How do FileMaker guys approach 'Public' website development?

It’s tough to read through this site and not get the impression that we are ‘FileMaker evangelists’.  Throughout the past twenty years we have evolved through the different versions of FileMaker and have ‘explored’ numerous alternatives which have come and gone.

As ‘FileMaker guys’, we have taken a fair amount of grief that our site is not designed and supported solely by FileMaker. Hopefully, you will see that we are realistic and practical in our approach to technology. Although we love our FileMaker solutions, we can talk ‘pros and cons’ and we generally can find objective reasoning for your technology choices.

We have applied that same logic for our own site, and since so many of you have asked, we decided to explain how and why we have evolved into our current toolset.

Being client-focused means that we take an objective view of our clients needs and recommend the best ‘tools’- whether or not that happens to be ‘FileMaker’…

WHMCS

We like to believe that we are ‘special’ but the reality that hosting FileMaker is very similar to any other hosting service. Over 2,000 hosting providers use WHMCS and we all have clients, services, subscriptions, etc. We use WHMCS to manage subscriptions, orders, payments, and trouble tickets.

While it is true that we have the skills to create our own subscription management solution, the reality is that we could not build a comparable solution for $20/mth. The reality is that this software has an update most every other month and it is tested by thousands of users; whereas if we had decided to run custom software we would have to fund 100% of the development, deal with the bugs, and otherwise distract us from our ‘daily’ business of managing FileMaker Servers.

Any FileMaker or web developer which has written their own payment gateway will attest that this task takes a crazy amount of time and testing. In the ‘FileMaker world’, this is why we like Plastic by 360works.

WHMCS supports PayPal, Authorize.net, and several dozen other options; so as Apple Pay, Google Checkout and other new services become required; we don’t have to write coding for these services.

WordPress

We have worked with most every content management solution on the market today. The ‘early’ versions of this site where ‘hand-coded’ with the thinking that hand-coded files would load faster and not have the bloat which CMS are known for.

The reality is that there are several reasons which we evolved to WordPress and have not looked back.

Compellingly transform plug-and-play expertise whereas efficient platforms. Authoritatively communicate quality sources vis-a-vis standards compliant partnerships.

As FileMaker Developers, if we change the name of a layout we expect the buttons and scripts which reference this layout will continue to work- even if we rename the layout. In the ‘web world’, changing names of pages with handed-coded HTML will break links.

One could argue, that once you pick a name that you should leave it alone; however, in the ‘web world’ the name of a page, along with the page title can affect your SEO score, thus there is this constant battle not only to use meaningful names, but also to tweak these names as we evaluate our SEO scores.

WordPress manages posts and pages in a similar fashion to FileMaker, so we can adjust navigation and/or page names without breaking the other links within the site.

As FileMaker Developers, we are use to layout objects and parts; however, the ‘web world’ thinks in terms of DIV tags and tables. We utilize a WYSIWYG editor for WordPress which allows us to drop elements on a canvas and not have to get into ‘deep HTML’.

At this stage, our favorite edit is Visual Composer by WP Bakery; however, we have used several similar products and can see similarities between many of these editors.

Most FileMaker Developers have not had the ‘pleasure’ of writing a FileMaker solution for multiple languages; however, this site is viewed world-wide- and more importantly, it is indexed by Google worldwide.

We typically have this site accessible through 36 languages. We have the ability to do ‘special’ translations when our clients are willing to assist us with locations; however, most of the pages are ‘automatically’ translated via Google Translate.

Although FileMaker has a plug-in architecture, it simply extends the FileMaker calculation engine and has a very specific applications. There are literally thousands of WordPress plug-ins- many free. We use several plug-ins with our site and we have used others with client’s sites.

FileMaker developers are use to quickly creating solutions; however, many common functionalities which are not included in the ‘core’ WordPress builds are available as plug-ins. We could construct a site just on our favorite plug-ins, but one example is our HTTPS plug-in. WordPress was not originally designed for e-commerce sites, but with the addition of a free plug-in and a few preferences our site supports modern SSL certificates.

What about FileMaker?

Since WordPress and WHMCS utilize MySQL, the data stored by those solutions are accessible by FileMaker. Although we like WordPress and WHMCS, we have a grocery list of features which we wished they offered.

The reality is that we have written many of the ‘specialized’ features in FileMaker. One example is license management. Many hosting providers use Apache, PHP, MySQL and other open-source tools so there is not a huge need for license management; however, FileMaker licenses FileMaker Server for each instance of an operating system (virtual machine). This is further complicated by FileMaker 13/14 and the fact that some of our licenses have concurrent licensing attached and others do not. To make life even more complex, we also permit users to ‘Bring their own licensing’.

We have crafted a FileMaker solution which tracks our licenses and relates those licenses to the MySQL tables which track servers, products, clients, etc. While it is true that WHMCS has a API which would permit us to create similar functionality with PHP; the time required to craft this custom functionality is a fraction of what would be required by PHP.

Although WHMCS now offers a iOS application, we where not thrilled with it’s limited functionality. Utilizing FileMaker Go, we have created a mobile interface which performs the functionality which was important to us.

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