Bento, Filemaker, Inc's database for the rest of us, has made quite a ripple amongst the Mac community. Many were interested by Filemaker's approach. Bento was released as a public beta and feedback was solicited before the final release. Others were just pleased by its ease of use and affordability.
Although Bento isn't as powerful as Filemaker, its ease makes is enticing. Using Bento feels like an iWork or iLife applications rather than a database. In fact, in many ways the interface reminds me of iTunes. When you choose New Library from the File menu, you're met with a chooser that allows you to select from 24 templates. From there you can add, delete and arrange fields as you see fit.
In Bento, adding fields is surprisingly easy. You click on the plus button at the lower right and you're met with a dialog box that let's you choose the field you want. Bento will allow you to create text boxes, dates, numbers, calculated fields, check boxes, drop downs and more. New fields then appear in the Fields portion of your window and you can drag it to wherever you like in your layout.
Bento offers integration with Address Book and iCal so that you can display iCal tasks in Bento or add tasks in Bento and have them shared in iCal. That means that tasks or contacts created in Bento can sync with your iPhone. Unfortunately, Bento doesn't sync its forms on the iPhone yet and I suppose we'll have to wait for the iPhone SDK release.
Bento does have some shortcomings. First, you can't drag a graphic, such as a logo, onto the layout. Instead you have to place it in a media box, which looks hokey. Being able to add a graphic was an often requested item on the Bento forum.
You also can't fine tune the different colors in a layout. So if I like the Starfield theme but want the green to be a little lighter or darker, there's nothing I can do. In Bento, the theme you choose is the theme you get. Fortunately, the themes are attractive and better than what most people could develop on their own. Still, I would relish more flexibility.
In one sense, that's not surprising since making Bento too powerful might erode Filemaker Pro sales. But I can't help but wonder if adding these few extra features might not help benefit Filemaker, Inc in the long run by attracting users who wouldn't have used Filemaker Pro anyway.
Although I own Filemaker, I found Bento a delight to use. It is accessible and intuitive and that's what using a Mac is about. If you're a light database user, Bento is the right program at the right price. But if you need something more flexible, Filemaker Pro may be a better choice. Bento is available for $49 and a 30-day demo can be downloaded at www.bentotrial.com.
Review by NCMUG member James Bleifus