One of the most common ways to start a new FileMaker database is by using one of the starter solutions. There are two levels of starter solutions available – four simplified files and sixteen advanced solutions. Where do you get them and what is the difference?
The starter solution files that ship with FileMaker Pro can be accessed through File > Get Started…. Scrolling down, you will come to ‘Choose a Starter Solution’ and the four simplified files – Contacts, Inventory, Content Management and Tasks. Each of these files has a ‘Create from This Starter Solution’ button. Simply click to create the new file on your desktop.
Scroll further down to the ‘Explore the possibilities’ section and click the link to ‘See advanced solutions’.
One of the most commonly used starter solutions is Contacts – a solution designed to store details of people and the company they work for. This is available in both the simplified and advanced versions.
So what are the differences and which one should you use?
Contacts simplified has seven layouts – a startup screen, and a form/list pair for each of desktop, tablet and phone devices. The layouts are reasonably simple constructions using the Tranquil themes. The tablet and phone layouts are sized correctly for proper display on these devices. For each pair of layouts (form and list), there are simple and intuitive navigation buttons to switch between form and list views.
Contacts advanced has eleven layouts including a form/list pair for web clients, one for labels and a contact list for printing. Most of the layouts have a more complex structure including objects formatted with conditional visibility, invisible slide panels with button navigation, and objects off the layout edge required for some scripted operations. This means that it will be much harder for a novice FileMaker developer to both understand how all the layout objects work and to be able to modify the structure to fit their needs.
Both files have a very simple data structure with just one table – Contacts. This means that each is effectively a flat file. If a FileMaker developer was to create a Contacts file from scratch, they might create it with more tables. For example, there might be a Company table to separately store company details and to be able to link multiple person records, and a Notes table for storing notes with timestamps and categories.
Although both files have a single table, the simplified file has 31 fields while the advanced file has 56 fields. The difference is in the number of calculation fields in the advanced file (with just two in the simplified file). The simplified file focusses on fields for data entry, while the advanced file does some clever data manipulation with various calculations. Again, this will be an area where a novice developer may have difficulty understanding how the calculations work and why they are there.
Contacts advanced has more than 20 scripts, many of which are used with event triggers such as switching layouts and resizing screens. Contacts simplified has just four scripts – one to explain what scripts are, one when the file opens, one to sort the contact list, and one to deal with new records on mobile devices. For the novice developer, this means that Contacts simplified is more obvious with what is going on as you use it. In contrast, Contacts advanced may do a lot of things automatically which can be harder to work out how and why.
So which one is best for you? Simplified is best. Why?
If you are a novice FileMaker developer with a need for a well structured Contacts solution, then Contacts simplified will be a great starting point. You can explore the file and easily add and remove fields according to your needs. For example, you might want to remove the Fax field – who still has one of those?! The file is ready for an upgrade such as adding new table and creating a relationship from Contacts when you learn how that is done. The Contacts table already has a primary key field, albeit a serial number, so that is a good start and best practice for all tables.
If you are a more advanced FileMaker developer, you may be tempted to jump in and use Contacts advanced. I would recommend not doing this. Instead, I would encourage you to get a copy of Contacts advanced and pull it apart to see exactly how it works. When you see features that you like, work out how they were built (which fields, layouts, scripts and trigger they use) and then build them into your file. So even you can start with Contacts simplified and gradually make it more complex to suit your requirements.
Did you know that uLearnIT offers FileMaker mentoring? We can help you online or in person to understand any area of FileMaker development and give you the tools to build your own solutions.
If you are starting from a FileMaker starter solution, we can help you to understand how it is built and how to modify it to suit your needs.
You can start with a half hour session to see how it works. If you are interested, send us a message through our Contact form.