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Summary:

The whirlwind development of FileMaker’s consumer database software continues with the release of Bento 3. Bento 3 adds several new features, including shared libraries, iPhoto integration, security options, and best of all, an upgrade price. First released in November 2007, Bento was supposed to be the […]

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The whirlwind development of FileMaker’s consumer database software continues with the release of Bento 3. Bento 3 adds several new features, including shared libraries, iPhoto integration, security options, and best of all, an upgrade price.

First released in November 2007, Bento was supposed to be the database for the rest of us, touting ease of use over the flexibility of complex relational database applications like FileMaker. Bento 1 was priced at $49, as was Bento 2, released just over a year later. That price caused some consternation among Bento 1 users opining Bento 2 was the “real” first release. Apparently FileMaker has listened, and is now offering current users of Bento a $20 discount. While the price for new users remains $49, Bento 3 has enough “new” that those using or needing a simple database application should at least consider the free trial.

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As to what’s new in Bento 3, the first thing you see is a redesigned Template Screen. Bento 3 adds 10 new templates, bringing the total to 35, as well as a direct link to the Bento Template Exchange. The online exchange has nearly 300 database templates created by users and developers at FileMaker.

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The biggest change to the interface of Bento 3 is Grid View. While database users will be familiar with the spreadsheet-like Table View, and Form View for individual database objects, Grid View is reminiscent of iPhoto Events. If there is a single image in a record, you see a thumbnail, with multiple images being cycled through via mouseover. This is actually pretty useful, be it with home inventory or recipes. If there are no images, you can look at a thumbnail of the Form View, which is not so useful. Something else that is useful is iPhoto integration.

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As a serious iCal user, the seamless integration Bento affords is invaluable. As an example, Bento allows me to create Smart Collections of events, like auto maintenance or trips to the vet. Not only can I add fields in Bento, like cost, but I can edit fields that iCal uses. Now, Bento has added iPhoto to the list of integrated OS X apps: Address Book, iCal, and Mail. Unfortunately, what happens in Bento, stays in Bento with iPhoto integration. While I can associate new record fields with photos in Bento, I can’t edit iPhoto fields. Anyone who struggles with iPhoto’s awkward keyword editing understands how big a letdown this is. To balance that letdown for me, we finally have sharing in Bento 3.

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To those who bemoan the lack of shared, editable calendars with iCal and MobileMe, Bento 3 appears to offer a workaround. Bento 3 sharing is a lot like iTunes sharing over a local network. It’s as easy to set up as the preference pane above, but even more useful. Up to five people, each needing their own copy of Bento, can edit shared databases. While I have not tested this yet, I’m assuming that editing iCal and Address Book data will be reflected for respective users.

The last big addition to Bento 3 is the option of database security, but there are numerous other small enhancements that can be experienced in free trial. Bento 3 requires OS X 10.5.7 or 10.6.1, costs $49 (or $29 for qualifying Bento 1 and Bento 2 users). There will also shortly be a new release of Bento for iPhone, free to current users and $5 for new users.

  1. The biggest gripe I have about Bento is the smug way it automatically taps into my contacts, calendar etc. without my say so. I used to do a lot of work with Filemaker and loved the way I could quickly create a great looking and intelligent database. While Bento makes it even easier to have a fantastic look, its integration is why I no longer have the app on my iPhone. I don’t use iPhoto so the integration there is no use. Let’s hope they don’t try to intgrate it with Aperture.

    On the upsided I think the template sharing is a great step forward – the lack of this was part of the reason I waited until Bento 2 – which still didn’t have it, but at least I only have to shell out for an upgrade. I’ll think about it for a while first though.

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    1. Under the File Menu, there is an option for “Address Book, iCal and iPhoto Setup” that allows any/all of these to be excluded from Bento.

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  2. I don’t see the benefits of this software. What’s it’s primary job?

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    1. Are you asking what the point of collecting, organizing, and accessing logically related information through database software is, or how Bento does that? I’ll assume the latter and give a few personal examples: home inventory, recipes (on iPhone, too), tracking my wife’s migraines from iCal, as well as auto maintenance, vet trips, an event log from our identity theft experience, my TAB articles, easier Address Book editing. Those are a few of the things I do with Bento. I’m thinking about what I want to do with iPhoto.

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  3. My biggest issue with Bento has been the lack of real integration with the Mail application – real time/no muss/no fuss functionality a la Entourage.

    Has this been addressed?

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    1. Mail integration is, in my opinion, even weaker than iPhoto. You don’t even get a list of folders you’ve created in Mail mirrored in Bento’s organizational pane. It’s pretty much drag and drop messages into Bento, but you can’t edit them or delete them from Mail like you can with Address Book and iCal data.

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    2. The main capability that I am looking for is to send an email from within a project/database and it becomes part of the database without having to manually drag and drop it. Likewise, identify contacts within a project and emails from then automatically go into the project. That’s one of the most valuable features of Entourage for me. Bento seemed to treat email as an afterthought last time I played with it.

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    3. Mail integration is important to me as well. What Andy says below is what I am looking for too, (to be able to send an email from within a project/database and it becomes part of the database without having to manually drag and drop it.)

      Is there going to be a version that can be shared on line so I can have multiple users viewing and using the same data.

      The only other aspect is that I’d like to be able to lock the items on the page so no one, including myself, don’t accidentally delete or move anything.

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  4. I’m a little stunned that there is no real network sharing in this release. I’m a long time user and have spent a lot of time on the bento forums and by far one of the most requested features is to be able to work on a database from multiple locations, Home and Work for example. I’m a teacher and I use this product every day. I and many others have relied on hacks to the share the bento file between two or more computers. Sharing over the LAN is nice but, really I can walk to the computer downstairs to make my entries. I cannot lug my iMac back and forth from my classroom desk to my desk at home. Sure I can put it on my laptop but what about when I’m at one of my desks. I’d like to be able to put the bento file on a WebDAV server and edit it from multiple locations, or put in Dropbox and then all computers are updated simultaneously.

    Forgive the rant if I am misunderstanding the new sharing feature.

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    1. Set up a folder in dropbox, back up bento to that location the name will look something like this “Bento Backup – 2010-01-21.bentodb”. Edit file name to “Bento.bentodb”. Now quit Bento, restart Bento while holding down the alt key, a box will pop up giving you the option to browse to the file you created in dropbox and make it your default data base location. Now restart bento on all your other computers and point bento to the same database file on dropbox. A word of warning only have bento open on one machine at a time and of course choose one machine to do regular dated backups to another folder on dropbox just in case.

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    2. Just had another thought only sync an iphone to one computer

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      1. I have read your syncing email and was wondering if something like that could work on my hosted Exchange Server. Currently Bento cannot see either my address book or Ical since they are on exchange. Do you have a workaround for this?

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  5. I would be grateful if anyone can tell me whether Bento 3 allows a user to relate 2 or more user created tables together (other than information in iCal, iPhoto, or similar Mac programs). For example, can I create a database of classical sheet music, where I have a table for “composition” (with fields for title, composition date, etc.) that relates to other tables for “composer” (with fields for the composer’s dates, nationality, etc.)? Or does Bento really just offer one big table with the ability to drag and drop photos from iPhoto into it.

    Thanks.

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  6. Does Bento version 3 let us create our forms using varying font styles and sizes and colors? I’ve found it unconscionable that in version 2 we have not been given these capabilities.

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  7. Bento is a very limited database program, compared to Filemaker. There are some basic key features which are missing even for a program as cheap as this one. If you are looking for database software that is going to tackle your data with some serious functionality then steer well clear of Bento. On the flip side, if you are a home user or small business user that wants an easy to use Mac database program with simple features to organize and track various elements of your life and business, then Bento will fill that roll nicely.

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  8. I am a pilot by trade and have been seeking database software that can compile all of my flying into one location. Bento 3 can do that quite easily but cannot do anything with it. If I want to see where I have flown, who I have flown with, flying totals by month compared to other months or years, hours on a type of aircraft, etc… Bento 3 does not seem to be able to present it, especially in a graphical form. Is that what FileMaker is for, at 6 times the price!! I have just come over to the Mac and love it!! but I find myself looking at Microsoft Access as one possible programme to compile and present my data. Disappointing really…

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    1. The simple answer is yes. Filemaker has been around since the early 90’s and is much much more robust than Bento. The FM community seems a bit miffed that many of these enhancements are going into Bento and not into FM. FM is a true relational DB. The problem with FM is there is a rather steep learning curve on the front end of the product, unlike Bento. If there was an easy way to get into FM development (aka Bento) then it could probably grab more marketshare once there was a growing user base… perhaps that is why we are already on Ver 3 in less than 2 years eh?

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  9. im trying to share my database on bento 3.0 through a web site , i want to share it from other networks by accessing the database through a web site is that possible ? pls let me know , and tell me how if you know .

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  10. Template sharing is definitely one of the best features of Bento. I found a good templates sharing site at: Bento Templates

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