Featured Product: Format-Friendly FileMaker Pro 6

Database software is perhaps the most powerful application in the office environment. Databases allow users to instantly view data, relationships, and changes in a project, as well as manage abstract connections at a level that the average human cannot match. The original rudimentary database was groundbreaking—the current generation is both simpler to use and more powerful than ever.

FileMaker Pro 6, the latest version of the leading workgroup database software program, improves upon itself with new features, including the ability to interface with an expanded number of applications, simplified transfer and sharing of data, and some nifty design capabilities. The user-friendly software also aims to be even friendlier and more accessible in this version.

Using FileMaker Pro 6, you can gather information from virtually any application, including Excel, SAP, and Word. Users can easily drag and drop Excel spreadsheets into the database—the importing process retains column headings and data types, automatically converting them into the appropriate FileMaker fields. The drag-and-drop feature not only simplifies the transfer of data from spreadsheet to database, but it opens opportunities for sharing the data more easily among workgroups.

FileMaker Pro is in use at many college and university departments. The University of Tennessee Informatics Center for Mouse Neurogenetics uses FileMaker to keep records on sources of animals, their dates of birth, litter size, sex, weight, and the many traits that the lab studies. According to Robert Williams, Director of the Center, the FileMaker solution is part of the evolving use of technology in the lab. Says Williams, "We decided several years ago to stop using laboratory notebooks. Maintaining records in Excel was also failing. What we particularly liked about FileMaker is the simplicity of design and maintenance. We also use MySQL but setting up a Web-based MySQL database takes a skilled database programmer. Our [FileMaker] databases are extremely effective and comparatively inexpensive."

New to this version of the product is the ability to import images and their related data into FileMaker Pro 6 directly from a digital camera or desktop folder. Users can now incorporate JPEG and GIF files, video footage, and MP3 sound files into the database. This feature can be applied in many academic arenas, from admissions to research. Imagine a new student file that included not only printed information about each student, but a photo as well. Or a biologist's database of species, each organism catalogued with a photograph, as well as a recording of its call or cry.

FileMaker also offers two-way dynamic ODBC exchange, which allows users to access and gather data from ODBC-compliant corporate data sources such as Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server. For developers and power users, FileMaker has expanded the array of compatible desktop applications even further with new integrated XML support.

For those who use a database for communication or reporting purposes, FileMaker provides communication, design, and layout tools that help create a consistent and appealing display. FileMaker Pro 6 interacts seamlessly with Microsoft Office. Users can exchange data with Excel files, broadcast e-mail through Outlook or Entourage, and create mail merges between FileMaker and Word documents. FileMaker also lets users work across platforms: Windows XP, Windows 2000, Mac OS, Palm, and Pocket PC are all supported.

New to this version is a format painter that allows users to copy particular design elements (color, font size, fill pattern) and apply those attributes to other text blocks or objects. The format painter can even apply those attributes across solutions in different files. Comprehensive graphic tools also apply special effects, such as engraving and embossing, and customize the appearance and operation of buttons. A large color palette lets users create custom and Web-safe colors. Layout themes are available to create a consistent appearance across all reports. High-contrast layout themes are included for visually impaired users.

Task automation is important in database work, and this version of FileMaker Pro aims to simplify that further. Pro 6 succeeds as a stand-alone tool but also works as a relational database. Users can specify how data will be shared among all databases in the system. Entering data one time updates all appropriate databases. Users can also create scripts to automate routine tasks and menu commands, from running reports to sending e-mail. Users of previous versions of the database can import the scripts they've generated in the past into this new version. XML export features let users export data from FileMaker Pro 6 into an open-ended number of applications by transforming the data into a text-based format via an XSLT stylesheet. The exported data can then be shared with other users, even those not using FileMaker.

For users who must share database information across the Internet or an intranet, FileMaker Pro 6 Unlimited is a better choice. This product allows the unlimited sharing of FileMaker files over the Web, with built-in support for leading Web servers. FileMaker Pro Unlimited may be a better choice for work groups that have a need to access, search, add, or update records as individuals and as part of a team.

For more information about FileMaker products, visit their Web site, www.filemaker.com, or call (408) 987-7000.

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