updated 12:25 pm EDT, Mon October 27, 2008
Bento 2, personal database
For years, the most popular Mac database has been FileMaker. While FileMaker has a reputation for being powerful and easy to use, it's also geared more towards commercial developers, cross-platform development, or people who need heavy-duty data processing. If your database needs are much simpler, you could still use FileMaker, but you might find the program a bit more complicated than necessary. You could also use the Address Book, which comes with every Mac, but you might find that too limiting. For an easy database that's also powerful enough for more than trivial tasks, consider FileMaker's Bento 2.
A major focus of this new version is increased compatibility with other programs. One particularly annoying problem of using any database is transferring data from one program to another. Since many people store information in spreadsheets, you can now import (and export) data in Numbers, Excel, or text format (comma, semicolon, or tab-delimited).
As an alternative to importing spreadsheet files, you can also just copy rows and columns from Numbers or Excel and paste it directly into your database. Just display your data in Table view, which mimics the rows and columns of a spreadsheet, and you'll see exactly where to paste data to store in specific fields.
Besides displaying data like a spreadsheet, this database also adopts a popular spreadsheet shortcut that can automatically fill data just by dragging the mouse. For example, if you need to type the name of a company multiple times, you can just type data once and then drag the cell down. This automatically fills the data in additional cells without having to type anything at all.
Besides storing data in spreadsheets, many long-time Mac users may still have data stored in the old AppleWorks program. Fortunately, you can now export data out of AppleWorks and import it into this database program without a problem.
Another new feature is the program's tighter link with Mail. Drag e-mail messages out of Mail and store them as part of your database. Now you can link your messages with specific people so you can quickly find all your correspondence with someone. Store e-mail addresses or iChat names and you'll be able to click and send e-mail or initiate a chat without having to load Mail or iChat separately.
To make your data more visually appealing, the program includes a variety of form templates that offer different colors and themes. Rather than force you to view your data either in Table view (rows and columns) or Form view, you can choose a special hybrid view that displays both Table and Form view on the same screen.
If you store street addresses, you can retrieve maps and driving directions direct from Google (as long as you have an Internet connection). Copy and paste these driving directions, store them in your database, and you'll always be able to find a person's location. Linking to Google Maps makes your data more valuable without going through the hassle of loading and retyping data in another program.
For only $49, Bento 2 is still a bargain, and its new features linking to Mail, Google Maps, and spreadsheet files makes this program a major upgrade. If you just need to store names and addresses, the Address Book will work, but if you more database horsepower without the complexity of a program like FileMaker, Bento 2 can meet your growing data needs.