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9/29/2009
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Jake Widman
Jake Widman
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FileMaker Beefs Up Bento

Version 3 of Bento, the "personal database" from FileMaker, adds features that make it a good choice for Mac-based small offices and midsize businesses with modest database needs. Its close integration with existing Mac tools means that getting up and running is relatively easy.

Version 3 of Bento, the "personal database" from FileMaker, adds features that make it a good choice for Mac-based small offices and midsize businesses with modest database needs. Its close integration with existing Mac tools means that getting up and running is relatively easy.Bento has been around since early 2008, and it's always filled a gap in Apple's iWork product suite. iWork offers Pages for word processing and document design, Numbers for spreadsheet work, and Keynote for presentations, but no true database. Bento, which borrows appropriately from the Apple products' look and feel and integrated nicely with other OS X features, was a good match for suite.

But while it's been a capable personal database, it has lacked a few capabilities that would make it really appealing for business use. For one, it limited a business's room to grow: even though developed by the same folks that make FileMaker Pro, there wasn't an upgrade path -- no easy way to migrate an existing Bento database to a FileMaker database. That lack was addressed earlier this year with the release of FileMaker Pro 10, which can import a Bento database.

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As for Bento 3 itself, one new feature businesses will find useful is the ability to share information. Collections of data in Bento are called "libraries," and Bento 3 enables the sharing of libraries with up to five other Bento users on a local area network. Those other users can be give permission to add and update information, or the sharing can be view-only. The ability to share contact information, notes on phone calls, purchase history, and other such customer relations information isn't going to replace a full CRM system, but it'll make it easier to determine who last talked to a customer and reference what they talked about.

Other new features include integration with iPhoto: iPhoto albums automatically show up as data libraries, and you can add fields and information that iPhoto doesn't support and link photos to contacts or other data. (Bento already synchronized automatically with Address Book -- your Address Book contacts show up as a library in Bento -- and changes in one are immediately reflected in the other.) New security features encrypt certain fields, and the entire database and individual libraries can be protected with passwords.

Bento costs $49, with a $20 rebate to existing Bento 1 or 2 owners. At that price, it's a no-brainer for any Mac-based business that doesn't already have a real database solution. (And no, I don't mean a contact list in Excel.)

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