Bar Fight Topic #12: To Plug-in, Or Not To Plug-in

There is a category of disagreement on the earth I like to call “Bar Fight Topics”. These are the things that can turn perfectly happy friends and business partners against each other, often with the help of a third wheel known as Jack Daniels. Once a bar fight topic is stumbled upon, it’s not easily ignored or forgotten. This is mainly because of the nature of the Bar Fight Fact ERD:

 As we can see, a Bar Fight Fact is created whenever an idea is subjective…

…and the idea feels good, yet the self-awareness is less than perfect:

Given enough time, Bar Fight Facts can make us blind to good decision making. That’s what I’d like to address in this post.



The way I have generally been able to tell a true FileMaker veteran from an up-and-coming developer is simple. (1) The veteran is old enough to have paid fees at Blockbuster for returning a VHS tape late. (2) The veteran often has a strong and immediate knee-jerk reaction to the question, “Should you use plug-ins or should you not?”



I landed in the “NO” camp for most of my career. However, in retrospect, the only reason I didn’t use plug-ins was because of anecdotal evidence from fellow developers. There were horrific stories of bugs causing business activity to grind to a halt for hours upon hours. There were warnings about new FileMaker versions breaking things. And, of course, the classic scenario where the FileMaker Script Engine (being the shy thing that it is) decided to stop being social and went home from the party early.

Then there were installation issues. Whether it was because OSes had not grown up yet either, or that there was no reliable plug-in distribution method back when my beard was actually ginger, installing plug-ins could sometimes be a real show-stopper. Or if not stopping the show completely, it would reschedule it to 5PM on a Friday night, potentially lasting through 2AM on a Saturday morning. That was not the lifestyle I was looking for.

As a solo developer, the last thing I needed was an unhappy customer or some third-party problem that took up precious hours troubleshooting when I was behind already anyway, on top of being late for dinner. So when I heard developers I respected (and still do) swear off plug-ins as time-wasting single-point failures waiting to happen, I became a believer. Or an unbeliever, whichever the case may be. That was how I joined the NO plug-ins group.

Things are much better now when it comes to installation. Even as recently as the 19.2.2 release, Claris is giving developers new functions to handle plug-ins.

  • See this and this.

  • Also, see Kate Waldhauser’s blog here.

In addition, Claris FileMaker now has plug-in alternatives that are worth looking into like:



In hindsight, what I failed to do was maintain objectivity. The passing of time has given me a second chance to review both my life choices and my Bar Fight Topics. All blanket statements have their edges and, emerging from underneath my comfort blanket of NO plug-ins, I have noticed there are some plug-ins that seem to universally slip from my fellow developers’ lips on a regular basis, in a positive light.

Without endorsing or promoting any particular product, company, plug-in, or Bar Fight Topic, I submit to you four personal examples of me stepping outside of the NO camp just a bit.


In no particular order:


1. BaseElements from Goya

It’s hard to know where to start with BaseElements, since it offers so much and has both a plug-in and a software solution that helps to analyze FileMaker solutions. I don’t have experience with their software, but the plug-in is, in my opinion, stable, useful, and a great first option when working at the edge of FileMaker’s built-in capabilities.



2. MBS plug-in from Monkey Bread Software

My personal experience with MBS is quite low. The devs around me, on the other hand, continue to ask me how I get along without it. “I’m old,” is usually my answer. But I’ve noticed that before I tackle anything these days, I’m checking the MBS feature list to see if I’m reinventing a wheel that they’ve already reinvented. Between MBS and BaseElements, it’s hard to imagine not being able to accomplish what we need to in a business environment.



3. PDF Manipulator from Productive Computing

Productive Computing offers many more plug-ins than just the PDF Manipulator. But the reason I’d like to point this one out is that, for me personally, I never hear about it. For the Productive Computing marketing team, that might be bad. But I mean it in a very good way. I’ve never heard anyone complain about it, nor have I been called in to troubleshoot it. As far as I can tell, from my corner of the universe, it just works. I like it when things just work.I have also had the pleasure of interacting with the folks at Productive throughout my career and they’ve always been a cheery and helpful bunch.



4. CNS FTPit

Like Productive Computing, CNS plug-ins handle more than FTP. I point out the FTPit plug-in because CNS was moving files and directories before it was cool, and they helped make it cool. Full disclosure: They’ve been in my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, for as long as I can remember. When I was new to programming and looking for fellow developers to connect with, I was super excited to see that they were local to me then. Because of that, CNS means more to me than just a handy product. But that doesn’t change that fact that their handy product is…well…also handy.



Another perspective on doing an FTP send can be found in Joe Ranne’s blog post entitled Insert from URL V2. It’s a method that only replaces a plug-in in some circumstances, but can still be a great alternative. 



Arcade references aside, I find no reason to be extreme in my plug-in opinion anymore. It no longer needs to be a FileMaker Bar Fight Topic. I’ve matured maybe as much as plug-ins have, if not a little less. Many of the plug-ins out there these days are stable and useful. Documentation and support are easily accessed for the more mature ones (though I can’t say the same for me). And recent security improvements with Claris FileMaker and plug-ins also lend credibility to their use.

(See Soliant’s recent article: How to Prevent Unwanted Plugin Calls in FileMaker.)

It’s nice to be in a position to tell a client, “Yes, we can do that,” when I used to say no. And at the end of the day, we want happy clients who are more efficient in their work than when we first met them. For the modern Claris FileMaker developer, an objective look at the plug-in landscape is a good step in accomplishing that goal.



Portage Bay Solutions has extensive experience incorporating plug-ins into all manner of Claris FileMaker solutions. If we can help with your solution, or answer any questions, give us a shout. You can also schedule a free 15 minute consultation to review your situation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *