Keith Larochelle of Productive Computing

FileMaker Plugin Developer: Productive Computing

Number of Plugins: 16 FileMaker Plugins

When did you first start using FileMaker?

We have been in business developing professional FileMaker Pro solutions and plug-ins since 1996.

What made you start making FileMaker Plugins?

A client had a FileMaker Pro system requirement to print tickets to a thermal ticket printer so we developed our first plug-in which was our Change Printer plug-in.

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

360 Works Plastic and Super Container

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

There are really two shining examples that we are tremendously proud of. The FM Books Connector which allows users to transfer data between FileMaker Pro and QuickBooks and our Outlook Manipulator series of plug-ins that allows you to transfer data between FileMaker Pro and Outlook and Exchange Server. Both of these plug-ins are extremely robust and complicated under the hood but are very intuitive and powerful for the average developer to use.

Do you think making plugins cross-platform is important?

Wherever possible. We try to release as many plug-in for both platforms as we can but our biggest problem in doing that is many applications such as QuickBooks simply don’t have an API for us to program to. If the manufacturer doesn’t provide a library for us to connect into their application, the development of the plug-in becomes cost prohibitive.

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

We fully support it. Whatever FileMaker, Inc. can do to increase its market share by including compelling features in the base product is to the benefit of all FileMaker Pro developers. Our company is a company of FileMaker Pro developers first and a plug-in manufacturer second.

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

Not sure.

Do you think Free plugins harm companies who sell plugins?

Absolutely. None of us are in the business of making free software and
I feel any company that would give away their software devalues their work. It also fosters the impression to the customer that other plug-ins from other developers should be free as well – or worse, it compels other plug-in developers to also have free plug-ins to compete. Pretty soon there are a bunch of free solutions and there is not enough revenue to sustain the development or the business model because you are competing at a zero price point. Being busy building and sustaining free code only makes it harder to hire the best and brightest minds to do this kind of work or qualified support staff to provide outstanding support. The plug-in market is small and has a low profit margin by itself without having industry self inflicted free plug-ins to foul up the nest.

I’ll also go so far as to say that site licenses are another abysmal practice. What other successful software company on the planet do you know that sells an unlimited number of seats of their product for a set price? None that I know of. Why? Because it is unsustainable. The small profit that this kind of model generates isn’t worth the effort to create and support the product so why would anyone who values their time bother with it? You can get away with it maybe if you are a one man show without any real overhead, but when you hire a team of highly skilled and compensated developers and support staff, that come with benefits and retirement plans, it makes it impossible to sustain. Something has to give.

Now before I go alienating all our potential customers out there by dismissing free stuff which sounds like a great deal for the customer, it really isn’t. If you don’t have a vibrant marketplace where there is healthy profit to be made by developing innovative plug-ins, then you reduce the interest and numbers of people who would build these new products because there isn’t enough reward to bother with the endeavor.

Our company doesn’t provide any free plug-ins because we not only want to provide the best and easiest to use plug-ins in the industry, but we also want to have the best trained and capable staff available to help our customers when they have support questions. Neither of these two goals comes cheap but we feel our customers truly value the high level of care we provide to them because our plug-ins support their mission critical systems. Accounting, contacts, e-mail, calendaring and task management – you can’t get more mission critical than that!

What features would make the next version FileMaker perfect?

Well script triggers was a tremendous home run that FileMaker, Inc. hit and we are still getting our head around how this one feature has changed the development landscape. Since we make a FileMaker Pro based customer relationship manager (Core2CRM) and every good CRM needs a calendar interface, I’d love to see some sort of a calendar tool similar to the portal tool or the tab control tool. Building a calendar interface is a real bear and I haven’t yet seen anybody come up with a FileMaker Pro calendar interface as elegant or functional as what iCal or Outlook or Entourage has.

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

I do have some business tips. Find a niche where no-one else has penetrated the market. It’s always easier to compete if you are the only one on the block to provide the solution. Provide easy to use demos and easy to understand documentation – this will cut down on your support costs. Build a registration system that will actually protect your work from theft. Activation may be a dirty word in this industry but it really is the norm that many other software companies have moved towards because it is effective at reducing piracy and that fact is hard to argue against. Build a plug-in that can be delivered to both platforms. This plays to FileMaker Pro’s cross platform market which is a key selling feature of the product. Don’t give your software away for free. No one is going to get rich from building plug-ins, but you shouldn’t have to eat Ramen noodles as part of your business plan either.