Bento 2

July 1st, 2009 Desktop, Software, Tech

Price: $79

Like a version of Filemaker (Bento’s producer) stripped right back to brass tacks, Bento 2 is a painless way to ease yourself into user-generated databasing.

A quick look over the Bento website lists possible uses that include statistics about your pets, a catalogue of the artworks you own, business assets, characters in a book you’re writing, records of charitable donations, party planning, who you’ve sent a Christmas card to, stuff you’ve sold on eBay to and more.

Just how does a database application come with such disparate records set up? If you have any experience in databasing (in which case Bento will be a little bit too basic for you) the answer is that it doesn’t. It’s all about designing records that contain the information you want them to, from predefined field types in this case.

The first thing Bento does when you install and start it is sync all your iCal and Mac Address Book data. You can select for it not to, or to still do so in the background but not show them in Bento. If you leave it to sync and display as the default, adding or modifying records in either application will make the same changes in the other.

But you’ll be parting with your money to do a lot more than just keep two copies of other datasets. Bento is separated into three panes — the list of libraries you’ve created on the left, the records in that library in the main central pane and the data fields each record is comprised of on the right.

Simple add-and-remove buttons in each pane are self explanatory to create or delete libraries, records in libraries or fields in records. After creating a library you create a new record, selecting from about 15 layout templates.

Fields are added to a record by clicking the add button, which brings up a dialogue box containing field types. There are fields for text only such as headings and note fields, dropdown boxes, checkboxes, pictures and media, lists of files elswehere on your system to refer to and more. Think of a record something like a webpage, where you might have text for descriptions, headings and subheads, videos or pictures and form field data.

When a field is created for the current library, it appears in the right hand pane, and you just drag it into the record pane where it snaps it into the template’s layout. It’ll be a little frustrating for designers not being able to resize and shuffle the record elements to their liking, something a future version of Bento could do well to address (at least for our market).

Then just start adding records. Because the system itself is only saving text and file paths to other media, you could create huge numbers of massive datasets and hardly make a dent in your disk space — the idea isn’t to resave anything, it’s simply to present it to you in a user-friendly form. It’s very, very easy to get up and running in Bento as much of it is drag and drop and the tools and controls couldn’t be more obvious.

Bizarrely it’s only available for Mac OS 10.5 or above, which cuts out a good portion of the potential market, but it’s a good way to collect information together the likes of which Entourage Project Center and others have never quite managed.

filemaker.com/products/bento


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