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First Look: FileMaker's Bento personal database for Leopard

post #1 of 39
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Apple software subsidiary FileMaker, Inc. unveiled a preview today of a new database product named Bento. If you've been waiting for Apple to offer an easy to use database as part of iWork, this is it. The product is aimed at consumers and requires Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Here's an in-depth first look at the app.

Named after the traditional Japanese lunchbox tray that organizes food into sections, Bento is designed to similarly act as a multipurpose application for organizing information, from contacts and calendars to projects and events. The company is presenting Bento as a way to organize activities "related to work, home, school and community."

Bento's interface (below) is closer to that of the iLife applications. A Source list on the left provides a listing of Library databases and their subordinate Collections of Records. In the middle of the window is a Records table and Forms display. In a column on the right is a Fields list. Along the bottom are controls to add and remove items from each section, along with a view selection popup for customizing the display layout (below bottom).





This highly simplified interface makes database development approachable for even non-technical consumers. Bento's integration with Leopard also allows it to draw upon the shared pools of information behind Mac OS X's Address Book and iCal. When you open Bento, it uses this integration to display all your existing contact and calendar information. You don't have to reenter data, and information you add or change in Bento is reflected in other applications, including Mail, Address Book and iCal, as well as other Mac-specific applications that extend upon them, such as Marware's Project X.

Using your Existing Data

Bento can display your Address Book contacts, iCal Events, and iCal To Do Tasks as Libraries. Within a Library are Collections. For example, Bento displays any Address Book groups you've already defined as Collections within the Address Book Library. Individual items of a Libary, such as contacts, are presented as Records. This neatly maps the internal database behind Leopard apps in a format familiar to users of FileMaker's desktop database.

Bento presents your iCal Events and Tasks in a useful list view Apple didn't add to iCal itself. By selecting the iCal Events Collection, you can browse your calendar as a list of events, similar to the list view presented by the iPhone. Bento also
allows you to present your iCal events and to do reminders in a database Form view and similarly relate these events together with records in other Libraries.

Each set of Records can be displayed as a Table column, with all entries presented in a spreadsheet-like listing (below), as well as a Form view (above), which displays Records in a customizable page display. Additional Forms can be added and customized, similar to other database products such as FileMaker Pro or Microsoft Access. The difference with Address Book and iCal Libraries in Bento is that you're not creating a new database file, but rather expanding upon the internal databases used by Leopard.



Bento makes this simple by presenting a series of Fields for your Form; in the case of an Address Book Library, that includes the existing contact name, address fields, phone numbers, notes, and other properties. You can then add new Fields just as you would using any desktop database: select a field type (such as text, number, media, time, data), and assign it a unique Field name (below). Depending on the type of Field you select, you are also given other options. You can also get fancy with relational Fields from other databases, calculated Fields, popup menu selection choices, and file listings that can be used to launch documents and open media files.



Once a Field is created, you can drag it into your Form to extend the records being stored in that Library's database. This works for both Address Book and iCal. Entries you add in Bento show up in those apps, and vice versa. This makes Bento a flexible way to build upon the foundation of Address Book to store more information than Apple intended. You can also relate new data to your existing records, and relate other information you track to your existing contacts and iCal events.

Bento's integration with Address Book and iCal also means your contact and event data can be kept in sync with .Mac and the iPhone, although Bento doesn't yet include any additional .Mac sync options for syncing new Libraries of data.

Adding New Libraries

You can also add new Libraries of data using a template-based design that looks very similar to Apple's iWork applications. A new Libary is essentially a new database table, along with a predesigned Form. You can either start with a blank slate, or choose from a variety of predefined starting point templates for managing files and digital media assets, inventory and equipment, time billing, tracking expenses, managing vehicle maintence records, organizing student and class listings, group memberships, customer lists, issue tracking records, and other common tasks.



When you add a new Library, it appears in your Source list. It can then be extended with new Fields, and its Form can be edited as desired, or expanded upon using a series of special purpose Forms. Bento can import data from Excel, Numbers, or from any CSV file. Once imported, sorting and searching data is very similar to iTunes. Perform a search, and you can define the results to be a Collection, similar to a Smart Group playlist, album, or folder.

The Table View allows for easy sorting and quick stats in a Summary Row (below). Depending on the data type of a Field, you can count, sum, average, or pull out maximums or minimums from your Table list.



The Forms editor (below) offeres smart tools for laying out grouped columns and adusting label positions, text sizes, shading, and alignment. Fields can be simply dropped into place in the Forms editor. User selectable themes can impose an overall style that handles layout and color details.



Built For Leopard

In addition to integration with the new Calendar Store, Bento also builds upon other new features of Leopard, including use of the standard Picture Taker panel for adding, cropping and panning photos, and integration with Time Machine to backup and selectively restore individual items from Libraries.

FileMaker is offering a free time-limited preview of Bento at FileMaker.com.
post #2 of 39
It's about time there is a database app for the rest of us!

Can anyone confirm who has downloaded this, if it can export an entire database (Images included) to the web?
post #3 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Feynman View Post

It's about time there is a database app for the rest of us!

Can anyone confirm who has downloaded this, if it can export an entire database (Images included) to the web?

The only option to export is to a .csv file.
post #4 of 39
I've registered to get the preview twice now and still no email with the download link...
post #5 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by jabohn View Post

I've registered to get the preview twice now and still no email with the download link...

Check your spam folder...

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post #6 of 39
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Originally Posted by Kasper View Post

Check your spam folder...

K

I have... and I did a spotlight search for Bento and nothing.
post #7 of 39
That's what they have been doing. I was wondering why FMP 9.5 was such a minor upgrade. Hope they don't neglect FMP.
post #8 of 39
FileMaker is not a consumer brand, and I think Bento should be part of iWork. FileMaker's separate identity from Apple makes sense for selling a cross-platform product but a Mac-only consumer app seems much more Apple, particularly when it's picking up a missing piece of AppleWorks. Granted AppleWorks was ClarisWorks which became FileMaker, but it all goes back to Apple originally.
post #9 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by jabohn View Post

I have... and I did a spotlight search for Bento and nothing.

here

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post #10 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kasper View Post

here

K

Thanks!
post #11 of 39
Bento?

Sounds like a Gas-X or whatever

Another reason for my to upgrade to leopard!
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post #12 of 39
Apple should add it to iWork '08 and change the price to a still very reasonable $99. They can allow current users to upgrade for $20.
post #13 of 39
Someone elsewhere suggested doing a Google search for OpenDoc Bento. I added Gluon as well. Guess what is out there? An article titled "Gluons and the
Cooperation between Software Components" that mentions OpenDoc's Bento format, and mentions that "A Bento object contains a collection of properties and properties contain values which are the placeholders where data is actually stored." Sound familiar?

http://www.iam.unibe.ch/~scg/Archive...t95bGluons.pdf
post #14 of 39
I can't figure out how to select multiple records in Table View and apply a global change to them. It's probably because I'm a DB neophyte.
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post #15 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Galley View Post

Apple should add it to iWork '08 and change the price to a still very reasonable $99. They can allow current users to upgrade for $20.

Sounds good...

Any idea what this is going to cost when it's available? Even a good guess based on precedents?
post #16 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by jeffhrsn View Post

Sounds good...

Any idea what this is going to cost when it's available? Even a good guess based on precedents?

$49.
A family pack of five licenses costs $99.
post #17 of 39
What are people going to use this for?
post #18 of 39
What I want to know is whether this will work with iCal Server and the Leopard Server common Directory. If so this is Wonderful. If it only works with a local database then it's still Good, but not quite Wonderful.
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post #19 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

What are people going to use this for?

Exactly my thoughts! This Bento thing could be obsolete asa Apple starts putting more thought into the seperate apps (iCal, Address book, To Do, Numbers).
post #20 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

What are people going to use this for?

Inventory mostly, databases are best for that. Anything that needs to be kept track of.
post #21 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

What are people going to use this for?

Hmmm, quick editing of their contacts and calendar? I played around with it a little bit and found it a bit underwhelming. When accessing ical data for example, you can only acces and modify a subset of the data. You cannot change the repeats for events for example.

Also, although the functionality sure is nice, in this prerelease both the forms and the table view look and behave very unpolished, especially when compared to the iWork apps. UI-elements look and behave annoyingly different from iWork and much more primitive. Double-click a cell in a table and you get a two-line editing box. Why?? No drag-and-drop of single cells. Why??
Page layout is more primitive than in Numbers and the templates are all a bit dull and un-inspiring.

I have a feeling that this app would feel and behave way nicer if it had been executed by the iWork team at the Apple mothership.

As a matter of fact I think this stuff would be way more usefull as added, and highly integrated, functionality on top of numbers than as a stand-alone app. It is just to different and separate from iWork as-is, but could in principle add some great stuff to iWork '09.....

In its current stand-alone form not worth 49,- IMHO.
post #22 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by dutch pear View Post

Hmmm, quick editing of their contacts and calendar? I played around with it a little bit and found it a bit underwhelming. When accessing ical data for example, you can only acces and modify a subset of the data. You cannot change the repeats for events for example.

Also, although the functionality sure is nice, in this prerelease both the forms and the table view look and behave very unpolished, especially when compared to the iWork apps. UI-elements look and behave annoyingly different from iWork and much more primitive. Double-click a cell in a table and you get a two-line editing box. Why?? No drag-and-drop of single cells. Why??
Page layout is more primitive than in Numbers and the templates are all a bit dull and un-inspiring.

I have a feeling that this app would feel and behave way nicer if it had been executed by the iWork team at the Apple mothership.

As a matter of fact I think this stuff would be way more usefull as added, and highly integrated, functionality on top of numbers than as a stand-alone app. It is just to different and separate from iWork as-is, but could in principle add some great stuff to iWork '09.....

In its current stand-alone form not worth 49,- IMHO.

Just a little confused. Didn't Apple separate these items? Didn't Windows follow suit in Vista? So why is a Apple company looking to integrate like Outlook use to? Maybe this is why it was not included in iWorks. Apple didn't want to be seen directly copying Outlooks integration when they had made such a big deal about how Microsoft had copied their Mail, Address and Calendar programers.
post #23 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by ALPICH View Post

Just a little confused. Didn't Apple separate these items? Didn't Windows follow suit in Vista? So why is a Apple company looking to integrate like Outlook use to? Maybe this is why it was not included in iWorks. Apple didn't want to be seen directly copying Outlooks integration when they had made such a big deal about how Microsoft had copied their Mail, Address and Calendar programers.

This is really not like Outlook at all. It is a database-program where you can make simple databases based on templates. The only vague similarity to outlook is its integration with the data-sources behind iCal and addressbook. There is no link with email-data at all currently.

I think this should be integrated into the iWork/iLife suite, either as a separate app or as added functionality into numbers. Example possibility:

Create a nice database-front-end form in pages, upload the form to your dot-mac account and have numbers retrieve the data from the dot-mac server and create some nice graphs from that. Create your webshop back-and front end, start with some templates and have it up- and running in an hour with apple-like simplicity and style.
post #24 of 39
Someone on another forum pointed out that the download request form appears to be built with .aspx/.NET
post #25 of 39
If this is eventually to be part of iWork, I for one, will not bother using it until it can open, edit and export MS Access format as Numbers does with Excel.

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post #26 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by axc51 View Post

The only option to export is to a .csv file.

Why is it so difficult for a database that has images, to export it to the web? No database program that I know of can do this and I just want to make a very simple database that has two Image fields and four text fields, repeatedly and then to be able to export this to the web. Sounds easy enough!
post #27 of 39
I think Apple had the FileMaker folks release this so that the "general public" perceives it as a "FileMaker Lite" and not some new random iApp. I have a feeling they will sell it as a separate product for a year and then once it has matured a little, roll it into iWork '09.

Apple is not trying to create an Outlook competitor. It is simply an easy way of giving Bento some "out-of-the-box" functionality to work/play with. Think of the Address Book and Calendar as sample projects to give you an idea of what Bento does/could do.

I think Bento is a great idea and makes databases friendly enough that users won't be intimidated to try making their own. Were it free and included with every new Mac, it could be the next HyperCard.

Web export and integration with .Mac would be a great feature and I'm sure is somewhere on the roadmap.
post #28 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Mozzarella View Post

I think Apple had the FileMaker folks release this so that the "general public" perceives it as a "FileMaker Lite" and not some new random iApp. I have a feeling they will sell it as a separate product for a year and then once it has matured a little, roll it into iWork '09.

I have a feeling you are correct. The 'New Library' looks just like the iWork template screens. Apple, rather than create a database application themselves, had their database subsidiary create it for them. I am sure Apple is working on creating a way for Numbers 2.0 to access the Bento databases.
post #29 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by MsNly View Post

Bento?

Sounds like a Gas-X or whatever

Another reason for my to upgrade to leopard!

Ha! Well, I'm guessing they named it Bento after the Japanese Bento box, which is a lunchtime box with a variety of food items in it. Not that that makes a whole lot of sense, either, but it's the only Bento I know of...

I have to say I'm quite intrigued with the idea of a simple database program for the masses, but not being able to run SQL off it doesn't sound so good for an intermediate user like me. I guess Filemaker's more my speed. Should be interesting to see how it does out in the market!
post #30 of 39
Very easy to use database for the home user who has non-industrial strength needs. It would be right at home in iLife or iWork.
post #31 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

If this is eventually to be part of iWork, I for one, will not bother using it until it can open, edit and export MS Access format as Numbers does with Excel.

It never will. AFAIK, there isn't a non-Microsoft app that can read Access databases. It's a Microsoft secret file format...

Dave
post #32 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave K. View Post

It never will. AFAIK, there isn't a non-Microsoft app that can read Access databases. It's a Microsoft secret file format...

I don't see Apple legitimizing Access either.

This is really too bad--Access is the (one) great product MS makes. It isn't perfect (the presupposition that all data belongs in one huge file is a little obtuse and inflexible, not to mention substantially limiting), but it is surprisingly friendly and customizable, especially for an MS product. However, there is NOT ONE Apple-compatible database as easy to setup and customize. Not FileMaker, not 4D, not OpenOffice. I know, I've tried all three. If you're a good enough programmer (which I'm not), possibly RealBASIC has the custimizability (though the RealDB is just a stand-in for a beefier engine). Presently, I'm running my MS Access databases... in Access through Virtual PC. It's not the ideal situation, but it's the best one for the best product I can avail myself of.
post #33 of 39
So has anyone figured out what 'Bento' is supposed to mean?

Can we start the renaming contest now, or should we wait till it's ready to be part of iWork?
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post #34 of 39
Bento is a Japanese word for a kind of boxed lunch. The food is packed so that each part of the meal is in its own section within the box. I guess the parallel with the app is that it brings several different sources of information (i.e., the food) into a single interface (i.e., the box). Having lived in Japan, I like the name.
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post #35 of 39
The screen shots look very like Entourage Project centre...

Is there any difference?

And can Bento use Entourage data?
post #36 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by ranum View Post

Bento is a Japanese word for a kind of boxed lunch. The food is packed so that each part of the meal is in its own section within the box. I guess the parallel with the app is that it brings several different sources of information (i.e., the food) into a single interface (i.e., the box). Having lived in Japan, I like the name.

and the ui sort of looks like a bento box. cute name for it. as you say, it also implies order and organization.
post #37 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

What are people going to use this for?

I'm running a political campaign. We're using FileMaker Pro and the Donations application from FMI to manage our, well, donations. And we've got a very powerful web-based database that we use for our voter file.

But I've also go lots of needs for other, smaller databases. I've started building them in Bento. Today, I moved my press contact list out of Excel and into Bento, where I can easily tag different media by type (newspaper, TV, etc) and community (African American, GLBT, etc), and then create Smart Groups that pull out the various communities I might need to focus on. And that's just with ten minutes of work building the database fields, importing and then designing my Form view.

Now, I can see some ways that Bento could be limiting, but building these quick and useful databases in Bento is far and away better than doing so in FileMaker Pro. Those of use who need data crunching needs that are just a bit beyond Excel's simplistic data management set will find a lot to like in Bento, I imagine.
post #38 of 39
Bento's been out for a while now. Has anybody seen an indepth review comparing Bento to Filemaker?

I'm evaluating a couple of projects here. If I choose Bento, I don't want any surprises later on.
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post #39 of 39
I think Bento should be part of iWork. FileMaker's separate identity from Apple makes sense for selling a cross-platform product but a Mac-only consumer app seems much more Apple, particularly when it's picking up a missing piece of AppleWorks.

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