Whatever happened to …

… Filemaker Pro?

Life was good for me working databases.  I became pretty proficient working with Microsoft Access and had so many things that were database-able tucked away in them.

Then, I started to work with a superintendent who was a Macintosh fanatic.  It was all or nothing there.  He liked his databases too and it’s important to share, right?  That pretty much made me sit down and learn how to program and convert my stuff to Filemaker Pro.  Before long, my work habits mirrored his because we shared so much.  Even things like form letters were done that way so that we could share that.  The standing joke was that you could tell who created the letter because the default font was different on Windows than it was on the Macintosh.

We also became competitive, trying to outscript each other in our work.  We’d add features to databases that nobody would ever use but it was fun just trying to outdo him.  In case he’s reading this, I never could outdo him.  But it was fun trying.

I had this huge database of Webquests that I ported over so that he could make reference to them but I also kept and maintained the Access version because I had it programmed to work on the web.  That’s the nice thing about the web – people don’t necessarily know or care what’s driving it.  They just look for results.

For the desktop, Filemaker Pro was very nice.  You could browse, create layouts, and preview all in one spot without going to another application.

Ontario Educators will have fond? memories of the electronic report card coming in Filemaker Pro format and then a company taking off and enhancing it.  It was the focus of so many of my workshops.  I swear that I could do them in my sleep!  I was fortunate enough to work with a couple of secretaries and an administrative assistant that learned the program inside and out.  I could start a project and email it to them and it came back incredibly sophisticated.  

I was also on the OSAPAC Committee that licensed the product for use by all Ontario teachers.  More workshops.  We had a favourite teacher who would always call in to see when the next File Pro Maker workshop would be.  Despite not knowing the name, she did amazing things with the program.

As with many things, Filemaker Pro continues to be under development and is now up to release 15 but it doesn’t appear in the current OSAPAC listing of software titles.  There are so many powerful alternatives – Excel, Google Sheets, SQL, If you want to see what’s up now, Filemaker is active on Twitter.

Where does it fit into Ontario education these days?

For this Sunday, some questions:

  • Have you ever developed a database application in Filemaker Pro?
  • Do you have a need for a database in the things you do on a computer?
  • What sorts of things do you collect that would be suitable for inclusion in a database?
  • If you’re not using a Filemaker Pro version, what are you using instead?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

As I said last Sunday, “I’m liking this Sunday post and want to make it a “Whatever happened to …” regular feature, at least until I run out of ideas!  I’ve put a link at the top of the page here so that you can see them all.  I’ve also added a link to a Padlet if you want to stir up stuff for me”.

3 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Gee, Doug.

    I knew when I read this post this morning that it would be impossible for me to let it go without commenting. But where to start? How could I start and not go on for hours and hours? And I expect that you knew that it would be difficult for me to not reply. I remember the day when John Taylor introduced us to one another at ECOO. I’m fairly certain you were looking at pushing the OSAPAC database to the web from FileMaker at the time?

    My original thought this morning was that I would reply by writing my own post on my own blog. But the post would be out of the blue and wouldn’t have the context that your post above provides. In the end, I have decided to write a response here, and to base it on your prompt questions. To go broader would open the floodgates and I’d never get any sleep. But I will cross-post the following to edvisioned.ca all the same.

    Have you ever developed a database application in Filemaker Pro?
    Oh, yeah. You know I have! It all began with a demo version on floppy disk in the back of Guy Kawasaki’s Database 101 book, purchased one lazy Sunday afternoon while browsing computer section at the the local bookseller, a year or so after I started teaching. That was pre-Chapters/Indigo, pre-Internet. But I did have a Mac, and a background in programming and Hypercard, and the first real project was to develop a lesson planner for a summer course I was taking. Why spend all that time formatting the pages when common fields across the various lessons in the unit could be automagically arranged, and I could add and re-sort the lessons with a nice table of contents to boot? I remember carrying that Mac to and from class and school in one of those big bags.
    Subsequent to that, the Class Organizer was a database that I shared at an ECOO SIG-ELEM in Kingston (you wrote about those last weekend), and then came a school report card in my third year of teaching — followed by district Report Cards, Provincial Report Cards, and then the Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner for the Ministry of Education.

    Do you have a need for a database in the things you do on a computer?
    To this day, I maintain student records and manage a bunch of classroom tasks from within Filemaker. Record keeping is the very raison d’être of a database, but the reality is that most folks do not “think” in terms of databases. I’ve had conversations with people over the years (looking at you, Peter Skillen) about how our thought processes and problem solving are influenced by the tools we understand and use. You are familiar with The Law of the Instrument, perhaps as initially clarified by Abraham Maslow in 1966: I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. For years and years, the hammer of choice for many in Ontario was WordPerfect, and every single problem was solved with it. Now, decades later, comfort with spreadsheets has increased, but the subtleties of difference between spreadsheets and databases are lost to most. While visiting the Google Showcase at pre-ISTE NECC in 2009, I recall asking their booth folks if Google had a database program under development to complement Docs, Sheets, Slides — and I just received blank stares from the folks there. Now, a few years later, even Microsoft’s Access has disappeared from Office365. Databases are a hidden entity. They manage our finances, they organize and store our blog posts behind the interface of WordPress, but most people do NOT think of a database when faced with a database problem. It is not in our toolbox.

    What sorts of things do you collect that would be suitable for inclusion in a database?
    There was a time when I worked towards what one might call The Grand Unification of Data Architecture, where any and all information worth capturing was stored within a set of linked databases and was available to be searched and cross-linked and referenced with other related bits of data. Calendar entries, journal entries, financial data, family and contact information, events, presentations, goals, books and movies and media, quotes and research findings, long-range plans, any and all information belonged gathered together in a single related data-entity. As it has turned out, in the same way Facebook has given a web presence to the masses in a way that HTML never did, the multitude of mobile apps that exist today for managing groceries, workouts, friends, photos, and so on have provided everyone with a splintered and fractured collection of databases that can be used without truly understanding the methods beneath. Have a problem? There’s an app for that, no need to solve the problem yourself.

    If you’re not using a Filemaker Pro version, what are you using instead?
    Over the years, I have played around with other data structures, MySQL being the most long-standing complement to my FileMaker use. When the web really kicked in the 2000s, the gathering and provision of data via AJAX became a new technological pursuit for me. That meant working with MySQL, HTML/CSS, and Javascript — three separate components. From the days of FileMaker 2.1 through FileMaker 15, one of the strongest features of FileMaker is the way in which it marries the traditional modal-view-controller components within the domain of one application. With Filemaker, developers simultaneously manage the data structure, the interface, and the business logic . The most recent releases of Filemaker continue to support publishing web interface as well as generating mobile apps. For me, however, with today’s prevalence of apps and cloud computing, a lot of my data is stored within someone else’s data architecture. There are instances when I wish it were easier to hook the bits together, but the need to create things from scratch out of necessity has been supplanted over time with ready access to a multitude of specialized apps.

    A Hammer, a Screwdriver, and a Flashlight?
    In closing, as with coding, there is an untapped depth of problem solving potential that today’s learners are missing out on because the strengths and benefits of database structure and manipulation are not readily understood by folks. We have a wonderful category of tool available to support our thinking, but it’s not in the toolbox of the masses. A screwdriver may have joined the hammer for some, and perhaps a flashlight once in a while, but we really have yet to explore the full set of tools to which we truly need access.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just stumbled upon this post – I need to come back and really think about it later.
    Nice to know I am not totally alone in dreaming of life organized by databases and FMP. With apps etc. I go the same path as Andrew in that so many are missing out how to think and problem solve by not dipping into the structures of a database.

    With the many apps available- there is still a strong place for a “personalized” database solution. My last employment I developed several operational solutions that complimented our purchased tools. There is something about the construction that is creative and thought provoking and somewhat addictive….

    Like

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