Bento is a new database app from Apple by way of FileMaker.
It looks and works like the other iWork apps as well as iTunes. Expect that same Apple polish.
It offers great templates to get you started or just to see what it can do.
If you haven't used a database app before, you may need to just try it to see the possibilities.
An Introduction to Bento, the Missing Database App iWork Should HaveCategories: Mastering the Mac
Nowadays it’s really easy to get yourself overwhelming amounts of data of any kind like phone numbers, addresses, passwords, photos, videos, cooking recipes, etc. And we all have several personal and professional projects that we’d like to see born, grow and mature as successfully as we imagined them at the beginning, and without a doubt we’d like to be organized enough so we can accomplish those goals we’re setting for ourselves on daily basis. Now there's a "Mac" type of database program that can help.
Bento is a software application that can become handy when you want to organize all the data you have in every other program, handheld device, in your mind or even on a piece of paper. It is based on FileMaker, a really good database product that has been around for many years at the service of the professionals, now bringing an approach to the end user with a personal database, which is “as easy to use as your Mac”.
For those of you wondering what a database is useful for, think of iTunes. iTunes is just a database app specific to organizing and displaying music and videos. And Bento works just like iTunes, but it is more flexible in how it looks and the type of data it will hold.
If you are a switcher, Bento could be viewed as the Mac version of Access. It could be the missing piece from iWork. And considering it's only $50, it's a great value if you need that capability on your Mac.
Bento has been exclusively designed for Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and it’s really integrated with it and its native applications (such as Address Book and iCal). Like the other iWork apps, Bento allows you to select from different good looking themes/templates and it’s highly customizable, which makes it very attractive to the advanced user.
How can you use Bento
Bento can be really helpful in any task that requires some kind of organization and data management; making it easy to put together data from all sort of sources like web pages, personal notes, books, magazines, recorded interviews, numbers and excel sheets, etc.
The strength of the application lies on two main features: ready-to-use templates and built-in links to Mac OS X Address Book and iCal. These features make Bento a very customizable app, and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be able to fit anything you need into it.
Bento allows you start a project from library templates which gives you an idea of what are the most common tasks you can accomplish with it; those tasks are: (general) projects, contacts, to do items, events, files, inventory, event planning, time billing, home inventory, expenses, exercise log, vehicle maintenance, classes, digital media, student’s list, membership list, products for sale, equipment, issue tracking, items sold, customer, donations, notes and a blank canvas so you can set up you own idea from scratch.
A database can be defined as a structured collection of records or data that is stored in a computer so that a program can consult it to answer queries (questions). The records retrieved in answer to queries become information that can be used in several ways. Since Bento is a (simple but powerful) database application you can store any type of information in it, and thanks to its flexibility you can also change and rearrange easily all the information you may have already stored at any time.
What else can you do with Bento? I can think of a few examples where you can use it: wedding planning, loan payment management, travel planning, clients information, web projects organization, photographic portfolio, garage sale, rock band touring, next restaurants to visit, list of applications to install in the lab machines, house expenses control, office supplies control, university selection, student’s list and grades, etc.
I’ve been using Bento for a few weeks now in two different projects, that could be anyone projects, and I’d like to comment about my impressions as a beginner with this application.
My First Project
I found Bento when I was looking for a travel planning application for my Mac; I searched the web for many hours and posted a few “help me please!” in every other forum. I found some good programs for Microsoft Windows® that work along with GPS gadgets but that didn’t exactly meet my needs because:
- I have no GPS (and I’m not planning to spend money on one).
- I really wanted it to be Mac OS based and not Windows® based.
- I didn’t want to spend a big amount of money on software that I would only use for one purpose.
Finally, a good friend of mine at My First Mac Forums recommended me this general database app, that could be useful for planning the trip and my journey with Bento began.
I must say, when I downloaded and installed the (trial) application, my impression wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. Even though it’s without a doubt a really simple and easy to use program, and I had already watched the online video tutorials, I couldn’t find myself in it. I didn’t know how to put everything I had in mind in those libraries and collections, I couldn’t tell this Bento “guy” how I wanted to manage my information and it was like we didn’t speak each other’s languages.
I closed the application and resumed my Microsoft travel planning software download. I was convinced that nothing could be better for this trip planning strategy that a specific program designed for that purpose.
I can’t really tell if it was the (death) slow internet connection or the fact that I knew I had to run the virtual machine with Windows® that made me reconsider using Bento one more time. I opened it again, re-watched the online tutorial (I’m really lazy to read the manual) for a few minutes and tried really hard to think the way Bento wanted me to think. Suddenly it got to me, I started to see how I could fit those pre-elaborated libraries so I could storage every little detail of my trip in them.
What did I see the second time that I had missed before? I can’t really tell as I wrote before, maybe I just made an honest effort this time to understand how the application works and I followed carefully the online tutorials, which to me are the key to understanding the application and its workflow. That would be the point for all of us beginners to start.
And I have to say that it was then when the magic began! It turns out that the Event Planning library had almost everything I needed to save the information I already had in a trillion web pages with beautiful pictures, web links, dates, duration, tasks, etc. When I didn’t want a field I just erased it and the whole database adapted to this new layout.
I’m getting excited now, but… How about the cities I want to visit, the airlines, hotels, and restaurants? Can I fit them all here? Are they going to be related? Of course I can and of course they will be. Every single event is added to iCal and every single address, phone number and zip code is added to Address Book.
So I have to admit it’s starting to grow on me this Bento “guy”. Let’s see what else can “he” does for me. I’m a greedy user now and I want to storage some really great videos of Italy I found on the web; so I go again to the Libraries to see what they have to offer. I add a Digital Media library and the rest is history: photos, videos and maps with the wonderful tools we’re used to in iPhoto and iWorks that make everything really easy and my trip is getting some shape already.
I repeated the exercise this time with Expenses and Luggage and somehow the application is my friend now, it’s really helping me organize every single detail no matter how relevant it is because I have the star rating system like iTunes, priority drop down lists, smart collections that tell me which of the 100 hotels I stored are the best (based on my criteria of course), drag and drop form fields, table view, form view, detailed view, spotlight like search engine and so on.
To this point I have found a way to organize my trip information with a general-purpose database application that costs only a fraction of what I had to pay for the other program I was considering. So.. As Steve Jobs would say: General-purpose database application for a fraction of the cost… General-purpose database application for a fraction of the cost… are you getting it? … How long could it take me to use it for everything else? You’ve guessed right! I already had so many different projects to shape into the Bento way of thinking (which is now actually my own way of thinking) that I didn’t know where to start.
When you give yourself the time to see the different libraries based on templates you can right away identify easy ways to start organizing all the data related to general projects, contacts, to do items, events, files, inventories, time billing, expenses, classes, digital media, products for sale, issue tracking, customers, notes, etc.
The limit is your imagination and when you notice that Bento is only on version 1 it’s not hard to figure out the possibilities for future versions of the application. User’s feedback is really important at this time for the FileMaker guys so they can improve it and include every single feature necessary to make it even more robust, integrated and efficient.