Bento is a database management system from the people behind FileMaker, but it’s not just another version of the popular FileMaker database tool. Instead, Bento is a brand-new product. FileMaker itself has become a sophisticated database development system, and as a result it can be intimidating to those who just want to quickly put together a personal database. Bento does an excellent job of filling the need for creating and managing personal databases.
(It works only with Apple's Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, unlike its cross-platform FileMaker database.)
Bento gives you control over your personal data by embracing the ease of use and elegance of the Macintosh OS X environment. Upon installation and execution, Bento incorporates the Address Book, iCal Events, and iCal Tasks as ‘Libraries’ (databases). This provides a good base for all of your personal data in one convenient location. You can create a new Library by selecting from any of the 23 included templates (Inventory, Classes, Vehicle Maintenance, Customers, for example), importing from a CSV file, or you can create your own custom Library from scratch.
The interface is very similar to the look and feel of iTunes, making it easy to dive in. The Bento interface presents your personal data using three screen areas – the Source list for listing the Libraries and Collections, the Records area for showing the actual data, and the Fields list for listing the fields contained in the Library. The Source list and Fields list can be hidden for when you only want to view the record data.
A quick search field is available above each form, with the option for using the Advanced Find feature. This powerful tool provides the ability to perform a search on multiple fields in the Library, with a ‘Contains’ or ‘Does not contain’ for each field. And the search can display ‘Any’ or ‘All’ records that match the defined criteria.
Form creation and editing in Bento is so easy that you’ll find yourself creating all kinds of forms for your data. Right out of the box, Bento provides an Overview and Details form for the Address Book library. The form editor provides the ability to arrange, align, resize form objects, add labels, shading, and columns to the form. The Themes selector has 21 different colour combinations for the form. Every library has a Table form with built-in column sorting and rearranging of the columns using drag-and-drop.
If you find OS X’s Address Book restrictive, Bento adds the kind of flexibility you need. You can add new fields to the existing Address Book, iCal Events, and iCal Tasks Libraries to suit your own purposes. While these new fields will not appear in the default applications, any data that you manage in the default fields will still sync with your devices and .Mac accounts.
One of Bento’s real draws is the ability to create Collections. A Collection is a group of records that you would like to keep together. For example, if you add a Category field to the Address Book, and populate that field with ‘Business’ or ‘Personal’, you could create a Collection called ‘My Friends & Family’, search and select all the records with ‘Personal’ as the Category, and put them in your new Collection. The data remains in the Address Book. You can also create Smart Collections which will automatically populate the view with records that match a specific criteria.
One powerful capability of Bento is the ability to relate tables to another. It’s as easy as dragging the table from the Source list to the form that you want it on. For example, you can have a Projects library and an Expenses library. In the Details form for the Projects, you can drag the Expenses library to the form and
Bento will automatically establish the relationships.
We’ve only barely touched on the capabilities of Bento. FileMaker has done a wonderful job of developing a tool that can be used for all sorts of personal information management. Whether you’re a busy mum, a student, chairman of the darts league, or you just want to keep track of your music collection – Bento is the ultimate application for managing your personal data.
If you’ve had any issues managing your personal data – from club membership to business contacts – Bento provides the answers, and at £29 is something of a no-brainer. Its ultra-friendly interface means it really is a database tool that anyone can use, and most people will find it useful, too.