I've been developing solutions with FileMaker™ for 31 years now and, for my money, it is, by far, the best solution there is. Those who don't know any better, or are fixated on industrial strength solutions (Oracle, SQL, etc) and who aren't willing to consider anything other, are missing out, not necessarily on a replacement but as an additional tool that can be used for prototyping or for developing an internal, much needed, solution within a very short amount of time.
In recent years, FileMaker Inc. has changed its licensing model, moving towards an annual license and I often hear grumbling that it is too expensive. I completely and utterly disagree. In fact, I find the observation somewhat laughable considering how much, for example, SalesForce charges for being, really, nothing more than a glorified CRM and as for Oracle, all I can say here is that Larry Ellison paid around $650 million for his own Hawaiian island. So let's be realistic and examine the cost of licensing FileMaker.
With the release of FileMaker™ 17, FileMaker Inc. has increased its platform costs by around $3 per user per month. For 5-9 users it costs $15 per month per user and decreases, on a sliding scale to $11 a month per user for 50-99 users. Let’s say, for example, that you have 10 users at $14 per month per user which translates to $1680 per year. Ok, it’s not an insignificant amount but let’s talk about what you get for that money, rather than the amount of money itself.
Firstly, your license includes FileMaker Pro Advanced which has all of the developer tools available. (FileMaker™ has discontinued FileMaker™ Pro which used to be the de facto standard and now everybody has Advanced). Now, the argument here is that not everybody needs the Advanced Tools but everybody is paying for them. This is true but, if you are trying to debug a complex script, the debugging tools in Advanced make that very easy. It is especially valuable because those tools are also available to outside consultants and, I can tell you, as one of those consultants, it makes my job much simpler because I can connect to any users machine, turn the Advanced Tools on (via Preferences, and restart FileMaker™) and have them show me what they are doing while I am watching it with the debugger on. So, for remote support, it is going to save a lot of time which equates to money.
The platform, as it is now referred to, also includes FileMaker™ Go which is a bit confusing, to many people, as you can download FileMaker™ Go for free from the App Store. What it means is that you have a connection license to connect from your iPad/iPhone to a file hosted with FileMaker Server (also included). Finally, the license includes FileMaker™ WebDirect which is brilliant technology allowing any user to connect to any enabled FileMaker™ database in a web browser and without having to have FileMaker™ installed. You still need to have Connection Licenses for those WebDirect connections but these are also concurrent licenses and are only counted while a connection from a user is open.
The same is true of connections (which is a general term referring to both Go and WebDirect), and the licensing only counts when you are connected to the Server. This means is that you can use FileMaker™ Go to manage data on your mobile device without being directly connected to the Host, and thus using one of your connection licenses. Using a simple sync routine which I will be covering in another post, you can connect to the host for a very short period, pushing or pulling data, and then break the connection.
Because both WebDirect and Go are using concurrent connections, you only need enough of those connection licenses to accommodate the maximum number of people connecting at the same time. Let’s say that you have 30 people connecting to the hosted file with either application but only 5 are ever connected at one time, then you only need 5 connection licenses.
If, after all of the above, you still think that FileMaker™ licensing is expensive, think again because what you are failing to take into account is that developing any solution with FileMaker™, as opposed to other tools/programs, is incredibly fast, allowing for solutions to be developed in a fraction of the time. While an in-house developer is paid a salary no matter what they are doing, they’ll get more accomplished in a shorter period of time with FileMaker™ than with any other platform, plus now they have the debugger to be able to find errors easily. Take that into account and you should understand that the licensing costs are insignificant in comparison to what you get for the money.
Finally, although FileMaker Inc. has increased their licensing costs, you can now, after the initial and minimum 5 users, add additional licenses one at a time instead of in blocks of 5. This is also quite advantageous. You also don’t have to worry about license numbers as one number covers all of your users. FileMaker Inc. does offer site licenses for very large organizations; I know of one such site that has a couple of thousand users and, for those organizations, the price per user is considerably lower; perhaps as low as $50 per user per year.
It has been pointed out that all of the above refers to a business use scenario, and it does, but what about the individual FileMaker™ user who does all of their work locally without being connected to a Server. For those people, they can still buy/upgrade on a perpetual license. The only difference is that they now have to be using FileMaker™ 17 Advanced and it is more expensive than the old FileMaker Pro. I just upgraded my version for $197 and the full version is $540. The good news here is that FileMaker Inc. are letting you upgrade from FileMaker Pro or FileMaker Advanced for the $197 upgrade price.
Admittedly new individual users to the FileMaker™ platform will find the entry point more expensive which may cause them to look at Access. FMI is, however, doing a great job of making FileMaker™ more accessible to the new user so let's hope that they (the new users) see the value in the investment.
As an aside, I wouldn't be at all surprised if FMI starts to offer individual licensing for a fixed monthly fee as does Adobe. I'm more than happy to pay $49.95 a month for the Creative Cloud Site but the monthly fee for any of their programs is only $19.95 and I'm sure that that price point would be very acceptable to new individual users.
Michael Rocharde,June 16, 2018
P.S. A special thanks to Jeremy Brown, of Geist Interactive, who not only suggested this post but was kind enough to review it for errors and make some suggestions.