Bento is a database for those who want to keep it simple

By Mark KellnerThe Washington Times

Long ago and far away — about 1982 or 1983 — there was a database called Nutshell that used the simple metaphor of index cards to let you store and use information. I remember Nutshell fondly even if it and the MS-DOS platform that supported it are only fit for computer museums.

A Macintosh version of Nutshell evolved into the successful software program FileMaker, which I think is one of the better database programs around, available for both Macs and Windows-based PCs. However, the sheer force of power that today’s FileMaker Pro represents may be too much for some users who — like those long ago Nutshell fans — want to keep it simple.

What goes around in computing may indeed come around: Not long ago, FileMaker Inc., the Apple software unit that publishes the eponymous database, released what could be called the 21st-century version of Nutshell, only this time for Macs running the latest OS X version and with some very spiffy graphics. Called Bento, the $49.95 program harkens back to what software once was: simple, uncomplicated and really, really useful.

I can’t swear that Bento, a name taken from those simple, compartmentalized Japanese lunch boxes, is a true "flat-file" database, but that’s how it presents itself. Like those long-ago index cards, the primary "unit" in Bento is a record, albeit one that can contain a picture or other graphic, which can then be organized into "collections," all as part of a "library." Using such non-computer jargon makes the process seem easier than it might be otherwise.


Also aiding the process is the inclusion of a bunch of pre-defined "libraries" for personal, business and other categories. Need to create a super "to-do" list? Done. Ditto for inventories, donations, expense tracking, even a membership list for your book club. It’s not rocket science, I guess, but it is the kind of technology many people can use, but would rather not expend the effort to create on their own.

Launching these collections is as simple as a couple mouse clicks.

You then enter data and can save the results, print them out on paper or export them as a "comma-separated value" file for use in a spreadsheet, such as Microsoft Excel, or in a more powerful database such as FileMaker Pro or Microsoft Access.

Mac users who like to fool around with such things will also appreciate that the Mac’s and data will automatically pour into Bento, making it easy for you to edit these files. Any changes make to them in the Bento database program will automatically update in the original applications. This way you or an assistant can do the updating and then have it automatically reflect and sync with your iPhone or Palm-based device, if such synchronization has already been set up.

The export capability also provides a way to move your data if and when a file grows to require more than Bento is designed to provide, such as a product inventory becoming much larger.

All this combines, perhaps even conspires, to become a way in which users can be more organized, more easily, and that’s a good thing. The computer age was supposed to reduce complexity and organize our lives, but somehow that hasn’t automatically happened.

This program may be a small step in the right direction.

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