaker developers, is growing. And it’s growing fast. And if we want to keep up with the growth we simply cannot afford ignoring plug-ins, and we definitely cannot afford killing them.

Our success depends on how well, how widely, and how quickly we adopt the new technoogies and new trends. And if we want to excel, we have to go even farther. We have to cross the set boundaries and think outside of the box. What we do beyond the common expectations will drive our true success. Can we do that without using web viewer, integrating FileMaker Go with other applications, and utilising server-side plug-ins?

What do you think? And what do you already do? Which server side pug-ins do you already use with FileMaker Go? What new plug-ins would you like to see appear on the market? Share you thoughts, ideas, and experience, and help to push the world forward.

HOnza Koudelka

HOnza “the mad optimizer” Koudelka, co-founder and co-owner of 24U Software (www.24uSoftware.com), has been developing FileMaker solutions since 1991. As soon as the External Function API was released with FileMaker Developer 4.0, HOnza started to expand the area of FileMaker Pro's development and usage simplicity via plug-ins. Presently, being a FileMaker Certified Developer and a member of FileMaker Business Alliance, he leads a team of plug-in and solution developers to provide high quality developer tools, iOS applications, and custom development services. HOnza is dedicated to FileMaker, iPad, optimization, and doing the "impossible".

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5 thoughts on “Are FileMaker plug-ins dead?”

  1. HOnza,

    I’m glad to find your blog. We manufacture MFi certified barcode scanner called iScan. We have recevied several inquiries wanting to use a barcode scanner to work with their iDevices and FileMaker Go to create a warehouse/inventory management solution.

    We know the demand for barcode scanner + FileMaker Go is high and I’d like to know if you are interested in exploring a partnership opportunity. thank you.

  2. Hi, I know I’m a bit late here, though found your post above interesting. I have been working with FileMaker for nearly 12 years now. Your so right about fmgo being a huge opportunity for developers. The missing link in the succes chain though, is a marketing channel through iTunes. An fmgo shopfront. Which leads me to the question .? Why aren’t Apple and FileMaker already doing this ? Because they don’t need to, they are selling millions of devices and getting a cut on millions of fart apps ? why bother.
    Apple needs to look beyond the novelty factor of its device and start opening the doors to more robust and,useful applications. Fmgo ?
    With regards to plug ins ? I’m not sure, but one thing I have learnt on the desktop is to not depend on any other application/plugin/ on the computer other than FileMaker pro. I’ m attempting the same approach on the iOS devices.
    Best regards

    1. You have not specified whether you’re achieving your independence on 3rd party software products by simply not using them, or by using them in an independent way…

      Did you know you can actually take advantage of using plug-ins without depending on them? I have explained that in more detail in my article Stay Independent (http://honza.24usoftware.com/stay-independent-0).

      By not depending on more than I other vendor (FileMaker), you are lowering the risk for your customers, which is usually good. But by completely avoiding using plug-ins you are disabling your customers from succeeding by standing out.

      FileMaker has millions of users. To stay efficient and profitable they can only include those features in their product that are necessary for majority of their customers. But as a customer, if you want to stand out in your niche, you need something that no one else in the same niche has.

      I like to say “never say never”. By generally avoiding something, whatever it is, you are limiting your abilities and by limiting your abilities you are also limiting your potential success. You are closing yourself into an even smaller box than others have closed you into.

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