Thank you for your post.
The file format is identical for FileMaker Pro 7, 8, 8.5, 9 and 10, so it is not necessary to update. However, there are a number of new features in successive versions (especially version 10) that may help you. Please visit our web site (www.filemaker.com) for features that appear in FileMaker Pro 10.
Okay, I have successfully exported my existing database from INFORMS (old Program) to an .xls file and imported it into Filemaker Pro Version 7. Now, do I do something with this database or do I design all the forms I need to design first and then link all the fields together?
Well it can be kind of a parallel process. You need to design your tables and their relationships. However, the forms and reports that you need to work with your data will often dictate the required table design.
I suggest temporarily ignoring your imported data and sitting down with a "blank page" and trying to lay out on paper the basic forms/reports you'll need. Then, study up on Filemaker Pro, take a look at your imported tables of data and decide how you need to structure your data to get the results that you want. You may want to play around with some simple test files just to learn how FMP does things.
IF INFORMS is a flat file database, (You have just one table listing all your data), then you will likely want to split the data into several tables and link them with relationships.
"Also, how imperative is it to upgrade from version 7 to version 10. Will it make that much of a difference?"
Check out the knowledge base articles on this site for FMP 7 and FMP 10. You should be able to pull up articles that list "what's new" for each version. That might help you evaluate the costs and benefits of upgrading.
Generally, if you can scrape up the dollars, purchase the upgrade. FMP 10 is the version upon which Filemaker Inc. will focus most of its tech support effort and they've added some nice features to enhance the design of your database.
do I do something with this database or do I design all the forms I need to design first and then link all the fields together?