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Washington Apple Pi


May General Meeting Report

by Steven Kiepe, Vice President for Programs

Our May general meeting started on an off note with bleak weather contributing to a very low turnout. Thanks to a very informative presentation by experts from FileMaker, one of Apple's application division spin-offs, it was well worth the trip for those willing to endure the wet weather.

As always, Lawrence Charter's expertise during the preliminary question and answer session continued to amaze. I'm convinced that he has a few shills planted in the crowd because no one could possess his seemingly encyclopedic mastery of virtually every Macintosh model and application ever created.

FileMaker's Northeast District Manager, Mr. Robert Dudley, was next to take the stage. He provided a short overview of FileMaker's corporate history including its exceptional history of profitability, with 30 consecutive quarters in the black. Since separating from Apple's Claris division, FileMaker has been one of the most successful software developers in the industry.

Carl Pittenger, System Engineer for FileMaker, followed with specifics on the latest FileMaker Pro revision, version 5. After determining that about half of the attendees had used FileMaker Pro in one version or another, he proceeded to outline the myriad changes that make today's FileMaker an easy to use yet powerful application..

The FileMaker Pro family is a relational database system offered in four versions. FileMaker Pro is a single user database application for business or home use, with some small workgroup enhancements. FileMaker Pro Server is an application designed to serve a larger group of concurrent users connected to an office local area network or even across the Internet. FileMaker Pro Unlimited supports large workgroups and wide area networks including Internet hosting. Finally, FileMaker Pro Developer is designed to facilitate creation of custom database applications for business use.

Carl pointed out that many computer users fall back on using Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet application to keep basic lists of names, numbers and other text and numeric data. Although this may be a simple means of collecting data in a single location, it does not lend itself well to manipulation, construction of custom forms or visualization of data. FileMaker Pro gets by all of these limitations as it is designed specifically for the storage and manipulation of data and creation of custom reports. And lest those of us who have already built Excel spreadsheets to hold our data fear conversion to a dedicated database application will be difficult, rest easy. FileMaker Pro directly imports Excel spreadsheets and even has a table view option that looks similar to Excel.

FileMaker Pro version 5 has a powerful group of "assistants," similar to Microsoft's "wizards," which can lead a novice user through creation of very impressive reports from tabular data. The layout of reports is under complete control of the user and data fields displayed can include any combination of text, derived numeric values and images. More impressive is the ease with which forms for the input of data can be generated. Popup lists (for example, listing states, customer names, products and the like) can be pulled from an easily generated and shareable value table. For example, highly customizable data entry forms built for specialized use by accounting, marketing and engineering departments could share a common set of data fields such as the names and locations of corporate offices, product descriptions, item numbers or similar data.

One of FileMaker Pro's strengths is the ease with which its relational capabilities can be utilized. With this feature, data can be extracted from separate databases that share only a single common field. FileMaker Pro also has the ability to synchronize data from imported files which greatly facilitates keeping a database current.

Carl fielded all questions thrown up from the floor and seemed to pick up more than a few FileMaker Pro converts and upgraders. One response that generated much interest concerned solutions to a corrupted database. Carl noted that FileMaker technical support will attempt to recover lost data at no charge. The barrage of questions continued well after the general meeting was over but our time was up and the much anticipated prize drawing still remained.

An impressive batch of prizes was in store for the attendees. As always, there were a few T-shirts to start the drawing off, with Scott McKnight and Bob Schadler picking up garments. George Quist generously donated numerous copies of Adobe Illustrator 8, Classroom in a Book for distribution at our drawing, at the June garage sale, and for placement in the group library. I'm sure last month's winners of Adobe's Illustrator 8 were crossing their fingers hoping to get a copy of this outstanding tutorial. Elaine Schadler, Bob Uyeda, Marty Ditmeyer, Robert Birdsong, Bob Jarecke, David Phillips and Peter Colm all walked away winners.

Robert and Carl came to the presentation bearing gifts including copies of FileMaker Pro in standard, Server and Unlimited versions. Pat Fauquet literally bounded to the stage to pick up her prize of FileMaker Pro Unlimited. John McDonnell indicated that he will put FileMaker Pro Server to good use and Anson Geiger took home a copy of FileMaker Pro.

This will be my last column as WAP's VP for programs. I've enjoyed the year's association with the extraordinarily talented individuals who run and/or contribute to WAP's success as the largest Apple user group in the world. Unfortunately, the travel requirements of my current job preclude my continuing in this position (in fact, I'm in a plane at 36,000 feet en route to Hawaii as I write this &emdash; darn the bad luck!). I hope you've enjoyed the presentations we've scheduled over the last year. My final request is for you to tell your group's leadership what kind of developers you'd like to see at the general meetings. Please help the group be responsive to your needs.

With that in mind, here's an outline of our near term schedule. June 3rd will bring the next WAP "garage sale," probably over by the time you read this. The developer/vendor most commonly recognized as the premiere storage expert for Apple systems, LaCie, will make an appearance on July 22nd, fresh off a presentation at MacWorld. 3dfx, developers of some of the hottest video graphic cards in the industry, are tentatively scheduled to attend as well. For all of you budding (and/or dormant) Cecil B.DeMille wannabe's, August 25th brings the next Quicktime Festival to the NOVA auditorium. Get working on those video's now. We're hoping to have a representative from UMAX pay us a visit September 23rd. Their consumer through professional scanning products are some of industry's best values. Finally, we're on track for Apple to make a return visit Oct 21st, hopefully bringing an updated word or two on release plans for Mac OS X. Please make plans to attend our general meetings and don't forget to bring your friends.

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Revised March 26, 2000 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/