Bento 3 review

It’s hard to believe that, at just under two years old, Bento is already in its third release, but it’s a sure sign that FileMaker is committed to making this inexpensive, personal and SOHO database application your go-to tool for managing many of your digital assets.

While Bento helps to keep your data in orderly compartments, it also enables you to mix, match, and update data from several sources. Version 3 adds new features to help you better organise your data, including integration with iPhoto, sharing data with others on your local network, and securing that data with 128-bit AES encryption.

Photo mojo
If you’ve used Bento before you know that it’s great at leveraging existing information, like Address Book contacts and iCal appointments and to-dos, as well as letting you manage, update, and otherwise manipulate that data in ways that are more useful than is possible in their native applications. Bento 3 now adds iPhoto to that list of linked applications.

Like iCal tasks and events, and Address Book contacts, all your iPhoto images now appear in the library pane at the left of Bento’s main window. Unlike with Address Book and iCal data, it’s not possible to edit or delete iPhoto photos or videos. Generally this is a good thing, as it prevents you binning an original photo by deleting a record in Bento. However, there were instances when we wanted to change some iPhoto info – say a photo’s star rating – but couldn’t because the field was locked and Bento can’t open the image in iPhoto.

Where it shines is cataloguing, organising and linking your photos to other data. For example, if you’re a photographer who uses Bento to track customers and the photographs they buy, all you need to do is drag your iPhoto library to the Bento form you use to track contacts and Bento links the two libraries together. Using that link you can easily match customers with the photos they’ve purchased, and include the dates photos were purchased and the price paid.

The new Grid view provides an overview of all the records in any library and works in a similar way to iPhoto’s Event View. Move the mouse over a record and if it has more than one form associated with it you’ll see that record in all the forms. If you select an iPhoto library, Grid view lets you see all the photos and any information that’s stored in up to four fields that you select.

Table view has also been updated and now includes very small thumbnail images in every photo field. Each of these thumbnails has a tiny eye icon next to it. Clicking that icon or pressing c-Y opens up Quick Look and gives you a better view of the image associated with that record. If you select multiple records and open Quick Look, you can do a fast scan of all the images by using the left and right arrows on the keyboard.

To share or not to share
Bento offers the option of sharing your entire database or a few select libraries with up to five users on your local network. You can choose to allow anyone opening a file to edit and update all your data, excluding iCal events and to-dos, or you can limit access to a database or specific fields using Bento’s new password and encryption options. Encrypted fields display bullets instead of text and, when the fields are locked, can’t have data entered into or copied from them. Bento also lets you lock a database when you step away from your computer and require a password entered every time you open the database.

Bento’s field-level security options work well, but we were able to leave a database unlocked and available to everyone on the network when we thought it was properly secured. This is because, with the exception of secured fields, Bento’s database password only secures the database on the host computer. To secure a database over a network you need to set a password in Bento’s Sharing Preference (Bento > Preferences > Sharing).

There are also several small but useful changes to Bento. Template Exchange is an online collection of nearly 250 Bento templates submitted by Bento users. Download them for free or upload your own for others to use. There’s a better theme browser with 10 new themes, folders for grouping and organising libraries, custom icons for use in libraries, and the option to use Bento to send email to more than one recipient at a time.

However, Bento also has some surprising omissions. There is no way to print labels and you don’t have pixel level control over the fields that you use on your forms, which limits your customisation options.

OUR VERDICT

Bento remains the premiere database application for the SOHO and home user. iPhoto integration, database security, database sharing, and a host of new templates and themes make Bento much more versatile for the small office and small business owner. But it also lacks some very obvious and basic tools, such as label printing and the option to put fields exactly where you want them on a form. That may leave some potential users out in the cold.

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