Make slick-looking databases of just about anything

Bento is a database app from the makers of Filemaker with plenty of great features, but its deliberate lack of focus may make it difficult for people to grasp its usefulness.

Bento is a database app from the makers of Filemaker offering plenty of great features, but its deliberate lack of focus may make it difficult for people to grasp its usefulness. Bento is loaded with templates to create databases of people, places, or things using nice-looking graphics. The interface takes some time to get used to, but with a little poking around (and once the major features become clear), the true power of Bento starts to materialize.

Bento can be used to catalog just about anything in any number of ways. Comic book collectors could use the program to catalog their collection, for example, complete with pictures, short summaries, and more, all in an aesthetically-pleasing interface. You might also use it to search for a new home, adding all the information, addresses, prices, and pictures of locations making it easy to compare houses against each other. Really any sort of collector or person trying to catalog similar items could find a use for this program. Bento comes with a large number of templates that cover many hobbies and business-related activities, and there are more user-made templates you can browse through at the Web site. Everything from showing more info about the players of your football team to cataloging your DVD collection are great examples of uses for Bento. But perhaps its amazing amount flexibility is its primary weakness because people can't immediately see what use they would have for the program.

Bento works seamlessly with Excel and Numbers making it possible to import information to fill out your templates. You also can import contacts and your personal calendar to display the information in unique ways. Plus, you can share Bento databases, allowing others to add information to your template, making it great for collaboration on a project.

Overall, we think Bento is a solid database program made easy by a largely WYSYWIG interface. The trouble with Bento is that it is not immediately clear why it is useful, making this great program a sleeper hit that remains under most people's radar.

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