FileMaker Pro: Purchasing, Sharing, Mobile and More...

This article is outdated and does not reflect the current state of FileMaker licensing or software available. It is from 2013 or before.

What is FileMaker?

FileMaker is great database software. I have been using it since the early 1990’s. Luckily they have kept it relevant and now is a really exciting time for FileMaker developers. There are a number of options and different ways you can deploy it at a variety of costs. This article is not meant to be an intro to databases and their uses, it is meant to help explain various options and ways to deploy a solution using FileMaker software.

While FileMaker databases may not be suitable to run a large company like Exxon or General Motors, they can be more than sufficient for many small and medium sized businesses.

FileMaker is designed to be easy to work with. Accomplishing simple tasks can be very straightforward. If you want an advanced solution you will probably need to hire someone who can script the tasks and reports that you want from your data.

Different Versions

FileMaker Pro - Runs on your computer, Mac OS X or Windows. Can share the database with other copies of FileMaker Pro. Also allows basic data entry via a web browser.

FileMaker Pro Advanced - Runs on your computer, Mac OS X or Windows. Allows you to save standalone databases and some other options for more advanced developers. Also allows basic data entry via a web browser.

Filemaker Go - Runs on your iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone. Can not create databases but can connect to databases hosted with FileMaker Server.

FileMaker Server - Allows you to share your database with a number of clients, both FileMaker Pro or FileMaker Go. Does not allow data entry via a web browser.

FileMaker Server Advanced - Allows you to share your database with a number of clients, both FileMaker Pro or FileMaker Go. Also allows basic data entry via a web browser.

Use it on a computer by buying FileMaker Pro

You can purchase a copy of FileMaker Pro or FileMaker Pro advanced and run it on your computer. You can create and use your database. You can also share it with other people using FileMaker Pro. Instant web publishing can allow people on your local network to connect via a web browser for basic data entry purposes.

Use it on a computer without buying FileMaker Pro

Someone who has FileMaker Pro Advanced can save a copy of a database that can be ran independently on either Mac OS X or Windows. If you only need to use a solution on one computer, or wish to provide someone with a database you have created for their own use you can save it in a manner in which they can run it without having to purchase any software. This can be useful for rapid prototyping of solutions and demonstrating them without software needing to be purchased up front.

Use it on an iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone

FileMaker Go is free. You can use it on your iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone at no charge. What is the catch? You need to buy FileMaker Server and have it running somewhere. Not all features that exist in the regular FileMaker software are available but it does offer most of what you need. This is great as you can run FileMaker Pro on your regular computers and also have access to the data in a mobile environment.

This can also be an alternative to costly development of custom mobile applications for your iOS device. The possibilities are endless including point of sale systems, inventory systems, collecting data in the field or whatever else you can think of.

Share a database across multiple computers/platforms

A database can be shared by a regular copy of FileMaker Pro with other computers on the network. A regular copy of FileMaker Pro will also allow basic data entry to be performed through a web browser by other computers on your network. FileMaker Server allows you to share a database with other computers on the network as well as allows clients to connect from an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. FileMaker Server Advanced allows you to share with other computers, a mobile device like an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch and also via the web. Note that regular FileMaker Server does not allow you to modify the data through a web browser, you need copies of FileMaker Pro or FileMaker Go.

Often small businesses end up spending a lot of unnecessary money with their IT contractors to maintain a server they have purchased. These days it makes more sense to spin up a virtual server. Spinning up a virtual server results in not having to worry about hardware failures again. You also do not need to worry about keeping things configured properly and running on your end. Imagine the convenience of being able to access your important data from anywhere you have an internet connection with no upfront costs. Using a FileMaker hosting platform as a service (PaaS) can minimize the hassle and cost of sharing your database.

Buying FileMaker by Subscription

Traditionally software would be purchased once and then major upgrades would need to be purchased as they are released, often yearly. FileMaker has now rolled out subscription versions which allow you to lower your upfront costs and spend a fixed amount yearly. If you factor in the costs of yearly upgrades it can make sense to use a subscription version. If you stop paying for it you do not get to use it after your yearly contract expires. Software as a service (SaaS) is an emerging trend in the software industry and is definitely an option worth considering. You need to subscribe to at least 5 licenses to be eligible for yearly subscription pricing.


It can be confusing trying to decide how to best host and implement a FileMaker database. You need to assess your yearly budget as well as ongoing costs required to maintain your server environment. The ability to use a mobile/portable device can offer great benefits to your company or organization but can also increase the cost of deploying a solution. FileMaker has been great software for years and is only getting better.

About the author

Bob Lindquist is an expert consultant with extensive experience building web sites, databases and performing internet marketing work for his clients.  He has over 20 years of experience working with clients from a wide variety of industries along with a degree in Computer Science.  Bob is a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

In his free time, Bob is a volunteer Firefighter / EMT and has served on the boards of several not-for-profit groups.

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