Tuesday, August 13, 2013

FileMaker and the Band Director



I am a FileMaker junkie.  I use it a lot to stay organized with all the information a band director needs.  The stuff that is really handy to have at your finger tips when you take the band somewhere (you need to get in touch with a parent after the parade) or who owns that instrument that is still in the cafeteria after school on a Friday afternoon.  FileMaker is the cats's pajamas for all of that info.  There are versions for OS X, Windows and iOS.  Stand alone or in a client/server across a network.

I got a question this week about how I run FileMaker across several devices.  I have (like many of you) a desktop, a laptop, an iPad, an iPod and an iPhone that could all run some version of FileMaker...how do you keep them all in sync?

Here's what I have found.

You could use the desktop and FileMaker Pro as a "server" and have all your devices log into it to keep all the data up-to-date.  Keep the data on one machine and have all the other devices work on it there.

It is pretty easy to set-up, in FileMaker 12, go to File>Sharing and turn on the "FileMaker Network." Devices that can access that network IP address will be able to find your file, so be sure and pick out the level of security you need at this step.

That was SO easy, there has to be a catch (or two.)  And there are several.

If your IP address ever changes, the ability to find your file will change as well.  In most school networks, the addresses are issued to a machine as it turns on and it may change.  If your district does dynamic addressing with a DHCP scheme you will spend time frequently dealing with this.  Every time you turn your computer on, for instance.

One way around this is to never turn your computer off.  The official best way to do this would be to get a static address.  Talk to your network people.  They may even do it for you.

The other downside to the DHCP thing is that getting your info when you are not on the same local network is tricky.  As in I never got it to work, tricky.

Another catch is that the number of clients that can log in to your file is limited with the regular version of FileMaker.  The simultaneous users are limited to 9.  A couple of staff members with a couple of devices and you are at 9 surprisingly quick.  The official best way around this is with FileMaker Server or Server Advanced.

I like FileMaker Server Advanced for the Instant Web Publishing and unlimited connections.  Your IT people may like the admin tools.  What no one really cares for are the expenses.  Full price for the software is $2999 and it should run on its own server (more $.)

Instant Web Publishing is an easy way to publish your data to a web page without having to learn PHP or some other middle ware.  I have had pretty good luck with this, others prefer the control of Custom Web Publishing and PHP.  (I think it is worth the extra money.  Especially if you want to get to your data with an Android device or some computer that doesn't have FileMaker installed.)

So how to beat the price?  Three grand+ is over budget for my music department and probably yours.  And we all know that upgrades cost money every couple of years.

There is a way and that is to find a FileMaker Pro Host!  Professional hosting can take care of the hardware and FileMaker Server software for a low monthly fee.  I have had good luck at AustinMichael.com for just such a service.  You can try them for free.  Should you decide to go with them, the plans start at less the $20 per month.  Pretty easy to set up.  Good service by real people.

There are other services out there, AustinMichael was just the best deal when I was looking.  If you have another FMS service to recommend, go ahead and post it here.  Please recommend services you have used and liked.  I won't have time to try them out and who wants the names of the bad ones?

Anyway, with a hosting service, someone else is dealing with the hardware and the software is kept up-to-date and you can get at your data pretty much anywhere with an internet connection on any of your devices.  Even if you are on band tour to Amidon, North Dakota.

So here is a sketch of how to do this...

Using FileMaker Pro, create an amazing solution that meets all of your needs and has layouts that work well with your devices (iPhone and iPad included.)  Password protect it.  Upload it to your host.  Turn it on and enjoy getting at your data when and where you need it.

Use FileMaker Go with your iOS devices.  If you have an Android device use your favorite browser (with Instant Web Publishing on the server side.)  FM Go and IWP/Browser won't let you edit your data base structures, so do the design work on a computer (Windows or Mac with FileMaker) and think of FM Go and IWP/Browser as players for your data.

With a little set-up and a FileMaker host, you can make your job easier.  I have 264 students/families/instruments/addresses/phone numbers/pictures (you get the idea) to keep track of this year.  You know I am going to be using my own advice!

Worth the investment.

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