Is it possible to get a multisheet Excel across to FM with cals (1000s), named ranges, macros and links remaining patent or easily put right
You can import the data, but not the calculation definitions. There isn't a simple one for one match up in excel and filemaker expressions so you'd need to examine each calculation in the spreadsheet and then figure out a FileMaker equivalent for it.
how long does it take to learn/ set security and layout of 'front-end'.
There's no way we can answer that. It depends on the complexity of the system's design and the speed at which you learn how to do it.
how easy to move from Pro (or does it need to be Pro Advanced) to Server Advanced?
Each product has it's own list of capabilities. It's a good idea to carefully learn what eacn can and cannot do. That said, get a copy of FileMaker Advanced if you decide to go ahead with this project. It has special developer tools not found in Pro that will save you many hours of time. Your users can use the less expensive Pro as the only difference between the two is the added developer tools.
Server and Server Advanced are applications designed to host files for multiple user access at a level that FileMaker Pro cannot support (Pro can host for up to 9 FileMaker clients or 5 IWP clients.) Plus they offer additional features for backing up and controlling your hosted database. Generally, files created in Pro or Pro Advanced can simply be uploaded and used without change on either of the Server applications. There are differences, however in how a single user system functions as opposed to one that is multi-user so the transistion from single to multi-user may require a few adjustments in how global fields--the main issue--are handled.
And with a standalone FM download, what security features stops users giving away free copies?
Only what you program into the design of the system to make this difficult for them to accomplish it. There are no built in features that prevent unauthorized distribution of your solution. (There are a number of threads here and in other FileMaker forums that describe ways to set up such protection methods.)
1. Excel to FM
So you would have to go through every calc, name, macro and link?
It sounds like you can secure data/ calcs but not the app itself?
3. Comparison to a coded solution
A colleague who would prefer to use a Java coded solution thinks it unlikely that FM can deliver in terms of functionality of a calculation app and security of distribution rights on the grounds that if FM could, it would be more commonly used for such projects. True?
1. Every calc, macro and link.
2. You can do both, but one is built in and the other you have to devised yourself.
3. That seems an excessively simplistic interpretation. Many people do use and distribute solutions with FileMaker. Why more do not can be due to many many different reasons. Please note that I have only the most general description of your proposed system. Some solutions will be very easy to produce in FileMaker. Others will hit limitations that may argue for a different application--Java being just one of many options out there.
A better description of what I want to do:
1. The Excel file has a front end with data input fields and output (answers) with several sheets of 'static data' and calculations behind them. It is basically a calculator (reasonably complex) with some contextual info pulled up depending on user choice.
2. I need it to be secure and downloadable from a website and/ or communicating from a downloaded front end to a web-based calculation engine/ databases.
It would be a major undertaking so I'm keen to understand whether FM can do it before starting.
You can download a 30 day free trial of FileMaker to get hands on experience with what it can and cannot do.
Re-creating your Excel calculations in FileMaker could be a fair amount of work as you cannot simply import the calculation expressions.