Random musings, observations, squeaks, whimpers and perhaps the ocassional rant. About what, I'm not sure.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Circular References...


If you’ve worked much with Excel, you’ve probably screwed up a formula so it somehow refers to itself – a circular reference.  One variable that you try to change references another, which in turn updates the variable you’re trying to change… that kind of thing.

I’m writing about a different kind of circular reference – more of a circular trip, really.

When I first started working with the Apple IIc (this following TRS-80 hell), I needed a way to capture and manage information in a structured format.  There was some little app or another that did some of what I wanted – PFSFile, maybe – but I was frustrated in that the way the data was structured was the way you had to report it.  Which didn’t work for me.

In switching to the Mac just after its release, I played with a variety of approaches to this problem to support a Medical Billing company I had started.  Still, no real luck.  Structure and presentation were quite tightly linked.

Until one day after an early Macworld show in San Francisco and I get a package in the mail with a pre-release version of an application that would eventually be called FileMaker (who the heck was the initial publisher – Forethought or something?).  What a great little flat-filing database.  Easy to develop in – easy to use - easy to abstract either screen or report presentation from the data structure.

I used FileMaker as a hammer to pound software and business nails, screws, nuts and bolts equally well.  And as the app grew and became more powerful, I stuck with it.  Truly an excellent application and company – then Claris/Apple bought both and things got even better.  Its only real competitor was 4D from France (support and customer service aligned with the stereotype of how the French love/hate Americans), and it was pointed at a slightly different space. 

Until I started working with Windows.  I needed to do some of the same things on Windows that I’d done on the Mac, and whether it was not finding a direct map for FileMaker or a Windows-compatible version of the app, I eventually started drifting away from the platform.  Even to the extent of joining a company making the (ugly, painful, arduous) jump to Windows.  It had to be done, mind you, but it wasn’t pretty.  Windows was/is where the money was/is, remember?

Its funny how things have a way of coming full circle.  Lately, I’ve been working on a prototype of a little data analysis/management reporting application for work, and I’ve been frustrated that I haven’t been able to get Access to do what I wanted.  Yes, I know Access is the neatest thing since sliced bread, is relational, and everyone in the world knows it/is writing in it.  But I DON’T LIKE IT.  Its cumbersome, the interface is [bad], and most of all, it doesn’t seem to know what I’m THINKING as opposed to what I’m TELLING IT TO DO.

As I scratched my head and pondered who I know that I can get a couple of Access favors out of, I realized there might be another way.  Sure enough, I had clipped an InfoWorld article on FileMaker, which has been a true cross-platform app for years, and the review was good.  I’m wondering whether the interface is still as easy as it was, and whether it might be a good alternative to Access for at least prototyping what I’m up to.  Eventually, I may need a corporate-type to host the database so I may have to move back off of it and onto something more “mainstream”, but I’m going to give it a go.  Have to dig up my last disk – probably three or so years old – and see if there’s some sort of upgrade pricing available.

Wish me luck, and if you’re working with FileMaker and have good and/or bad experiences and want to share them, use comments below…


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