Filemaker is betting that its new database software, Bento, will please Mac users seeking a multipurpose personal information manager. The application will ship in January 2008 for $49, or $99 for a family pack. A free test drive is available on the Web site of Filemaker, which is owned by Apple.
Like the Japanese lunch box for which it's named, Bento appears to be a tidy organizer. Sorting and searching options look elegant. The software could serve a variety of purposes, such as tracking freelance work gigs, sending party invitations, plotting an exercise regime, cataloging household items, creating libraries of possessions, and even rating stores where you shop or children you might teach.
When you open Bento for the first time, appointments from iCal and contacts from Address Book will flow automatically into the program while also streaming to connected iPhones and .Mac accounts. More than 20 templates and drag-and-drop data fields serve users who don't wish to grapple with the ins and outs of managing a relational database.
Data from Bento can be saved for export as either CSV text, or in the Microsoft Excel or iWork Numbers formats. Judging by a demo with Filemaker several weeks ago, Bento's minimal interface should look familiar to Mac fans.
Macs haven't quite been known as the computer of choice for those looking to wrangle data with spreadsheets and databases. Apple iWork '08 just added the Numbers spreadsheet application, and the package still does not include database software.
For Windows, by contrast, Microsoft Office offers the complex Access database tool. But unlike Access, a heavy-duty research tool, Bento is built to manage the components of your life the way you'd juggle an iTunes library.
Bento's ticket price is $20 less than Filemaker's original plan to charge $69, but I wonder how many users will bite. iLife and iWork, after all, each cost just $79 for three or more applications per bundle. Plus, Leopard is the only operating system friendly to Bento. Still, Bento looked neat to me, and I'll give it a spin to see how well it can organize my sloppy stockpiles of digital data.