So, why do people use FileMaker?

In their own words — here is why some really smart folk have continued to develop in FileMaker for up to 31 years.

Nick Lightbody


A super-fast responsive photoblog web page created with Deskspace CMS — a new App built with FileMaker.

The FileMaker developer community includes many folk who have been developing solutions to business problems in FileMaker for up to 31 years — evidence of a very strong platform loyalty, unusual in a rapidly evolving software development environment.

So it is interesting to consider why that is? What is it about the FileMaker Platform that keeps developers coming back when there are so many newer products around that may claim to offer a similar range of features, or better?

I surveyed a group of 27 expert FileMaker Developers who had a total of 536 years experience of the platform between them (that’s an average of just under 20 years each) and asked them why they continued to use FileMaker:

30% said because it was a powerful method of developing solutions

22% said it was a quick method of developing solutions

22% said it was flexible and/or a range of several reasons

Vox pop

I have quoted some of their insightful comments at the end of this piece.

Citizen developers

Most people first use Filemaker as a normal person, wanting to solve a business problem, and that simple first use remains easy because FileMaker has stayed true to its roots in maintaining true ease of use.

A real Community

However, it is necessary to learn a little more in order to create an efficient and scaleable system that will run effectively over a Wide Area Network and there are many providers of courses, training and publications and experienced developers happy to work with their clients. The FileMaker developer community is very supportive and well formed questions will generally receive very helpful responses and solutions. See for example:

But first, what exactly is FileMaker?

It is a rapid development software platform comprising FileMaker Server, FileMaker Advanced and FileMaker Pro, with versions of each which run on either OS X or Windows and the newly announced FileMaker Cloud service available through Amazon Web Services. It also includes FileMaker Go, free from the Apple App Store which has much of the user functionality of FileMaker Pro but without the ability to create or edit a solution file.

The FileMaker Platform

FileMaker’s range of functionality is extremely wide but at its heart, in its DNA, it is a database, the Draco Engine, a means of handling records.

FileMaker Server includes a web service called FileMaker WebDirect which simulates much of the user functionality of FileMaker Pro, but delivered to modern browsers. Hence users of platforms other than OS X, iOS and Windows can access FileMaker solutions through their browser with WebDirect.

FileMaker Developers can automatically create an iOS App from a FileMaker Solution file using the FileMaker Software Development Kit (SDK).

What is a FileMaker Solution or App?

These are different names for the same thing because exactly the same software file(s) can be used on a normal computer, a mobile device or indeed shared across multiple devices over a local or Wide Area Network.

Precisely the same file runs natively on OS X, iOS and Windows, amazing but true.

Solutions comprise one or more files, each file containing:

Database tables of records

Layouts to display data

Scripts to automate processes

Value lists to display options

A security system

Custom functions — developer defined expressions

Custom menus — developer added menus

Themes that control appearence

Third Party Plugins can be used to add features

An Apple Subsidiary

FileMaker Inc., headquartered in Santa Clara in California, was carved out of Claris, the company that Apple used to develop software for Macs in the 1980/90s and it remains a subsidiary of Apple.

Group wisdom

Here is what some of our group of 27 developers said in reply to my question asking why they continued to use Filemaker. Remember they are all professional software developers who could choose to work in any software environment — but who choose to work in FileMaker:

Seven developers with over 20 years experience each:

“These products work. They allow me to create markets for services I can provide.” (31 years)

“There is no other tool like it. In terms of the all-encompassing capabilities of it, and that continues to expand. There are many exciting things on the horizon and that has me really excited about what we’ll be able to deliver to our customers in the future. So to me it’s the flexibility and the breadth of the platform.” (30 years)

“Always learning something new with the product which allows me to help my clients more.” (27 years)

“The reason I keep sticking with the FileMaker platform is that (for me at least) it frequently hits the sweet spot of capability & design, along with speed of development & deployment.” (27 years)

“The main reason that I use FileMaker is that I can prototype quickly and get a fully functional 3 dimensional model up and running fairly quickly. And since I learn best by doing, this helps me deliver quality solutions to my clients. For me it’s really about adding value to the client.” (25 years)

“You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of cross-platform. And the fact that it is equally satisfying to both sides of my brain, all inside the one piece of software.” (23 years)

“The reason why I like FileMaker above all is it’s flexibility. If after some years, a customer changes completely the way he works, his processes… it’s usually incredibly quick to adapt the software. This is something that keeps impressing me.” (23 years)

Five developers with less than 20 years experience each:

“I think that FileMaker has 3 primary advantages: 1. Rapid Application development; 2. Plays nice with others, AKA integration possibilities; 3. Deploy to multiple platforms from a single development environment. (20 years)

“I develop in FileMaker because it makes sense; it adds more value than it costs for the problem at hand. (it = the total cost, licensing + development + deployment + support).” (19 years)

“FileMaker has grown into an amazing platform with incredible flexibility, limited by our own imagination and creativity. Incredibly impressed with the direction things are heading.” (19 years)

“FileMaker is a tool that is so powerful that I create things that other development platforms could not do in time, price and without having to learn many different programming languages.” (17 years)

“FileMaker offers a unique mix of cross-platfom, cross-environment development that is fast, relatively inexpensive and very adaptable.” (14 years)

Finally, I have used FileMaker for 18 years because I really enjoy using it every day, it has changed my life.

Cheers, Nick Lightbody

Sussex, UK December 8th, 2016



Nick Lightbody

A British former lawyer designing sustainable micro responsive web sites because “less is better”.