Although many features are similar, Panorama's RAM based database engine is fundamentally different from FileMaker's disk based system. In fact, the difference is so large that MacWorld magazine stated that "Panorama may be the ultimate relational database for your desktop… interfaces, features, and performance blow FileMaker Pro out of the water," while TidBITS.com stated that "Panorama is the best general database program I've ever used." Read the comparisons below, download and try out the test drive and judge for yourself! (Note: Many, but not all of these comparisons also apply to other disk based databases including 4th Dimension and Microsoft Access.)

RAM Based vs. Disk Based

The fundamental, overriding difference between Panorama and FileMaker is that Panorama is RAM based while FileMaker is disk based. When you open a Panorama database the entire database, including all of the data, is loaded from the disk into the computer's RAM. From then on Panorama doesn't use the disk at all (until you use the Save command). All searching, sorting, editing, and everything else occurs directly in your computer's high speed RAM.

FileMaker, on the other hand, is disk based. Every time you edit a field, sort, search, or perform any other operation it must access the disk. Unlike RAM, the disk is a mechanical device with parts that actually move each time you access the disk. This makes disk access thousands of times slower than RAM access.

Panorama uses the RAM you give it very efficiently. Because Panorama doesn't use indexes (see below) Panorama databases are very small compared to FileMaker (typically six to ten times smaller). For example the Panorama test drive includes a typical contacts database with 10,000 records and about two dozen fields — this database is only 2.2 megabytes! Typically a Panorama database is about the same size as an ASCII text file containing the same data.


No Indexes vs. Indexes

You might be suprised to know that when you ask FileMaker to search or sort it does not actually search or sort the data itself. Instead it searches or sorts a complex structure it has built called an "index." An index is a special directory that contains hints for finding items quickly. A database index performs much the same function as an index at the end of a textbook. Instead of searching the entire book page-by-page you find the entry in the index and then jump directly to the correct page. FileMaker uses a similar index system to allow it to search or sort a large database in a second or two instead of in minutes or hours.

Unlike FileMaker,
Panorama doesn't use indexes. Because RAM is so fast, Panorama can actually perform searches or sorts using the brute force approach, the equivalent of searching a book by reading all of the pages (but very, very quickly). Essentially Panorama is the ultimate speed reader. Although indexes can help a database search and sort faster, they also come with some very significant drawbacks.

  • Indexes are very large. Unlike a textbook index which is only a few pages, databases indexes are often much larger than the actual data itself. Since Panorama doesn't use indexes, the database size is much smaller.
     
  • Indexes have a very complicated structure that must be updated any time the database is modified. As your database gets larger this structure gets more complex, so updating the structure takes longer and longer each time you edit the database. In addition this complex structure is prone to corruption, which explains why FileMaker needs a command to rebuild corrupted databases. It's actually not the database itself which is corrupted, but the index. Since Panorama doesn't use indexes, editing the database doesn't get slower as you add more records, and the index can't get corrupted because there wasn't any index in the first place.
     
  • Even though the indexes are large they actually don't contain all of the information in the database (most of the index space is taken up with hints to make searching faster). Since FileMaker is searching the index, not the database, this means that many useful search queries are impossible. Since Panorama doesn't use indexes it can perform any search you can think of, including phonetic searches (sounds like "alan"), partial matches, comparisons between fields (Price is more than twice the P/E ratio), searching for fields that contain only letters, only numbers, or some other combination, searching all fields at once, even live keystroke-by-keystroke searches watchdemo (like iTunes).

Active Summaries vs. Dead Reports
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All databases can calculate summaries with subtotals, counts, averages, etc. However, Panorama and FileMaker take very different approaches to this task. FileMaker calculates summaries as part of a report. The end result is a piece of paper containing the subtotals, averages, etc.

Panorama treats summary calculation and printing as separate tasks. When you ask Panorama to calculate summaries, no printing is involved. Instead, Panorama temporarily reorganizes the database into an outline structure containing the summaries as well as the original data. You can collapse the outline to see the overal "big picture,", then expand selected elements of the outline to zero in on just the level of detail you need to accomplish your task. You can even rank the summaries to reveal which categories are top performers and which are laggards. (Of course you can also print the summaries on paper as well if necessary.)

In addition to active summaries Panorama's other analysis tools include 2D charts and crosstab tables (sometimes called pivot tables).

In Place Formulas vs. Calculated Fields


For reasons that are a complete mystery to us, FileMaker requires all calculations to be stored in a central repository of fields, including so called "calculated fields." Before you can use a calculation you have to define it in the field definition dialog, and if you want to change the calculation you have to go back to that dialog and find it among all the others.

Panorama doesn't use calculated fields (all database fields are actual fields that contain actual data). If you need to display a calculation on a form (layout) you can just set it up right there. There is no central repository for calculations, you just set them up as you need them where you need them.

Programming vs. Scripting


Unlike FileMaker's limited scripting capability, Panorama has a complete program development environment. Your actions may be recorded to automatically create a program, or you can use a traditional text editing environment to write programs just as you would in Basic, C or Java. If you have programming experience you'll find all of the standard constructs you are familiar with — structured control flow (if/case/loops), subroutines (with parameter passing), local and global variables, as well as built in debugging and cross reference tools for managing large projects. Panorama programs can be triggered by buttons, menus, or automatically triggered by various actions (opening and closing files, etc.) Your programs can completely manage control of the user experience, including full customization of windows, dialogs and menus.


Internet Connectivity
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Panorama includes built-in internet connectivity for extracting information from any web server. This means that you can seamlessly integrate information from the web (including tables, lists, images and maps) into the databases you create.


VCard Drag and Drop
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Panorama supports vCards so you can easily drag and drop to share data both between Panorama databases and with other vCard enabled applications, including Address Book, Palm Desktop, MYOB AccountEdge and FaxSTF.


Test Drive Panorama for Yourself


This page has touched the highlights, but there's so much
more to explore. The best way to appreciate Panorama is to experience it for yourself. Download the test drive and import your existing data (FileMaker databases must be exported to tab or comma delimited text to import them into Panorama.