Bento is a personal database for Mac users from FileMaker, which makes a popular database application for Macs and Windows PCs. Bento is not FileMaker Lite.
It’s a highly usable, slightly configurable database done the Mac way. Dozens of templates make Bento easy to set up, easy to use, and the iPhone version makes your data mobile. Bento is also a fraction of the cost of FileMaker Pro. What’s not to like? Then why do Mac users either love or hate Bento?
Earlier this week I was checking online sites for new Mac software and came across a link for Bento 3.0.1.
If my memory was correct, I thought the latest version of Bento, out less than a year ago, was a mere 2.0.5. So, I downloaded and installed 3.0.1. Sure enough, FileMaker had released Bento 3.
I checked the FileMaker web site and Bento was still sitting at version 2.0.5. I called FileMaker’s support line and they informed me that the latest supported version of Bento was 2.0.5.
Yet, there it was on my Mac. Bento 3. The next day FileMaker announced Bento 3 with all their standard hoopla, and the accompanying cheers and boos.
Jekyll & Hyde Users
Bento is a big seller for FileMaker, which means it’s a popular and affordable database solution for those Mac users who don’t want to build their own personal database from the highly complex and very configurable FileMaker.
Bento also gets plenty of criticism from Mac users because it’s missing features and configurability found in most real database applications. If you’ve tried Bento and found it lacking, you probably need a different kind of database tool.
Without question, Bento is a personal database, which means it is easy to set up, easy to configure (but with plenty of restrictions), and very useful, albeit based upon finding a template that matches your requirements.
Namesake & Features
Bento is named after the Japanese meal, usually served in a container with side-by-side compartments. The FileMaker Bento is a database which stores your personal and small business data in compartments. The name fits.
Bento 3 comes less than a year after the last version, and not two years after the first version. The price tag is still $49, but previous owners can upgrade for $29.
What does a personal database do? It stores data. In typical Mac fashion, Bento stores data in a visually pleasant, attractive, functional way. Using dozens of somewhat configurable templates, Bento users can track projects and tasks, plan event, maintain a customer database, link photos from iPhoto to contacts, projects and events.
Teachers can use Bento to manage classes, students, course material. Mac users can maintain an inventory, equipment, or personal assets. Bento even doubles as an accounting system to record billable hours and payments.
It is safe to say that the real strength of Bento is it’s a database management application fronted by a wide variety of easy to use templates that fit many different personal and business requirements. The online collection of templates exceeds 250 that can be downloaded for free.
Bento 3 adds a few new features, including integration with iPhoto so you can link specific photos to specific elements in your database.
Data security and data sharing have become big issues for Mac users and Bento responded with new security and new sharing options. A Bento library can be shared with up to five other Bento users on your Mac network.
Of course, no $29 upgrade is complete without more templates. Bento added 10 more, for a total of almost three dozen included with the application. What’s not to like, besides what’s becoming an annual fee of $29 for the latest version?
Spreadsheet data from Microsoft Excel or Apple’s iWork Numbers can be imported into some databases. You can even create a personal database for photographs (admittedly, Bento isn’t much competition for iPhoto).
Sharing Bento libraries comes with a caveat. Each user must have a licensed copy of Bento and iCal events cannot be edited by others using a shared library (which sort of defeats the purpose of shared).
Even better is that Bento has a corresponding iPhone version for $4.99 which syncs nicely to your Mac version. Average Mac users will be entranced by the entry forms and reports in Bento. Themes make it easy to customize, somewhat, the look and feel of each template to suit your own style.
Bento’s Grid View looks like iPhoto’s Event View. The Table View now has thumbnail images in each photo field. Quick Look works on the thumbnail, too.
In all, Bento is a capable, useful, attractive personal database for a Mac user, or a small business using Macs. It is not FileMaker Lite, so if you’re a database hound looking for an inexpensive version of FileMaker Pro, Bento isn’t for you.