For many people, the thought of using a database conjures fears of mind-numbing data entry within an incomprehensible interface. The makers of Filemaker hope that their new application, Bento, will bring databases down to earth for Mac users.
If you're the type of person who likes to make lists--say, of stuff to do, objects you own, or people to invite to a party--Filemaker Bento can tuck that data behind a tidy dashboard. Because you can tailor Bento to your needs, it could substitute for a variety of smaller applications for niche purposes--such as managing a diet regimen or tracking sales for a home business.
Bento costs $49 or $99 for five users. Unforunately for users of Windows machines or older Macs, this software only runs on Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. For now, Bento is available as a free preview trial, which you can download from CNET Download.com.
When we first opened Bento, it asked if we wanted it to automatically read our Address Book contacts and iCal calendar. We did, and Bento immediately displayed our information within its ready-made page templates. But we weren't sure where to go from there, so we recommend watching the video tutorial.
Bento could be a bit daunting for people unfamiliar with databases. Not everyone knows what it means to Create a Field, for instance.
Using the ready-made templates is the best bet for getting started. You can easily create new libraries, which are collections of data you'd like to manage. These could be, for instance, lists of the students you teach, the wines in your cellar, books in your office, fitness goals, potential holiday gifts, household items for the yard sale, and so on.
Templates for these libraries include Digital Media, Home Inventory, Exercise Log, Event Planning, Time Billing, Equipment, and Issue Tracking. They're pretty easy to set up, and even simpler to tweak if you're familiar at all with the more robust Filemaker database. For example, the Projects template offers drop-down menus for start and end dates, status, and priority as well as fields to drag and drop the names of team members. The Vehicle Maintenance log displays make and model and mileage information. The Exercise Log lists fields for calories burned, pulse, and weather. You can upload photos to contacts, and connect them into any relevant libraries.
You can export as comma-separated text that can be brought into spreadsheet applications such as Microsoft Excel or Apple iWork's Numbers. But we'd also like if you could publish the content Bento manages to a personal Web site or blog. For instance, why not make Bento import and export to your lists of Web page bookmarks, or your blogroll? Bento should add this kind of flexibility, or it could be ignored by those who will turn instead to Web-based tools for anywhere access.
Overall, we find Bento pricey but potentially helpful for those who want to get more organized and who like to play with lists of stuff. We'll report back with a rated review once Bento is a final product and we spend more time with it.