Here are the details of the main presentation from the Sept 24, 2010 meeting – Dynamic Menus.

As you know,  FileMaker is a database platform that combines a robust user interface with database tables.  If all you’ve ever used is FileMaker, this fact may not be obvious to you.  If you’ve worked with databases such as Microsoft SQL or MySQL, you know that there is no interface for the end users to manage data in a meaningful way.  You have to create a separate environment using authoring tools such as Visual Basic or PHP and a web server.

Think of the most common “database” – a spreadsheet.  The interface for the information in the spreadsheet is a grid.  There aren’t many tools for structuring the information.  There are tabs for different worksheets, basic cel formatting, unintuitive formulas for calculations, and commands buried in the menus for sorting.  Spreadsheets are a cumbersome environment for designing forms that link data to other parts of the database.

By contrast, FileMaker offers a native method for structuring information.  It’s called the Layout.  Layouts display any information that you choose to place on the layout.  Layout A can be a form that forces the user to enter information in a specific order, and Layout B can be a list of all the forms and the information that was entered.  The information on each form is the same, just displayed differently for different purposes.

That fact that the raw data is displayed on layouts in FileMaker is what makes it an attractive platform for department managers and non-technical users who need a fast learning curve.  It’s also what drives database purists crazy about FileMaker.  SQL guys like the data “abstracted” from the interface so it can be used in any interface authoring environments.  FileMaker data can be used in other interface authoring environments, but that’s a subject for later.

In this group we accept that FileMaker is a pure database engine tied to an integrated user interface system.  Still, we can go a little “layout crazy” when Sally wants a layout that only shows her information and Bob wants a layout only for his information.  We find ourselves making dozens of layouts displaying the same data simply to meet the work flow and security rules.  There’s no way around that if we want to make our co-workers and clients happy.  Why would we force users to interpret information when it’s so easy to make a layout that renders a pleasantly formatted set of fields with buttons to take specific actions from that point in the work flow?  We wouldn’t.

But that doesn’t mean we have to struggle with a long list of layouts and update every previous layout with a new button that navigates to new layouts we’ve placed in the database.  There is a way to create a universal layout navigation menu that automatically updates itself when you add new layouts to the system.  The Dynamic Menu can also change depending on who is logged in.  The purpose of the Dynamic Menu is to save you time as the developer and promote consistency for the users.

Please watch the following video to see how the Dynamic Menu works.