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Bento 2 - Review of FileMaker’s Bento 2 Database Software

A Personal Database to Organize Your Life

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Bento 2 - Review of FileMaker’s Bento 2 Database Software

Bento 2.0

Courtesy of FileMaker, Inc.

Bento 2 is the latest update to the Bento database application from FileMaker. Bento 2 retains the same ease of use as the original, which we rated highly. It also offers new features that raise the bar on ease of use. Bento 2 may well be the easiest way to organize your life.

Bento 2’s newest features allow you to link Apple Mail messages to a Bento library, exchange library data with Excel and Numbers in their native formats, and work with libraries using new views and spreadsheet-like functions.

Bento is available in a single-user pack ($49) and a 5-user family pack ($99).

Bento 2 - Installation

Bento 2 is available as a retail boxed version and an online download. The installation process is basically the same for both versions. Load the Bento installation CD in your CD drive or double-click the Bento file you downloaded from the FileMaker web site to mount the Bento image file. To install Bento, drag the Bento icon from the Bento window to your Applications folder.

If you’re upgrading from a previous version, Bento 2 will update each existing database library. During the update process, Bento will create a backup version of each library in the original Bento format. This allows you to downgrade should you ever need to.

While the installation process is simple, the basic requirements for Bento 2 are a bit stricter than for earlier versions. Bento 2 will only work on Macs running OS X 10.5.4 or later. If you’re running an earlier version of OS X, you’ll need to upgrade before you can use Bento.

Note: When you first launch Bento, you may get a message telling you that an update is available. Click the ‘Get Software Update’ button. When the FileMaker web site loads, click the appropriate ‘Learn more’ link for your language to get to the Bento update page. Click the ‘Download Now’ button to download the update. When the download is complete, double-click the file to mount a disk image of the file on the desktop. Drag the Bento icon from the disk image window to your Applications folder. When asked if you want to replace the older item, click the ‘Replace’ button. When the copying process is complete, you can launch Bento again.

Bento 2 - First Impressions

Bento 2 - Review of FileMaker’s Bento 2 Database Software

Bento’s default two-pane display.

Courtesy of FileMaker, Inc.

Bento 2 dropped the three-pane window used in the original version and now sports a sleeker two-pane view that incorporates the list of available Libraries and the Fields used in the selected Library into a single Source pane. Fields are the individual items that make up a record. For example, in the Home Inventory library, the fields include item name, number of, category, condition, value, insured value, and more. A library is a single database designed for a specific task, such as address book, home inventory, wedding planner, or event management.

The Source list also contains any collections you’ve created from a specific library. A collection is similar to a playlist in iTunes or a Group in Address Book. It allows you to organize a large library of data in smaller, more manageable chunks. For instance, a home inventory library could have a collection for each floor or room of your home. You could also use collections to sort your possessions by type, such as electronics, collectibles, or furniture.

The second and largest pane, the Records area, is where all the action takes place. This is where a selected library’s records are listed, either individually or in table form. A record is a group of related items in a database. For instance, a Home Inventory record might contain the item name, value, and location, as well as insurance value and other data; taken together, these items make up a single record.

Bento’s simple two-pane window displays its libraries, collections, records, and fields in a unified interface that’s as easy to use as iTunes.

Bento 2 - Address Book and iCal

Bento comes with a collection of 23 pre-made library templates, ready for you to use. Three of these templates, Address Book, iCal Events, and iCal Tasks, use your existing Apple Address Book and iCal data. This offers a number of advantages, not least of which is the ability to view the data in table format, something you can’t do within the native Address Book and iCal applications. Using Bento, I can view all of my Address Book entries in a single table, rather than click through one Address Book record at a time.

Another nifty feature is two-way data access; any changes I make to Address Book or iCal in Bento immediately show up in Address Book or iCal. Remember Bento’s collections? I can create a new Address Book collection in Bento that contains all of my About: Macs contacts. When I go back to Apple’s Address Book, I’ll see a new Group that Bento created (the Address Book equivalent of a collection).

What’s more, I can leverage all of the information in Address Book and iCal via Bento, incorporating the data into other Bento libraries. For example, my Bento Home Inventory library now contains an entry for our home insurance agent. That entry is actually a relational entry back to my Address Book. If I update the information in either application, both instances of the data will be updated.

Bento 2 - What Bento Can and Can’t Do For You

Bento 2 - Review of FileMaker’s Bento 2 Database Software

Bento excels at keeping personal records.

Courtesy of FileMaker, Inc.

Bento’s primary purpose is to be a personal database that can help you catalog and organize your life. It excels at this function, due to its collection of over 23 pre-built templates that you can easily modify for a specific purpose. You can also start with a blank template, and build your own custom library from scratch.

Bento makes it easy to create new libraries; it’s also easy to customize existing libraries. Its general-purpose nature is one of Bento greatest strengths. But Bento isn’t a good choice for every use. It’s ideal for students, home users, and home office users, but it lacks the more sophisticated capabilities that businesses demand, such as the ability to share database files among multiple individuals, network support, and the ability to add scripting or macros to trigger pre-defined functions.

Focusing on the single-user personal market allowed FileMaker to develop Bento as an inexpensive database application that retains versatile capabilities for the target market.

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