Review: FileMaker, Inc. Bento 2

Bento 2 is an easy to use information management tool for everyone. (February 15th, 2009)

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Product Manufacturer: FileMaker, Inc.

Price: $49 US

The Good

  • Price. Easy to use. New easier to read templates. Import and Export features expanded.

The Bad

  • Cannot change font style and color within templates. Some Bento fields are not supported in Address Book or iCal. May take work away from some FileMaker developers.

Bento is a personal database by FileMaker, Inc., makers of the FileMaker family of databases. While other software companies release updates that are more complex and difficult to use, FileMaker has gone against this trend with Bento 2.

Bento is different

Bento 2 helps organize personal information for Macintosh users who are normally reluctant to use database products. While Bento is database software, it goes out of its way to hide that fact. It lets you organize personal information the way you want and keeps the complex parts well hidden. Bento is a hybrid database, because it acts like a flat file database, yet includes some linking (relational) database abilities. Bento organizes your information into Libraries and Collections, which look very similar to how your iTunes playlists are organized.

Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.4 Required

Bento takes advantage of technologies introduced to the Mac community in Leopard. Some of these technologies are Core Animation, Advanced Find, Image Kit, and Quick Look. It has direct two-way communication with Address Book and iCal. You start by choosing one of the 24 included professionally designed templates. These templates include predefined forms and fields, but are fully customizable by just dragging and dropping or pointing and clicking to make your information appear the way you want and where you want it. This includes limited editing of fonts and colors.

Bento 2 adds these new features

  • Apple Mail integration, for instant access to mail messages, which you drop into a Message List field.
  • More Spreadsheet like behavior, with fill-down, plus point and click data entry in cells, similar to Microsoft Excel or iWork.
  • Direct Numbers and Excel support, in which you can import and export or copy and paste portions of a spreadsheet.
  • Import and Export of tab delimited files, so Appleworks users can save their files in Bento. Previously Bento supported only comma-delimited files.
  • You can share templates or download new ones. You simple import or export them to use.
  • Split view lets you see detail and summary pages in one window, table, or form view.
  • Easy one-click field customization, as long as you remember to click the field name and not in the field itself.
  • With an Internet connection, one click access to Web Maps and iChat.
  • More printing options, including a new command to print more than one record per page, plus a Fit to Width printing option.
  • Ten more theme layouts.

Initially, Bento opens its Home dialog in which you choose from four options as shown in the figure below. It's recommended that you click the Learn about Bento area to learn all about the new robust features. This is the same as in the original Bento.

Bento screen


Bento Opening Window


The second button, Address Book and iCal lets you set up Bento's additional functions in Leopard's iCal and Address Book. When you open your Address Book collection, Bento automatically enters any new Address Book entries. Put an event in iCal and it appears in your Bento iCal Events collection. If you put your birthday list into one of Bento's iCal event collections, the information appears in iCal along with any notes you enter. You can turn this feature off in the Preferences dialog if you do not want Bento updating your Address Book or iCal events.

You can manage, view, sort, and print your Address Book and Calendar information in ways not allowed within these programs. These are very compelling reasons to use Bento. However, when you add additional fields in Bento that are not supported in Address Book or iCal, such as an RSVP field for a party, these fields are only displayed in Bento. If you have an active Internet connection, Bento automatically puts connection buttons in the appropriate fields to access the Internet. For example, you can start an iChat session with people in your Address Book that have chat addresses on AIM, Jabber, MAS, ICQ, and Yahoo with a simple click on a chat icon. When you create a database, you can choose an IM Account field and set the service you want to use in the options.

Bento Chat Field


Chat Field in a Database

Templates and Themes

The templates are divided into 3 Categories: Education, Personal, and Work, plus a Blank Template. There are templates for Projects, Contacts, To Do Items, Events, Files, Inventory, Event Planning, Time, and Billing, to name few. Bento also imports and exports data from spreadsheet programs with no need to map out the information. You can arrange or view your information in Table View or Form View, and sort on your field of choice. There is an active user community that contributes new templates and themes that further extend the program's usefulness. Most of these templates are free, and the site may be under new authorship soon, but it is certainly worth a look: Bento Users.

Bento 2 Templates


Bento 2 Templates


Every template can appear in any theme. These professionally designed layouts include complementary colors and fonts, so you can view your information easily. New themes include some creatively named layouts that look great, such as Swimming Pool and Handbag.

Bento 2 Theme


Bookworm Theme Sample Record from FileMaker


The best part is that if you don't like your current theme, you can change it on the fly. When you choose a new theme, it is applied before your eyes, using a water-like transition. It's fun to watch.

Bento 2 Theme Switch


Bento 2 Theme Switch in Progress

Import and Export Data

The addition of the tab-delimited data import and export functions help increase the Bento's usability. This easy to use feature works well, and the screens are so clear, even a new user should have no problem. You can choose the style report to export in the Preferences dialog, as shown below.

Bento 2 Preferences


Preferences Screen


When you import data, you can choose which fields in a record to import and what in fields you want the data stored. If you have no database created, the import function can also create a new database. You can choose to import the data from comma and tab delimited, Address Book, iCal, Excel, CSV, and Numbers.

Bento 2 Import


File Import Dialog


I recommend anyone that has Bento 1 to upgrade to Bento 2. The additional features make it well worth the $49.00 price. I was able to replicate a complex FileMaker 9.0 database that took 6 weeks to create, in under 10 minutes in Bento. There is no upgrade path for users of Bento 1, but Bento 2 automatically upgrades your Bento 1 databases and makes a backup copy of them. If, for some reason, you need to go back to your Bento 1 database, FileMaker includes instructions on a web page. Bento 2 supports the English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Dutch languages.

If you want to learn more about how Bento works, FileMaker provides a web site with lots of video tutorials, that is also accessible from the opening splash screen. This is truly an easy to use information management tool for everyone.

Note from the Editor: Per request of users, I'd like to note that FileMaker, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple Inc.

by Barry Porter and Ilene Hoffman


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