Handy selection of plug-ins designed to fill the functionality gaps left by FileMaker Pro 4.
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With the release of FileMaker Pro 4, developers were provided with the opportunity to create plug-ins for the FileMaker calculation engine. By dropping a plug-in into the FileMaker Extensions folder, users gain access to new functions from within any of the FileMaker Calculation dialog boxes.
Compared with Quark XTensions or Adobe Photoshop plug-ins this may sound fairly limited as you can't use plug-ins to alter the interface directly, and any new functionality has to be implemented using calculation fields. But despite these inherent drawbacks, Troi Plug-ins are ingenious additions to the developer's arsenal.
Troi currently provides seven shareware plug-ins for FileMaker Pro 4. Despite the 'shareware' tag they're all robust, and fill in some glaring functional gaps left by the FileMaker engineers. All the plug-ins ship for Mac and Windows platforms, with each supplying a number of separate functions, accessed from the External Functions menu within any calculations dialog box. They're supplied with very clear working demo files, and once you've seen them in action, they're quite straightforward to use.
Perhaps the most useful of the group is the Troi File plug-in which takes up where the basic FileMaker export leaves off. Instead of having to export a set of records as a single file and then parse them externally using AppleScript or some other utility, the File plug-in allows you to save the contents of individual fields into individual files. You can now create a set of files from your database, one for each record - useful if you're exporting multiple HTML files, for instance. As well as writing files, you can also read from files into a field, create and delete files, create folders, and rename, copy or move files. Functions are also provided for listing files and folders (with options to show or hide aliases), searching for files by full or partial name, and even launching files using the appropriate application.
The Text plug-in provides some fairly amazing string searching and comparison functions, allowing you to treat text like numbers: for example, the SumText function can be used to concatenate the text fields from another file. There's also SortLines for sorting the contents of a text field, and GetLine which retrieves the nth line from a field. There are also some more exotic functions such as XORtext and ANDText for comparing the contents of two fields, and UniqueWords, which returns a list of unique words within the specified field.
The third plug-in is Troi Coding. This provides some more esoteric functions for performing calculations on field contents; DES encryption, binary conversion, and check-summing.
As well as text, there are also plug-ins for dealing with numbers and graphics. The Troi Number plug-in adds the balance function, which allows you to display the running total of a field within a portal, something no accountancy package can do without. The Troi Graphic plug-in adds functions for creating colours from RGB values, taking screen shots from within FileMaker, and creating thumbnails from container fields - very useful for Web publishing. The Grabber plug-in lets users with a QuickTime-compatible video source connected to their Mac grab images directly into a container field, while the Troi Serial plug-in enables you to send and receive data through one of the Mac's serial ports - great for controlling a modem directly.
All the plug-ins are downloadable from the Web for $20 -
$30 each. At this price, Troi plug-ins really are an
essential buy for FileMaker Pro developers.