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Two-dozen templates. You can make a database for anything!
Your life is full of data: the year you bought your car, your best friend’s favorite color, and the name of the books you want to read. A personal database with personality, Bento 2 can track these and any other facts you toss its way. And in the process, these hard details soften by developing relationships with each other. These connections make Bento powerful and—dare we say it?—even a little fun.
Bento is designed to track personal projects, book collections, billed hours, or nearly anything you conceive. However, it distinguishes itself from the database giant, FileMaker Pro, by containing its scope to a single user on a Mac. You can’t collaborate with others over a networked database, something few home users will miss. And while FileMaker allows nearly infinite customization, Bento expertly balances a welcoming interface with many ways to build and configure a database.
When launching Bento, its two-dozen templates first welcome beginners. Premade topics track equipment, students, items for sale, classes, exercise, to-do lists, and more. The always-available editor tools let you easily customize these templates to fit your needs. We pulled out unneeded fields, added new ones, and shuffled the order around the page; the interface even moves existing items around to fit your changes, keeping everything tidy. Bento will import and export spreadsheet data, and we built a few templates from scratch with impressive results.
Integration with Address Book, Mail, and iCal powered much of our appreciation of Bento. One database tracks our editing projects, for example. In its creation, we added extra fields to Address Book cards within Bento, including custom checkboxes and pull-down menus. Then we created a Smart Collection, which grouped all contacts with a certain, active checkbox. This way, Bento sorted all new contacts into our group of writers based on that checkbox. And we dragged the Smart Collection into the editing-projects database, letting us quickly select from the presorted writers. Among other fields, we even created iCal events within the database, color-coded to our needs and published in the standalone calendar.
Relational data creates impressive results. We could look in the Bento Address Book section and instantly see all assignments for a given writer, instead of having to go project-by-project within the editing database. We could even make updates to the editing database within the address card.
Integration with other applications drives much of Bento, but we began to feel boxed in by some of its limitations. An email option lets you drag Mail messages into database entries, but we wanted smarter sorting tools for this feature. For example, we wanted Bento to automatically add all messages from a certain contact with a certain subject line, but that level of configuration isn’t possible. And Bento automatically creates an Address Book group if you manually make a Collection of contacts, but we wanted the same option with the Smart Collections. Also, the introductory interface eventually feels limiting. We wanted more visual customization, to manually proportion database objects. The snap-to-grid style is great to when you’re starting out, but it can often waste space. Other times, the interface omitted features. For example, iCal events with no set time require configuration on a second screen.
Bento rises above these limitations by knowing its audience. The usually intuitive interface allows people to keep track of all kinds of intersecting personal data.Bento 2 streamlines database creation, yet its results still feel substantial. Home users will find all kinds of ways to use the application without running into artificial limits