Jason Erickson of WorldSync

FileMaker Plugin Developer:    WorldSync

Number of Plugins:    1 FileMaker Plugin

Jason Erickson is the founder of WorldSync.

When did you first start using FileMaker?

I think it was about 1995. FileMaker was in version 2.1 and about a year into it I was just about to look for a new platform that had relational capabilities when I heard of the upcoming 3.0 with relational capabilities. I went to one of the famous FileMaker Kitchen events at the Wedge to get a sneak-peak and I was brought back from the brink.

What made you start making FileMaker Plugins?

I’ve been a big proponent of plugins since the inception and was probably one of Troi’s first customers. The original SyncDeK for FileMaker 4.0 used four different Troi plugins, three FileMaker files and about 16 scripts you had to add to your database. When we rebuilt SyncDeK as a background Java-based service, I commissioned a couple different developers to build me helper plugins that allowed interaction between SyncDeK and FileMaker. But it wasn’t until about 2006 that I started playing with the plugin API and teaching myself enough C++ to be dangerous. I think the 24U plugin template really helped to make that easier. Then I noticed an interesting little function call with some warning comments about being experimental that allowed for SQL interaction with FileMaker and fmDataGuard was born. It was a perfect extension of the data replication work I’d be doing with FileMaker for years.

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

At the moment I don’t, but that’s mostly because I focus almost exclusively on creating products for FileMaker developers rather than building FileMaker-based solutions. If I was doing a lot of development, I would be using one of the PHP plugins to open up all kinds of interaction capability, a Web Viewer interaction plugin like Fusion Reactor and probably one of the dialog building plugins to save on endless layout creation to fake dialogs. That’s not to say that is where I’d stop, but off the top of my head, those all seem like must-have’s for serious development.

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

fmDataGuard is really my only stand-alone plugin at this point. SyncDeK has some helper plugins but that doesn’t count. Of course, SyncDeK itself – which isn’t a plugin but uses one enable interaction with FileMaker, is definitely my best work.

Do you think making plugins cross-platform is important?

It’s critical. I suppose a plugin that specifically allows interaction with a platform-specific application gets a pass, but otherwise, it just doesn’t seem professional to release something that only empowers one portion of the customer base.

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

I think that just has to be expected. Plugin makers are like forward scouts. At some point, if a feature really proves itself to be useful, you can’t blame the mother ship from wanting to take over. That said, if a functionality is truly novel and provides not just a bridge but a whole functionality platform, I think FileMaker would be smart to honor that innovation by at least trying to work out a deal with the developer. It’s a small community and I think FileMaker, Inc. knows how bad it would look to roll over one of its own. That said, the best protection for plugin developers is to stay forward of momentum. Make something new!

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

Hmmm. Maybe better dialog options. I think they’ve slowly made improvements in file interaction, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple functions which allow for file copy, move, folder create and such.

Do you think Free plugins harm companies who sell plugins?

Not at all. First off, free plugins don’t tend to cover the complex stuff which the good plugins do. Secondly, most enterprise customers will tend to prefer paying a little money to know that a serious effort is behind the plugin’s development and that support can be counted on.

What features would make the next version FileMaker perfect?

There’s never perfect. Only new doors that lead to more new doors. That said, I’d personally like to see two things which will probably sound obscure to most:
  1. Add an option to privilege sets which turns off auto-entry for that privilege set, so that administrative tasks can be performed without causing unexpected data changes regardless whether those tasks are being performed by scripts or external interfaces like ODBC/JDBC or CWP;
  2. Provide a means to rebuild the entire schema structure of a database (Scripts, layouts, fields, value lists, custom functions, table occurrences, relationships, tables) based on a DDR. In other words, allow for offline development to be done, tested, completed and then easily rolled into the production version without the need for cumbersome data imports.

Both of these changes, especially the second one – would be a game-changer for enterprise acceptance, and would open up a new wave of innovation from FileMaker developers.

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

Jump in. The water’s warm. Don’t be overwhelmed by the full breadth of C++ programming. You can learn a little at a time and build up from there. Oh, and use the Internet to find some sample code. These days, somebody has almost always provided some code online that you can leverage to get over the next hurdle.