But is it actually "better"?
It depends on the needs of the project as to whether or not it is truly "better".
Here are the obvious advantages for FileMaker over Access:
1. It can be used in a mixed OS environment where both Mac and WIndows clients need to access the same database.
2. If we were constructing a building, using FileMaker would be the equivalent of snapping together prefabbed modules while MS Access is constructed from a pile of boards and nails. Both methods can construct very similar buildings, but FileMaker gets you there much faster and with much lower labour costs. And future changes and modifications of the DB also require fewer man hours of labor.
But that's only if you can snap together the correct modules to get the building that you need to use. When something that doesn't quite fit the capabilities of FileMaker is needed, that "boards and nails" level of construction often means that Access may be able to accomplish that added detail where FileMaker can't.
Please also note that MS Access isn't really "free". It may be already installed and approved for use for you company, but you'll be much more likely to need to hire a consultant to do the work--at higher cost than having you do the same job in FileMaker.
3. FileMaker can "scale up" to a larger user base much more cheaply and simply than you can from MS Access. Once you get past a modest number of users, MS Access has to be replace with a different database such as SQL Server. MS Access can serve as the front end (Interface) for SQL Server and SQL Server comes with a tool for converting the Access databse into SQL Server files, but the results aren't pretty and this is a far cry from taking a FileMaker Pro file and just uploading it to FileMaker server with few or even no changes needed.
4. FileMaker edit locking of records in a multi-user environment is far more "rational" that MS Access. It's been a while and maybe they fixed this, but in MS Access, a user can edit record 3 and record 2 or 4 might also be locked simply because it was stored "adjacent" to the record being edited. And the options for managing what happens when a user attempts to edit a locked record is pretty bizarre too.
5. Consider the following scenario: You set up a database of names and addresses in FileMaker. One day, a user of this database decides that they want to see all records in this database where the city name starts with "M" and the person's occupation is "consultant". In FileMaker, the user simply enters find mode, enters "M" in the city field, "Consultant" in the occupation field and clicks find. You as the developer did not need to do anything at all to support that need by the user to see this data.
In MS Access, the developer would need to devise a specific SQL Query for searching out this database and then use a VB Script with possibly a newly added form before the user could specify "M" and "Occupation" to see this data on an MS Access Form or Report.
In short, simple ad hoc searches are a built in feature of FileMaker, but not in MS Access. If the developer does not anticipate the need for a particular query when designing the database, it can't be done without modifying the design of the database.
But note that I said "simple ad hoc" searches. There's a "tipping point" where the complex needs of a particular query will become easier to do in SQL in Access than in the current version of FileMaker.
THANKS!!! This is great!
Access cannot read or write Excel files, Filemaker Pro can.
If you have not done so, take a look at FileMaker vs Access comparison (by FileMaker) -
As a long time Access developer making his way into the FileMaker world, I can point out some of the reasons for my conversion. But first of all, regarding Access:
1) It does allow for record locking (locking a specific record) in addition to page locking (which can lock several records at a time). However, most serious developers, as I believe with FM, would use a true server product (MS SQL Server or FM Server) to create a robust multi-user environment.
2) Access does allow for calculation across related tables, and has a very flexible query designer that allows you to relate many tables, and create calculation and summary fields, without adding them to the actual tables.
3) Access does have a very nice filter by form functionality.
4) Access does read and write Excel files easily, and with Visual Basic for Applications programming language which is part of Access, you can actually manipulate and retrieve individual cells of Excel.
So, why am I learning FileMaker:
1) I have bought into the Apple infrastructure with iPhone and iPad, and a MacBook Pro. So with FM, I can develop applications that can transverse all these devices, and still run under Windows. Microsoft Access on mobile devices does not exist.
2) Upscaling, in the future, to robust multi-user applications and Web (browser) access, appears to be much more convenient and easier with FileMaker, than with Microsoft Access. With FM, I am dealing with one server product. With Microsoft Access, I am dealing with both Microsoft SQL Server and SharePoint, both very complicated and and expensive. Or I can can use Microsoft cloud products, but they keep changing, also are complex, and some of my clients are not ready to put their proprietary data on anyone's cloud.
3) In some regards, FM is easier to develop in than Access. There just appears to be better integration between the "parts". Documentation is actually readable. Also, in Access, my business programming logic can be spread all over the place --- part in the table definitions, query definitions, Macros, VBA, report and data entry forms. And then, if I am using a server product, I can have triggers, procedures and SQL views in SQL Server.
4) Designing layouts and reports in FM appear much more robust and easier than Access. Also, changing Access menu and ribbon bars are very complex.
5) I don't like the direction of Access. It appears that Microsoft is pushing the product to be a SharePoint front-end (lot's of new features for that).
6) Anytime my clients updates their Microsoft Office, it creates headaches for my older versions of Access. My clients generally buy the version of Office that includes Access. Multiple versions of Access on a single computer is PITA (pain in the a++).
7) FM user security is much more robust than Access. No comparison. Microsoft has removed most user security from Access, and you must rely on the SQL Server for such. There is no encryption. FM user security allows you granular control of the application rights. It also, I believe, provides the ability to control referential integrity features (e.g. prevent deletions if it would create orphans) that are missing from FM.
8) FM scripting language is much easier than Microsoft's programming language for Access -- VBA. But, VBA is much more flexible. But VBA will not run if Access is used to produce a Web application under SharePoint. In this case, you need to use Access Macro language (yes, different than VBA). Access Macro language is less flexible than FM scripting. Also, the future of VBA is unclear, and Access can be installed (by default) without providing VBA access. Confusing? Yes.
I can go on and on ... Just some of the many reasons for going with FM. But, in truth, if I was staying only in a Windows desktop world, given my experience, I would not have switched. But then I would have to deal with Windows 8 :(
Access cannot read or write Excel files, Filemaker Pro can.
This is not the case. When working with Access at a Job where they didn't let me use FileMaker, I routinely moved data between Access and Excel. It's very easy in Access to set up a query in the query manager and use it to export the data using the "analyze with Excel" option to export the data to a file of type Excel.
(And it doesn't go all FileMaker's way here either. Compared to what I can set up with an MS Access combo box (think drop down list on steroids), FileMaker's value list capabilities are truly primitive.