Bento 4 for Mac
Easy to use; professional templates; wide range of possible applications; affordable
None at the price
$49 (single user); $99 (Family Pack); $29 (upgrade)
Earlier this year FileMaker released a new version of its popular personal relational database, Bento 4 for Mac, along with versions of Bento 1.1 for both iPhone and iPad.
All have come with vastly improved features, but most impressive is Bento 4. Probably the most important feature in the Mac software is the introduction of a label printing feature which can go way beyond basic labels and do name tags, table reservation cards and much more.
You can now send templates with your data embedded to other Bento users – to share lecture notes with fellow students, for example, or To Do lists within volunteer organisations.
A great feature for field researchers, mobile salespeople and real estate workers is the ability to grab and store location data. And a new, simplified date search function allows you to arrange tasks or events in chronological order.
Bento has always worked well with spreadsheet data and now includes spreadsheet-like functions and summaries.
While Bento 4 ships with 35 predesigned templates you also have access to the online Bento Template Exchange with hundreds of nicely catalogued options to choose from. The list grows daily and if you want to contribute your own template you can now do that directly from Bento. When you have finished a template design simply lock it to prevent further changes.
Bento 4 also contains a number of general enhancements in appearance and performance. So, for people already on board, version 4 is a worthwhile upgrade.
What follows is for people new to the whole Bento concept or for those considering its potential value. A common mistake is to start from a list of the things it can’t do.
It’s a bit like when the iPad was first launched. People compared its deficiencies with a notebook rather than appreciating its unique features. Sure, Bento isn’t FileMaker but it offers several advantages for particular needs. For starters it’s much easier to get up and going – most of the database design has already been done for you and individual tweaking is very simple. This allows you to concentrate on collecting and cataloguing your data.
Even if you’ve never used a database before it’s very easy to make a start. As you begin to feel more at home you can move simply and quickly to personalise the way in which your data is presented. A quick look at the Template Exchange can give you an idea of the myriad types of data that Bento can organise for you.
As an educator I would urge all teachers to consider the many possible uses of Bento for themselves and for their students. Apart from the obvious use for recording student details there are many other ways in which Bento can take part in your classroom activities. Again, the Template Exchange can give you some ideas to get started. And you will feel part of a connected community, a little bit like the days when teachers used to share Claris/AppleWorks templates.
Macworld Australia’s buying advice
Apart from schools and individuals, Bento is an ideal management tool for small businesses, particularly for those without IT personnel or expertise. The predesigned templates are very professional and easy on the eye allowing you to focus on the content. And I just love the way it automatically catalogues my iPhoto, Address Book and iCal information. Coming from the FileMaker stable it has an impeccable Mac pedigree and is a delight to use.