As a long-time FileMaker Pro user I must admit I’ve been a little snobbish to date about using its little brother Bento. From some distance I’d noted that the latest release, Version 3, had addressed many of the major issues that had troubled users and had added some really smart new features.
In my local community I’m constantly being asked for a really simple database which even a novice could set up. I had done a couple of these in FileMaker Pro, but then I’ve been using it for years. A good time to see what’s in the Bento box.
When I first launched Bento 3 I was puzzled when a form appeared on my desktop containing the first page from my Address Book. Aha! Bento had created an instant database from all my contacts. Nice. And sure enough, in the Libraries pane there was Address Book as well as iCal and iPhoto.
Open up the iPhoto icon and there are all my albums. Double-click an album and a professional database form appears with the first image, the file type and size, modification date and the title I gave it in iPhoto.
These fields can only be modified in iPhoto. However, a number of empty fields – Photographer, Subject, Caption, Comments – invited my input. Two other boxes – Style and Category – already contained a number of editable drop-down options.
But the black background and thin white print didn’t suit my sunny disposition. No problem. The Themes button contains a wide variety of alternatives. One click and my background changes to a nice parchment look with a darker font. This change is only applied to the current album.
I decided to test how easy it was to modify one of the nearly 400 templates available free on the Bento website. As a self-employed multimedia producer I have several projects on the go at once and tend to juggle these around in my head.
Not really a good idea. Time to do it better.
I downloaded a to-do list template and began renaming and adding fields, resizing and repositioning. Drop-down menus are very easy to create and modify. In one of the fields I needed to enter a progressive list of daily actions. No problem. I simply clicked a floating form field into life and soon had it all set up the way I wanted.
If you’ve got an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad and a Wi-Fi connection to your Mac, download the Bento app and go through some simple syncing procedures to share libraries. You can also share your data with up to five Bento users over a local area network.
You can decide which libraries you want to share, whether other users are allowed to make changes and whether or not they need a password.
All your Bento information is stored on your Mac at /user/library/application support/bento in one master file. This file is divided into Libraries which contain a number of Forms on which the data resides in fields.
Think of the Bento box sitting on your desktop with food (data) in sections (fields).
You can export individual libraries to Numbers, Excel or as a template. Importing from Excel or Numbers entails copying the data and pasting it into a Bento library displayed in
Bento is your personal lunchbox. It can’t be scripted like FileMaker, you can’t apply infinite customisation to the design nor is it meant to be shared by large groups of people widely scattered, But you can share your lunch with a handful of people close by.
Posts on the Bento forums show many people running their home businesses with it, but basically it’s a simple personal database with three great features: it’s got strong Mac DNA, you can create quite sophisticated databases with little expertise, and it’s as beautiful to look at as it is to use.
This article originally appeared in the August issue of Australian Macworld magazine.