virtally nobody has filemaker and aren't going to lash out and buy the full version - is there a runtime version of filemaker or will they be able to use it from a server without buying additional software?
Good news: FileMaker Advanced can generate stand alone run time soluionts. Bad News: They are single user systems that cannot be used as clients or hosts of shared FileMaker systems. You have to purchase either FileMaker Pro or FileMaker Server before you can share files. There is another option, you can publish your database to the web and then other users can access the database via their web browsers. That's not an option to use without researching the issues involved first (click the downloads link above and see the documents subsection for PDF files on Instant Web Publishing.)
if i do choose to run it from a server, what software will i need to buy?
Filemaker Pro can host files from a server for small numbers of users (up to 9 simultaneous connections from FileMaker clients or 5 connects via web hosting) FileMaker Server can host many more for FileMaker Clients and FileMaker Server Advanced can publish to the web for larger numbers of users. See FileMaker's Product Info pages to learn more. There are companies that can host your web published database for you if you choose to use that approach. One key thing to point out to Access users is that your FileMaker files "scale" up to the hosting on the server with little or no modification of the files needed, you can just use Filemaker Server to open your existing FileMaker Database files.
I know Access pretty well (i've been using it for over 10 years) - how easy is filemaker to use and is it worth me changing my software?
Many Access developers have complained that they Find FileMaker difficult to use while other people describe FileMaker as very easy to use and easier than Access. What you need to be prepared for is that FileMaker accomplishes the same tasks in FileMaker that you would in Access in very different form. You have to "unlearn" the Access methods as you learn the different FileMaker approach to Relational Database design. In particular, FileMaker does not use SQL, instead "find requests" and scripting are used to produce "found sets" instead of record sets. While there are many similarities, there are also many differences.
FileMaker does some things much better than Access, while Access outshines Filemaker in others. Fortunately, you can download a 30 day free trial and check it out for yourself.
The idea of being able to use it on my Ipad was the deciding factor - how good is that feature?
Use the same download link to read the tech docs on FileMaker GO. You can also check out the FM GO forum here and read up on some of the common issues that developers have to deal with. Most of the issues seem to boil down to the fact that:
- iOS devices such as an iPad simply don't have the processor moxie of a full up computer and you thus have to work with simpler less complex layouts to keep the interface properly responsive.
- The screen is smaller and fingers are "fatter' than mouse pointers so you can't often just use the same layouts for both systems, the layouts need to be optimized for the device that will use them.
- iOS devices require a wireless link to any hosted database and thus your performance will only be as good as the wireless connection at the location where you are using your mobile device. 3G will be much slower than WiFi.
- iOS devices have their own file structure and this limits certain features that we normally use in FileMaker Pro.