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It seems like just yesterday that I was demoing Bento 2 at our MacGroup meeting. As a long time FileMaker Pro user I can appreciate what goes into creating a great database. As a matter of fact early on in my career I was a consultant setting up databases for clients. Although those days have past, my need for a good database hasn't. I still use FileMaker Pro to manage the MacGroup member database and it's been working great for years. However, when it comes to my personal database needs FileMaker Pro is probably overkill. This is where Bento comes in. Bento is designed to be a great easy to use database for individuals and small organizations. 

 

Bento3

Why Bento?

It's very visual! The templates are very easy on they eyes and designed well. This makes it inviting to jump right in and start using it.

It's template driven – In most cases you can find an existing template to get you started and still have the flexibility of modifying it to your needs

It's integrated – Bento can tap right into your Mac Address Book, iCal and now iPhoto to grab the content that's already there and make use of it in better ways. For example, some complain that the Address Book is not powerful enough. Maybe so, but with Bento's access to it you can grab all the data from your contacts and use it any way you want. So Bento then becomes your database and Address Book is still there for basic contact management.

 

What's New in 3.0?

A Lot! I was floored by the number of new features. This is definitely a major upgrade. Bento 3 now has:

 

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  • iPhoto integration – this allows you to access all of the photos in your library and albums to include in your Bento libraries
  • Grid View – no longer are you limited to either a list or form view. The Grid view allows you to see a grid of images and/or thumbnails which would be handy for an image intensive Library
  • Related data field now with image thumbnails – The fact that this product has any relational database capabilities at all floors me. However it does and now they are enhanced with image thumbnails. So when you tie two libraries together, you can do it graphically.
  • Image Thumbnails Everywhere – You can also see your image thumbnails in List view and in the Table view
  • A New Table Field – Now your layout can include a Table list of data. This is really handy for consolidating the view of the record. For example, you can have your son's baseball team with each player being the main record, and their stats in the new list field.
  • Image Box – to have the same image, such as a logo on all of your records – duh! Glad this is here now 🙂
  • Security – Hooray – Now you can you can password protect your Libraries. Great when one of them happens to be a holiday shopping list 🙂
  • Multi-user sharing – This is a biggie! No longer are the Libraries just tied to your Mac. You can share them with other Bento users on your local network. You can pick and choose which ones to share and of course with a password.
  • Group Emailing – This now makes it easy to select multiple email addresses in your database (library) and with one click compose a new email message addressed to all of the selected contact. 
  • Copy Forms and Print Blank forms – If you've designed the perfect form in one library you can now copy and paste it into another library to keep consistency. Also if you want to print out blank forms to be filled out "gasp" by hand, you can.
  • 10 New Templates – you can never have to many templates to choose from. Bento 3 gives you 10 new ones including: vacation planner, health record, job search (how relevant in these times!), house search, wine collection, home maintenance, party planner, TV & Movie catalog, user names and passwords (this is great now that the library itself can be password protected) and meeting notes (a great one to sync up with the Bento iPhone app)

All this new stuff and the price is still only $50!

 

Using Bento 3

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As far as using bento is concerned it's as easy as always. The new features blend right in beautifully. The power of Bento 3 is that you're using a database without the complexity of using a database.

 

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Have an iPhone or iPod touch?

If you're a Bento user and you have an iPhone or iPod touch and you want to take your Bento files with you, there's an app for that! There's a Bento App on the App Store that will either work as a stand alone app mimicing a lot of what's in the desktop app or syncing your databases to take them with you. You can read my Bento iPhone App review here and you can get Bento from the App Store here:

Bento

 

The Bottom Line

Bento is a great solution for your individual database needs without the complexity or learning curve of FileMaker Pro. Now with Bento 3's features it becomes an even stronger product and I would be hard pressed not to recommend it to my Mac friends who didn't need the power of FileMaker Pro. What makes it even sweeter is the price! Bento 3 retails for only $50. You can get it here on sale. There is also a Family Pack available here.

UPDATE!  Bento 1 and Bento 2 users can upgrade to Bento 3 for only $29 until Jan. 28. (Also $20 off for upgrading Bento Family Pack.) Upgrade purchases can be done here.

Find out more about Bento here on their site.

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  • Sid Farcus

    Terry,

    Unfortunately, Bento has no Apple Event (AppleScript) support and so cannot be used with automated workflows to do things like printing labels, building documents, transferring information to/from other applications, etc. It even is missing support for Snow Leopard Services!

    • Yep, it’s only $50 too. FM has to keep something for the Pro version. Just a guess.

  • Sid Farcus

    Terry,

    I disagree with your reasoning. Supporting basic system features shouldn’t be considered “pro.” Adding scripting support doesn’t change the UI one bit, and not having Services support is just plain silly. Think of it: should web browsers not support plug-ins or JavaScript extensions (bookmarklets) because those are “pro” features? After all, aren’t most browsers free? They could have “pro” versions that support JavaScript.

    Thanks — Sid

  • Sid, I’m not trying to argue I’m just giving you some rationale that goes usually goes into Software development when you have two versions (neither of which is free by the way so the whole web browser argument isn’t the same).
    You have a pro product that has all of the bells and whistles.
    You have a consumer product that is priced low. You make assessments on what the “average” consumer will use and you build those in. Sorry to say, but I don’t think the average consumer is going to use AppleScript. So while OS services are there AND I AGREE WITH YOU should be built-in, development teams still have to do the work to build it in, test it and support it. So you ask yourself what do we gain by adding these features for a $50 product when “most of our target market” for this app will never use them?

  • Sid Farcus

    Terry,

    You’re missing the point: adding scripting support is not for the customers to write scripts, it’s to allow other applications and tools (that consumers can use) to communicate with Bento.

    For example, suppose you have a website open in Safari and you want to transfer information from the page into Bento. WIth scripting (and Services support), you could select the information and control-click the Service to transfer. Or perhaps you want to print mailing labels with information from a Bento database. With Bento scripting support, you could use a Service to make this possible.

    As far as development support requirements, adding scripting support is actually a major boon for developers — it can be used to automate testing and reduce testing costs and time. For example, Microsoft Office is tested top-to-bottom using AppleScript: .

    As for the amount of work it takes to add scripting support, in the case of Bento, it’s minimal. All that would be needed is support for database, record, and cell objects. Not a lot to ask for. The first version of Bento actually had a scripting dictionary in place, but it wasn’t wired up and for some reason was pulled.

    Thanks for the reply — Sid

  • Sid Farcus

    Link for Microsoft testing lab:

    davidweiss.blogspot.com/2006/04/tour-of-microsofts-mac-lab.html

  • Terry, you might point out that Bento 1 and Bento 2 users can upgrade to Bento 3 for only $29 until Jan. 28. (Also $20 off for upgrading Bento Family Pack.) Upgrade purchase is at store.filemaker.com/US/ENG/RTL/product/view/group/B3U

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  • Andrew

    Terry,

    You didn’t mention whether Bento enables a user to generate a mail merge letter to go to selected contacts (or a group of contacts) in the Address Book, as well as generating labels to go on the envelopes via Avery label templates.

    This functionality was available in ClarisWorks and AppleWorks for years, and I’ve still not discovered anything that can replace it.

    For iWork to really attract me, this kind of basic integration between Bento and Pages is a must.

  • Sid Farcus

    from Andrew: You didn’t mention whether Bento enables a user to generate a mail merge letter to go to selected contacts (or a group of contacts) in the Address Book, as well as generating labels to go on the envelopes via Avery label templates.

    —-

    These are exactly the kinds of abilities that would be enabled if Bento had scripting support.

  • Sid,
    Here’s a great place to request Apple Script support:
    http://www.filemaker.com/products/bento/bento_feedback.html

  • I agree with the comments about not being able to do a mail merge and create a letter. While it sports other great features, the program is sorely lacking for that reason.

  • Debbi

    you guys are very tech savvy so this is a really simple question for you. can i print out a contact/address book from my mac with this program? i can’t get a clear answer from any other website so far. i really need something in print for my computer challenged husband and my not so computer literate self. can you help me?

    • Hi Debbi,
      the short answer is yes you can print out an Address book from Bento. However, the next question becomes “will it be formatted the way you want it?” Only you can decide that and the easiest way to find out is to download the free trial and simply try it for yourself. Then you’ll know what it can and can’t do before you buy it!

      http://www.filemaker.com/products/bento/

  • Debbi

    thank you, terri. i’ll try that.

  • Peter B

    Hi Debbie,

    I guess you know that you can print custom lists, labels & envelopes directly from OSX’s Addressbook – any group or “the lot” if you wish.