Nashoba, We Hardly Knew Ye
by Brian Dunning
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A lengthy calculation, courtesy of the National Center for Supercomputing,
has proven that it is impossible to have a gathering of FileMaker
Pro developers without most of them bragging about how long they've
been using FileMaker.
Especially when newbies are present, the old-timers try to outdo
each other by casually dropping references to their long experience
into the conversation. "Oh yes, the Status registers. We did without
those in the old 2.1 days."
Or "It used to be easy to import and export scripts. You just
stuck the same punchcard in for each file."
If you ask, most of these guys will tell you they've been "using
FileMaker since the old FileMaker Plus days." There probably aren't
any living humans who actually did use FileMaker Plus, but it
remains the subject of many a proud boast nevertheless.
I am one of those rare minorities who tries to use the latest
version of FileMaker, and am therefore no expert on its history.
I did use FileMaker II once, but I didn't know what I was doing
then any more than I do now; and I pretended to be amazed when
I first saw FileMaker Pro. I couldn't tell any difference, but
am not one to tip my hand.
Everyone has a different version of FileMaker's primordial history.
Separating the facts from the fiction is like dissecting Roswell
or the Kennedy assassination: after so many years of scuttlebutt,
it's not likely that the truth will ever be known.
The hazy rumors agree on a few points. Sometime between 1983
and 1985, the original FileMaker was developed by Nashoba Systems.
Forethought, which had sold the IBM PC database Nutshell, acquired
FileMaker and sold a version called FileMaker Plus, around 1986
or 87. Not to be outdone, Nashoba took it back and offered FileMaker
4 in 1988. Within a couple months, an 800 pound gorilla named
Claris stepped in and changed the name to FileMaker II. It took
five years, but someone finally decided to adopt a sequential
numbering system for the versions, and Claris FileMaker Pro v1
came out. This was cleverly followed by v2, v3, v4, and if they
don't bring Nashoba back in to retitle the next version III Plus,
we'll see v5 very soon. Various adaptations of this history have
been published here and there, and studied into the wee hours
by FileMaker developers preparing for a conversation.
Backdating your FileMaker solutions is not like talking about
your first car, because you can't really go back any further than
the 80's. Talking about your use of Forethought's Nutshell on
the IBM PC in the late 70's is a strain. "I wiped out my Jag on
Dead Man's Curve in '61" sounds really cool and has a certain
James Dean mystique, but "My FileMaker experience stretches back
to the mid 1980's" just doesn't have the same sex appeal. Nevertheless
we all keep trying.
Namedropping is always prominent in these conversations. A lot
of guys claim to have known Woz, and used FileMaker with him extensively,
and been his buddy. If half of these stories were true, Woz would
need more groupies than Moses.
Nobody seems to know very much about Nashoba Systems, but it
is a favorite for namedropping too:
"I used FileMaker back in the Nashoba days."
"Oh yeah? Well I looked at the old Pascal code. Fixed it up for
"I wrote the original Pascal language."
"I invented the punchcard."
"I invented paper."
"I was the first erect biped."
Unable to win the FileMaker Pro Venerability contest, some developers
assert their seasoning by snubbing FileMaker in favor of the most
obscure databases they can come up with. The goal here, apparently,
is to throw out database names that the listener has never heard
of, in order to make him feel naïve and inadequate. If you're
on the lookout, you'll know to pretend that you have heard of
it, and have a ready reason to scoff at it. Thus:
"Of course, my real experience comes from Cumulus."
"Oh, Cumulus, sure. It doesn't support BLOBs. Reflex is better."
"I found Reflex too easy to use. So I concentrated on Inside
Then there are the developers who think that a large file size,
or a huge number of files, is somehow indicative of great skill
"My recipe database has thirty-six files."
"That's nothing. I once did a contact manager that required over
seventy. Had to spread it across two servers."
Perhaps a class in relational design, fellas.
Hopefully these few observations will help you better prepare
for your next facetime with other developers. So long as you go
in knowing you can't win, because there's always someone who,
back when he was a Cro-Magnon, got FileMaker to run on an array
of mastodon ribs, you'll know to rely on the quality of your solutions
to represent your skill as a developer. My sense is that you'll
have the edge over the mastodon guy.
Addendum, dated 5/16/2004:
As it turns out, the original programmer of the FileMaker database
engine was a guy named Spec Bowers, which, in an amazing coincidence,
just happens to be the first cousin of our good friend, Soliant
Bowers (no one was more surprised to learn this than
a great article by Glenn Koenig, from an interview he
did with Spec. It turns out the actual history is not so murky
as I fancifully liked to believe...