FileMaker is a popular database application owned and marketed by Apple. The application has changed its name from just FileMaker to FileMaker Pro and now FileMaker Pro Advanced. I am going to call it “FileMaker” to make it easy for you.
FileMaker will work on both Mac and Windows computers and is available on a subscription or perpetual basis. The cheapest subscription plan for FileMaker is $15 per month for 5 to 9 users and if you want the perpetual license it is $540 per user (ouch!).
FileMaker is quite a popular application for businesses and they can make their own custom applications from it. At the end of the day, it is a relational database system where you can store records and then retrieve the information using a front end such as a web browser.
A lot of businesses like FileMaker because it is reasonably easy to make custom applications without a great deal of technical knowledge. It is still not something that you can jump into without a good idea of how databases work and how everything fits together though.
FileMaker is not the only relational database out there for businesses to use to create their own applications. I have been looking at FileMaker alternatives recently and as someone that does not have a lot of experience of creating customized applications, it was an interesting experience, to say the least.
So here are my 7 best FileMaker alternatives. In order to make things simple, I have included the cost of a single user license for these alternatives where this applies. A single-user license for FileMaker is $15/month or $540 perpetual.
1. Microsoft Access – Subscription $12.50 per month Perpetual $139.99
Microsoft Access is a great FileMaker alternative but it is only available for use on Windows computers. You can use Access to create apps for your business without the need for coding expertise. Databases created using Access can be stored in the cloud for easier sharing and increased security.
There are a number of templates available with Access that makes the creation of applications a lot easier. I was able to create my first app in a couple of hours using a template and I am a total beginner. You can create forms within Access as the “front end” to the database for data input and retrieval.
For more advanced users you can create really customized forms by using VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) so that you can automate a lot of functions. VBA is not too complicated to learn but it will take a while if you have never done any coding work before. On the whole, I found Access pretty easy to use and I could see the possibilities with it.
2. Ninox – Subscription $8.33 or $16.66
Ninox is a popular database application that is cloud-based so Mac and Windows computers and Android and iOS mobile devices can use it. It is another FileMaker alternative because you can create customized databases which you can turn into applications for your business. I found it pretty easy to use Ninox and it didn’t take long for me to create an app.
There are a number of features with Ninox that help you to create your applications. These include some built-in templates, drag and drop formulas and custom actions. It is relatively easy to create custom forms and data fields with Ninix. You can create different apps such as CRM, account management, timesheets and project management and more.
If you are going to use a number of different devices to access your Ninox databases then a really good feature is that it synchronizes in real-time. You also get automatic backups which is good. You can import data from a number of different sources such as CSV files and Excel spreadsheets.
3. Zoho Creator – Subscription $15 or $30 per month
Another good FileMaker alternative is Zoho Creator. This is an online app creator that is only available on a subscription basis. I found the main interface to be pretty intuitive and there are a lot of good customization tools. You can drag and drop a lot which is great. The Zoho Creator platform is quite easy to use and you don’t need any special programming skills.
After you set up your database in Zoho Creator you can almost create apps automatically. I found that I needed minimal intervention to build my first app. Data gets regularly updated and backed up and the security levels are high. This means that there should be very little chance of you losing any data.
I did find that I needed to go through a bit of a learning curve to get the hang of Zoho Creator but it didn’t take me that long to get the hang of it. Being cloud-hosted there is no requirement for any complex installations or a requirement to purchase expensive hardware. With the Premium option at $30/month, you can have up to 50 apps and unlimited records.
4. Libre Office Base – Free
Libre Office Base is a free FileMaker alternative. The open-source Libre Office suite is very similar to Microsoft Office and Libre Office Base is similar to Microsoft Access. I found Base fairly easy to use and it helped that I had used Microsoft Access before I tried it.
The good thing about Libre Office over Open Office is that there are a lot more updates to Libre because the development community is more active so I would recommend using Libre Office Base over Open Office base.
With Base, you get some good database features and there is support for other databases too such as Microsoft Access, MySQL and PostgreSQL. I found it pretty straight forward to create an application with a front end for data entry and reporting. You can also use Base to create Web-based applications too.
5. Kexi – Free
Here is another free FileMaker alternative. It is part of the open-source Calligra Suite which is a graphic design and office suite combined. Kexi operates in a similar way to Microsoft Access and it has all of the usual database features such as tables, forms, queries, reports and more.
I found it fairly easy to use Kexi. The interface was pretty intuitive and it wasn’t long before I had created my first small application. If you intend to create a larger database using Microsoft SQL Server or MySQL then you can use Kexi to develop the front end for the database.
There is another good feature with Kexi where you can migrate Microsoft Access databases to it. There is a wizard that will guide you through this step by step and I was able to migrate the previous database I created in Access without a problem.
6. PortaBase – Free
If you know that you are only going to require small applications then PortaBase could be a good free FileMaker alternative for you. PortaBase is limited to just one table so you need to think about whether that’s enough for your needs or not. If you do go with it then I can tell you that setting up a database and application is easy.
PortaBase is really basic so you do not have to learn much to get started. I got going in minutes. All you need to do is make a new database, add all of the fields that you need and then start adding records. You can import data from XML and CSV and export to these too as well as HTML.
One of the best things about this free little database application is that you can encrypt your databases for added security. You will need a password to access the database after encryption. If you lose the password you will never get into your database again because the security is so good!
7. Tadabase – Free or $49 per month or $99 per month
Tadabase is another FileMaker alternative that you might want to consider but it can get a bit expensive. This is a web-based application/database builder which allows you to create applications for the web without any coding knowledge. So I decided to put it to the test.
It was pretty easy to create a small web-based application with a few mouse clicks. In fact, it only took me a few minutes to make my first app. I found it easy to create tables and forms for the front end. This is definitely a good solution for businesses that do not know anything about databases or coding and don’t want to learn.
The biggest problem for me with Tadabase was the cost. The free plan allows you to create 2 apps and have a maximum of 50,000 records as well as 1GB of storage. If you need more, the $49/month plan allows up to 5 apps and 200,000 records with 15GB of storage. The “Business” package at $9 /month allows 25 apps, 500,000 records and 100GB of storage.
The Bottom Line – Which FileMaker alternative?
I’ve given you some good FileMaker alternatives here. It sounds great that you can create applications without having to know anything about databases or coding but I’d certainly recommend that you learn the basics of relational databases because it provides you with more options. It really isn’t that difficult.
You can create a very good app using Microsoft Access for a fraction of the price of FileMaker. The free options are good too with Libre Office Base my recommendation. I also liked Zoho Creator a lot.
You need to work out what you want and estimate how many records you will generate over time. If you go for an option with limited records you may have to start all over again which will be very frustrating.