Chris Dragon of Dracoventions

FileMaker Plugin Developer: Dracoventions

Number of Plugins: 9 FileMaker Plugins

When did you first start using FileMaker?

About five years ago.

What made you start making FileMaker Plugins?

I thought the existing plugins cost too much and I’ve always liked being able to customize and add features to the software I use every day.

Do you use any plugins created by other people? If so which ones?

I use Jazz Styled Text at CNI where they still use FileMaker 7.

Which of your own plugins do you feel is your best work?

I’ve only got one, although it does what 5 to 15 “regular sized” plugins do. I think the printer automation part of it might be my best work in as much as I’ve never seen it fail to work. I think the drawing part of the plugin is the most ambitious feature, and the trickiest to implement. I’m still finding ways it can be improved and ways to work around limits in how much information FileMaker gives its plugins.

Do you think making plugins cross-platform is important?

It seems to be, especially with Apple gaining market share and the fact FileMaker started on Apple. CNI started with all Macs, moved to all PCs, and is now moving back to Mac, mostly due to the preferences of a new executive director.

What do you think of FileMaker adding features that come from Plugins? Such as Printing to PDF and Script Triggering?

I think they should have included some of the simpler features like script triggering in FM 8 or earlier. It’s bad business to take the time to code a feature in a plugin that seems like a no-brainer and then a few months later, it appears in FileMaker and your plugin is obsolete. Letting us know what they plan to do in the future would certainly be helpful. It could make plugin developers more willing to take risks on complex new features and polish old ones they aren’t expecting to be coming down the pipe from FileMaker.

What do you think the next feature originally come from a plugin FileMaker will add will be?

Searching in scripts. They already added searching for script name so there’s movement in that direction. Then again, I also feel they’ve put a high priority on regular users over developers, so search in scripts might be a very low priority, especially if there’s a plugin like Developer Assistant to handle it already… I can only guess at how they think.

Do you think Free plugins harm companies who sell plugins?

Free plugins can cut into the profit of those who sell, but I think it usually cuts into profits they shouldn’t have been making. It’s rare to see features that take a long time to implement given away for free, but all to commonly I see plug-in companies charging a ridiculous price for something that’s easy for them to make. Plug-ins that simply call a FileMaker script by name is one example. That functionality is built into the example plug-in that comes with FileMaker’s development kit, and while some people figured it was a good opportunity to charge people for that sample feature, others released it for free. Strangely, FileMaker has never simply added that functionality into FileMaker itself. I think they try to avoid letting you do anything “by name” because names can change. They didn’t even let you set a field by name until FileMaker 10. A better policy would be to let plugin developers get the unchanging internal ID corresponding to the name and use the ID instead of the name.

What features would make the next version FileMaker perfect?

All the features in my plugin, actually. The biggest thing that bugs me about FileMaker is the script editor being unsearchable and uneditable as text. I like to type code, not point and click buttons representing code. But that’s probably not how non-programmers think.
I also wish FileMaker plugins could do more. Like directly call any standard script step, or any menu command. Or at least set the value of a field by name or run a calculation in the environment of a particular open window instead of just the foreground window.

Any tips for people who want to make a FileMaker Plugin themselves?

Don’t do it – it’s a trap! Actually, I would say to start with the sample plugin from FileMaker. Don’t use a third party sample plugin – I had a lot of problems getting the one I found to compile. Don’t expect the documentation from FileMaker to be very useful or even always correct. Try looking at source code comments. Use Nabble to search the Troi plugin developer mailing list archive for answers to the easiest questions. After that, you’re on your own, or at least I was. =)