New Utility Alert. Free. For now. FileMaker launches a public beta of Bento, the personal database for Mac users.
True to the Mac’s roots deep in the Exclusivity Club and the Elite Community, Bento is for Leopard users only.
Let’s digress for a moment. The most popular non-Microsoft database for the Mac and Windows is FileMaker Pro. Even in the internet age, FileMaker has carved a profitable niche with a flexible database application, perfect for business, not so perfect for the rest of us.
Oh, did I mention that FileMaker is owned by Apple? The prognosticators at Mac360 have long hoped for a FileMake Lite version of the popular database to show up in iWork to compete with Microsoft’s Access database application. Maybe this is as close as we’ll get.
Bento is the name of FileMaker’s new foray into cheapness, uh, rather, personal databases (read that as less expensive version to enlarge the user base).
If you want a shot at trying out FileMaker’s new Bento personal database, Click Here. Then, make sure you’re using Mac OS X Leopard, because Bento doesn’t like Tiger, or Panther, or Jaguar, or Hello Kitty, previous versions of OS X.
True to Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ predictions of yesteryear, the Mac truly has become our digital hub. Not only do we connect all our peripherals to the Mac—iPhone, iPod, cameras, scanners, printers, flash drive readers, AppleTV, and more—we also keep all our valuable information on the Mac.
It’s that information, and sharing of information, that makes the Mac unique. Leopard provides yet another level of sharing, called live linking of data via iCal, Spotlight, iTunes, iPhoto, and so on.
Bento, for the folks in Texas, Alabama, and Minnesota, is a lacquered or decorated wooden Japanese lunchbox, with separated compartments which hold rice, veggies, fish, and other goodies. So, Bento, the personal database, brings together all the information pieces that make up our digital life. Contacts. Calendars. Projects. Events.
But databases are complicated beasts, right? Yes and no. If you’re building a database, they can get complicated very fast. If someone builds the database for you, then it can be easy to use. Bento comes with a set of ready-to-use templates and, in true Apple style, some very attractive and stylish themes, so you don’t have to build anything if you don’t want to.
To get Bento, you need to Click Here, click the Download Preview Now button, then fill out a form, wait awhile, check your email, then download and install the application. The last part is just drag and drop.
The Bento Preview asks you for your name and license key, which, since you cannot actually buy Bento yet, isn’t available. So click the Try It button instead. The Preview expires February 14, 2008, apparently just in time for your love affair with database management to end.
Bento took awhile to load on my old test Mac, but when it hit the screen typical Mac-like familiarity ensued. In the ever present Left Column is the Source List—those things you expect and need to track. Address Book. iCal Events, iCal Tasks. Projects. Projects? Yojimbo beware.
The Right Column is the Fields List. Whatever is tracked in a particular database you highlight shows up in the Fields List.
Learn About Bento, Address Book and iCal, Create a Library to store data, Start Using Bento. The Learn About Bento pops up (or drops down) a movie about Bento which explains what takes place in the Source List, the Fields List, and the all important center section, the Records List. Since FileMaker is an Apple subsidiary, we would expect them to follow the corporate mantra to make simple what is complex. That’s Bento.
Create Libraries in Bento to manage contacts, projects, lists, whatever. The next level is Collections, which is akin to playlists in iTunes or albums in iPhoto. In true database form, Records are the center of what you collect for each Collection, within each Library. That’s a start towards making the complex, more simple.
Bento immediately stops being simple with terminology when it uses terms such as Table View and Form View. These are fine terms for Mac users familiar with databases or database entry, but the rest of us will need to add them to our terminology.
One thing that always bothered me about so-called personal databases, was that they were not too personal. Bento lets you drag and drop and re-arrange elements such as the columns in Table View. That makes what you determine important show up where you want it in the display. You can even hide columns you don’t need to see.
Form view is where Bento users add or view individual records of information and the tools are as expected—Add, Delete, Customize. From what I can see of Bento, FileMaker goes to great lengths to educate the Mac user in the ways of database construction and use, which means Bento is not quite like iTunes and iPhoto, which work to disguise all the databasish gibberish from the average Mac user.
Still, the tools in Bento are familiar. The Plus and Minus keys add or delete data, fields, and so on. But the user is not disguised from the 19 different kinds of data that can be stored in Bento, though the number is sufficient to handle nearly any file or data saving requirement. That’s just like FileMaker.
Like FileMaker, you create databases if the templates don’t suit your needs.
I found the linking between Leopard utilities to be more than worthwhile, and a picture of what we’ll see with other Mac utilities in the future For example, add a person to your Bento address list, and the same data shows up in OS X’s Address Book. The same thing takes place to iCal and iCal Events.
I wonder how many Mac users will understand the need to “create a Media type field” to hold specific files or data? Yet, there is plenty to like, especially if you do not want to customize or modify any of the standard templates in Bento.
After a few hours of using Bento, and with a couple of years of FileMaker Pro experience from more than a few years ago, I would consider Bento to be FileMaker Pro Lite, or FileMaker Amateur. Lots of power, plenty of ease-of-use, but not fully professional and not aimed at that kind of user.
Customized databases can be complex beasts, not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for the average Mac user. Bento is somewhere in between a specific function database, and one with more capability and customization features. Click Here for more detail and the download link.
We’re still digesting OS X Leopard, so there’s a requirement to add Bento to the list of more in depth reviews. Databases can get complex very quickly, and there’s no easy way to make manipulating data an easier process. Maybe that’s why Apple doesn’t include iData ‘08 in iLife.