FileMaker at 30: A look at one of the Mac's most successful apps

FileMaker got its start back in the early 1980s as a program for PC-compatible computers running MS-DOS. The software changed hands a few times, including a brief ownership by Microsoft. The powerful database program remains one of the most enduring and successful Mac apps ever released, and it's stronger than ever with its version 14 release.

Back in the 1980s, at the same time as FileMaker bounced from original developer Nashoba Systems to Microsoft and then back again, Apple created a software subsidiary called Claris to develop apps for the then-burgeoning Macintosh.

Claris released a number of apps for the Mac and acquired Nashoba. FileMaker has been an Apple product ever since, and it's remained such a strong seller that ultimately Apple dropped the Claris name in the late '90s and just started calling the business FileMaker Inc.

My first exposure to FileMaker came when the program was almost a decade old. I was working in the tech support department of a Mac peripheral maker, and my boss set up a FileMaker database as a way of keeping track of our support calls. I was very impressed with how easy it was to set up and maintain, even for multiple users. I've been a fan ever since.

To celebrate FileMaker's 30th anniversary, FileMaker has released a new version — version 14 — that sports a myriad changes to keep it relevant in 2015: Better support and improved performance for web-based database access on mobile devices, for example, and a powerful new Script Workspace that improves workflow automation. FileMaker Go, the free app for iPhones and iPads, has also been updated with iOS 8 interface embellishments.

FileMaker says that it's shipped more than 20 million copies of FileMaker platform products since the beginning, with FileMaker Go surpassing 1.5 million downloads from the App Store. The software has a dedicated following of users and consultants who depend on it for their business and their life.

FileMaker has gone through a lot of changes over the years: Eschewing a purely flat file structure in favor of much more robust and scalable relational models, greatly expanding how much data it can work with — including links to external SQL databases. Almost every major revision over the past decade has delved deep into the guts to improve FileMaker for developers, who create really complex and rich custom environments for clients ranging from parts suppliers to art dealers.

Over the years FileMaker has also thoroughly been optimized to support mobile users. It's a fantastic user experience on the iPad and even the iPhone. What's more, the mobile apps are free: You can download them on any device and use them with your existing FileMaker desktop and server distributions.

30 years later, FileMaker remains impressively powerful and impressively relevant to today's business. If you haven't checked it out lately, visit the web site and look at the new details for FileMaker 14. Download a demo. You may be surprised at what you can do with it.

Peter Cohen