I used FileMaker Pro before Apple bought it back in the last century. That’s how old I am. FileMaker Pro is the little Mac database that grew up. It’s easy to use, as databases go, and runs on both Mac and Windows. Like many databases, FileMaker Pro also became complicated; so much so that FileMaker introduced a new desktop database called Bento, which only runs on the Mac and the iPhone. Now, there’s a web site which lets Bento users exchange templates with other users. Cleverly, it’s called Bento Exchange.
What Goes Around
FileMaker has been around a very long time, as databases go, first as a DOS application in the 1980s, then as a Mac application.
What’s cool about FileMaker is that the database engine integrates entry forms and data reports, which are normally segregated in other databases.
That made FileMaker easy to use for personal and small business tasks. Features are the name of the game in software development, and FileMaker added plenty through the years, becoming increasingly less personal and more business.
Today, FileMaker is a thriving Mac and Windows database application, but is seldom used by the average Mac user who may need databases. Why? It’s complicated and expensive.
To get Mac users back in the database usage game, FileMaker introduced Bento, billed as a personal database.
I like Bento, but I’m not thrilled with it. Maybe that’s because my Mac life grew in parallel to FileMaker, and I expect more from a database.
Bento integrates well with OS X’s Address Book, iCal, and Mail. If you use Microsoft Excel or Apple’s iWork and Numbers, Bento fits. Bento ships with a long list of templates which cover everything from customer contacts to inventory and everything in between.
Bento also lets you create your own templates, and can be customized further with color coordinated themes. For Mac users who need a lightweight database that can be customized for personal or small business, Bento is a good buy.
The Secret of My Success
Without much high profile competition on the Mac, Bento has become popular, especially so because of Templates.
Bento comes with over 20 ready-to-use templates, but you can also create your own. Bento, like FileMaker Pro, lets you store nearly any kind of file or data; from photos to email to files.
Wisely, FileMaker realized that long term success requires many custom templates that users can adopt and adapt to their own personal or business needs. Such templates are featured prominently on the FileMaker site.
Person to Person
Bento Exchange (not to be confused with the web site Bento Exchange) is where Bento users can go to exchange Bento templates, and information on using Bento. Hey, it’s a database. That requires thinking which isn’t always in supply in our point and click world.
A Bento template is a pre-designed database form, but without any data. A visitor who downloads, for example, the “My Wine Cellar” template, has a beautiful ready-to-use wine tracking form—complete with fields for winery, vintage, price and more—and can enter data for their own wine collection – or copy and paste existing information from spreadsheets such as Excel or Numbers. Plus, templates can be customized to meet each individual’s unique needs.
This type of exchange works in a collaborative way with other Bento users which has the effect of extending Bento’s reach to Mac users, and now, iPhone users.
Visitors to the Bento Template Exchange can browse through the most popular templates, the newest templates, or look through 15 categories including Business, Music and Movies, Finance, and Cooking, Food and Wine. Templates are also searchable by typing a phrase like “soccer team roster.”
Is Bento important to Mac users? The answer is an unqualified yes.
Database requirements vary from user to user, Mac or Windows. Apple does an excellent job of hiding the database complexity of the built in Core Data is OS X, which is used by developers for their applications.
For the rest of us, Mac databases are a hodge podge collection of applications which require a steep learning curve. They’re complex. Bento, for the most part, is not.
Bento also runs on the iPhone, which means you can customize your own database using the Bento Exchange templates, then apply the database to your iPhone. The iPhone version of Bento also has dozens of database templates.
It can run standalone on your iPhone or be synchronized with Bento on your Mac. I’m convinced that synchronization between Mac (and PC) and iPhone is an important, but overlooked feature; maybe a requirement for most users.
Bento Exchange helps integrate a rather powerful database to the average Mac user’s daily routine.