Filemaker Bento

Filemaker Bento

Bento’s simple and advanced searches are fast and powerful.


Say it with us: Bento is not FileMaker. More specifically, Bento is made by FileMaker, but it’s not FileMaker Pro—it’s not in the same ballpark, it’s not in the same league, and it’s just barely the same sport. That isn’t bad, but if you’re familiar with the venerable FileMaker Pro, Bento may not be what you’re expecting. For the uninitiated, FileMaker, a subsidiary of Apple, makes FileMaker Pro, a line of cross-platform database products catering mostly to workgroups of 5 to 150 users.


Bento is FileMaker’s first foray into the personal information management space, and unlike its corporate cousins, Bento is only for Macs (and only Macs running Leopard). Aimed at individuals with relatively simple data management needs, Bento is simple to use and looks pretty good. In its default configuration, Bento hooks into your Address Book and iCal data. We used Bento to add a few custom fields to our iCal events that aren’t otherwise offered, such as a picture and a list of related records. Bento-created fields do not appear in iCal, but changes to iCal-native fields made in Bento are reflected in iCal. Likewise, deleting an iCal or Address Book record in Bento deletes it at the source, a fact that sent us running to Time Machine and resolving to Read The Fine Manual next time.


Bento organizes information in three tiers. A Library is the top tier, something akin to a table in a traditional database. Collections are the second level; they’re subsets of a Library’s records. The makers of Bento suggests thinking of Collections like iTunes playlists. As with playlists, you can have static and Smart Collections. Records are the third tier, and to drag out this iTunes metaphor just a bit further, your records are analogous to songs. We found the nomenclature confusing: Why does Bento have multiple Libraries when iPhoto and iTunes normally have just one?
Once you get all the terminology straight and start entering information, Bento picks up steam. A long themes list is offered for formatting your information onscreen. The quantity and variety of themes will offer something for most tastes, and you can choose a different theme at any time. We got a little grin watching the Core Animation transition every time we changed themes. If only we could design custom themes.


The range of field types is satisfying, too. Create an email field and Bento includes a button to create a message in your mail application. URL fields have a similar link. An IM account field lets you store the screen name and choose the appropriate account type (AIM, Jabber, ICQ, and so on), but the iChat link we expected was absent. Certain fields can repeat as needed. Some folks have one phone number while others have six, and Bento accommodates this nicely. Another cool trick is the file list component—you can drag and drop files from the Finder onto it, and Bento adds the files to the list. When you need to open a file from your list, just click on it. Two components that weren’t particularly impressive were the calculation field and the related records list. Both were anemic to the point of seeming like afterthoughts.


All the data in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t find it, and finding information is Bento’s strong suit. Every view includes a simple search box that works well for quick-and-dirty searches. Like Spotlight, it searches while you type. Unlike Spotlight, it isn’t slow. The Advanced Find is even better. It looks and works a lot like a search in the Finder. String together as many search criteria as you need, and click Find for your results. Advanced Finds can be saved and appear as Smart Collections in the sidebar. Finds are the one place where Bento really hits the sweet spot at the nexus of power and simplicity.


Bento looks terrific, but it limits your ability to customize your forms.


Regrettably, form customization falls wide of the mark. Bento permits the creation and customization of forms for entering and viewing data. While they generally look pretty good, we found the constraints unacceptable. In form customization mode, you can drag elements around, add objects like spacers and dividers, and choose how many columns to spread the fields over. But every object snaps to an invisible grid, making precise control over the form impossible. Text sizing is strictly relative. Choose from five sizes, ranging from “smallest” to “largest.” You want 12 point Tahoma? You can’t have it. When it’s time to print your data, options are scarce. Essentially, Bento prints your form and that’s it. At least let us do address labels.


The bottom line. Bento is a product for individuals with basic data management needs. If simplicity eclipses flexibility among your needs, it may be just what you’re looking for. While we see some excellent potential in Bento, we hope FileMaker will loosen the reins a little in the next version.


COMPANY: FileMaker


PRICE: $49

REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.5 or later

Very easy to use. Many themes to choose from. Spotlight style searching without most of the foibles.

Frustratingly limited form customization. Lackluster printing options.




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Here is a link to a blog with my bento 2 ex[periences.I wonder If somebody knows the solution.


Hidden object

In Bento, you choose customizable forms and a number of containers, each with a specific use. Bento veers away from the more technical database jargon and refers to its databases as Collections in a library and compares them with iTunes playlists. Text entry boxes still use the term fields, like its big brother FileMaker, but Bento includes templates so that you can skip the frustrating design process completely.



I have bought Bento. Used it for about a month. Yes, at times it feels like a (very stable) beta and printing options are laughable.
However, use it as its maker (cryptically) intended and you see things in a different light. I like the related records and related file fields. It allows me to run my small business by having customer contact cards with, contact info from Address Book, the machines they use from a related Library, every contact I have made with any customer, again from a related library, which then also produces a list of all the contacts I have made (a weekly visit report....) and last but not least, a reference to any relevant document like a quotation. Phew, that was some sentence....
It's a similar argument to the MacBook Air whiners- it ain't a MacBook Pro, and this ain't FileMaker Pro. If you want a low cost FMP, get a previous version on eBay.... or plagiarise a copy!
And Bento records look fantastic, making actually want to work with it.... kinda like the MB Air, which I actually held last night and now I am wondering if I could live with it instead of the MB Pro I have ordered....



I was stunned to find this "database" program can't print address labels.

From the Bento support forum:
>Thank you for your post.
>Yes, printing labels is only possible with Address Book application.

Since Address Book can't print 2-line street addresses, they recommend exporting a CSV file, and then importing into another app.



Scott in Japan

From what I see it look a lot like FMP did way back in version 1 and 2. I used it a bit back in those days and really enjoyed it. It will be interesting to see how Bento progresses.



I have not been a subscriber in some time, but if you ran an issue with an in-depth article on real-world uses of Bento, I would buy it in a second. I find Bento an awesome concept, and I would love to use it... but bugger if I can figure how any way that I actually would!

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