This flexible database application leads the charge on Mac software

This flexible database application leads the charge on Mac software

By Joel Sparks

Special to GCN

A few years back, when Apple Computer Inc. was struggling, Microsoft Corp. extended a hand, committing to publish Mac software for at least the immediate future.

Microsoft subsequently released a version of its Office suite for the Mac. But it lacked one major application: the Access database manager.

Why no Access for the Mac? Perhaps Microsoft wanted to reserve at least one killer app for Windows. And perhaps it had noted the longtime domination of the Mac database market by FileMaker Pro.

There are other Mac database applications, but nothing as prominent as FileMaker Pro. I've been a FileMaker user since 1992, when it was a product of Apple subsidiary Claris Corp. It was intuitive and powerful then, and it's come a long way since.

FileMaker has always had easy-to-use field definition, flexible scripting and customization options that make any user feel like a programmer in no time. The current version, FileMaker Pro 5, offers fully relational field definitions, colorful templates, strong import-export support and a table view, which is good for users just making the jump from spreadsheets.

You can upgrade to version 5.0v3 with a free download. To work with large databases, or to serve up databases on the Web, get the FileMaker Pro Unlimited version. For a more robust deployment with large numbers of users, choose FileMaker Server. Learn more at

As for FileMaker's competition, the multifunction $99 Ap-pleWorks application also comes bundled free with the iMac. AppleWorks' database capability looks and feels a lot like a streamlined version of FileMaker'and for good reason.

AppleWorks used to be called ClarisWorks, and FileMaker Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., used to be Claris. FileMaker is much more widely used for databases than AppleWorks; the Microsoft Office applications lead in other suite application categories.

There are still loyal AppleWorks users
out there. And the program is a lot cheaper than FileMaker, especially if it comes free with a shiny new iMac. Visit for more information.

ACI US Inc. of San Jose, Calif., devotes much of its Web site to proselytizing to FileMaker users about its 4th Dimension database manager, which costs $349 for the Standard Edition. The site has a 63-page document comparing 4th Dimension to FileMaker.

4th Dimension, which has had a strong reputation among a minority of users for years, proclaims its likeness to a programming language. That may not be the best way to appeal to typical users who feel intimidated by the mathlike inner workings of any database more advanced than a Rolodex.

4th Dimension aims at database developers, not the office worker who keeps track of contacts or case histories. 4th Dimension has a bewildering array of commands, no simple import function and a multilevel interface that is poorly integrated with Mac OS.

The current version, 6.5.4, did not welcome this FileMaker fan. Investigating some of the 20 chapters in the documentation convinced me that 4th Dimension could be useful to technical users, but even ACI US suggests that the prospective user 'run up against the limitations of FileMaker' first.

Learn more at

Joel Sparks, a free-lance reviewer in Silver Spring, Md., has been a government lawyer and database programmer.


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