Review: Bento 4

Database needs on a company or medium-size department scale can be fulfilled with a FileMaker or FileMaker Server license. Data warehouses need Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle or MySQL Enterprise. And your own personal needs are well served with a copy of Bento 4. Whether you want to manage a wine cellar or create a database backup of your iPhoto or Aperture photos, Bento 4 can handle it. With its new printing capabilities, location support, and more powerful search functionality, Bento 4 is slowly moving upwards and getting closer to what many people use FileMaker for.

Bento‘s most needed feature has been added with version 4: printing data — both forms and label printing is now supported. Bento 4 comes with more than 250 Avery and Dymo label formats. You can also create labels, but the problem with that is the same as with most label customisation: the application assumes you want to create Avery-type labels. If you happen to have a Zebra label printer, and you want to create a custom label for that printer, you’re out of luck as there are no page sizes that conform to any of the Zebra label formats available.

Printing dialogue even supports alt-tab to tabulate

When using the standard printing capabilities, though, you can really create good-looking labels for much any purpose. For example, you can set a background image like a logo or text that stays the same for all labels printed. Fields can be dragged to the label or removed from it very easily, you can specify fonts, etc.

Bento 4 is also somewhat environment friendly when printing labels: you can print on partially used label sheets by telling the program where to start, and preview what you did on-screen before printing.

Except for the capability to show on a Google map where an address might be, or the directions to that address, Bento 4 can now also show location data for records, meaning you can track the location where data was entered or modified. Photographers, real estate agents, surveyors, and a whole range of other professions can benefit from this functionality without the need to script or program anything.

Templates can be exported with or without data. If you know no people who use Bento, you can’t benefit from the feature, but if you deal with other people using Bento 4 — for example in a workgroup — this feature will simplify exchanging data dramatically, because you can export an individual library or a group of them. If this would work like in version 3, and you would have to exchange data with others, you would either have to export the data to a different format and lose the styling or design, or share your entire Bento 4 database (all libraries), which may not be what you want.

Locking a form against accidental change

Templates can also be shared with the world; on the Bento template exchange web site. If you have designed a template that you want to protect against accidental changes, you can now lock the form, simply by clicking the padlock in the bottom right corner. Designing forms is said to be easier in bento 4, with an easier placement of fields next to each other. That is true, up to a point. I had to drag several fields multiple times before a field would ‘understand’ it had to sit next to another one. After a while I discovered this was due to the field being to wide to fit next to another without pushing the column divider out of the way.

Creating new fields results in them being added immediately to the form, much like what FileMaker does when you create a database.

Searching for data is one of the most important functionalities of any database, and Bento 4 has some nifty tools in this department which you would normally only expect in higher level databases. Even with the power that is available now, searching is incredibly easy and simple. First off, there is the Quick Search feature. That one just searches for a term you enter. However, there is an Advanced Find (you can access this from the Quick Search field) that expands greatly on Bento’s database querying tool set.

It allows you to look for data based on dates and a large number of variables. The date query is especially powerful as it includes relative dates, i.e. “three days ago” or “today”. Combine this with the ability to save queries as Smart Searches and you can very easily group together invoices with a due date of tomorrow, to name but one example.

A summary row can be shown at the bottom of any list view. When a list contains data that isn’t numeric, the summary row will allow you to select a count of the records in the list. When there’s numeric data the summary row extends to include sum, maximum and minimum, and average. When there are dates involved, the options are limited to count, maximum and minimum (where these stand for latest and earliest).

I think Bento 4 has come a long way since Bento 2 — the last version I reviewed. In my opinion, it now has enough power to manage data on a personal user level efficiently. It can even serve small workgroups of up to 3 people in my opinion. Anything bigger than that would require FileMaker. In that respect I have one feature request to the developers: they’ve made it incredibly easy to get data in and out of Bento 4 (drag and drop will do for many file formats). Why not let users import FileMaker databases that easily?

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