SnapI’ve always had a hard time figuring out just what to do with previous Bento versions. It’s not that it’s a poorly design application or anything, I just had a hard time figuring out how to implement it into my workflow better. With the increase in versions comes a number of tools that have eliminated my problems, and increased the likelihood that it will stick in my workflow. After spending some time on a conference call with some of the Bento team a couple of days ago, I witnessed the real power of the application.

For those of you not in the know, Bento is a personal database. But, before you get all overwhelmed by the implications of the word “database”, you should know that it’s extremely user friendly. You don’t have to set up any database at all, no table creations, not key fields, nothing–the application takes care of all of that.

You have the ability to drag and drop key fields from a predefined list on the left, into the “database”, and from there you can immediately start to populate it. It’s as “drag and drop” as it gets, and that’s where the power lies.

There’s been a lot of little changes to the application, but I’ll highlight the ones that really made the most amount of sense for me.

BentoiPhoto integration

Bento integrates extremely well with your Apple applications. Right out of the box they give you the ability to access iCal’s todo’s, and appointments, Your Address Book, and iPhoto. That’s a pretty powerful hook if you ask me. They’ve made it extremely easy to add additional info to some of the items available in those applications, that wouldn’t be possible in their native applications. What if you wanted to add details to a photo, say for instance a price of a design composite you put together. It kind of makes sense doesn’t it? If you’re showing off a portfolio of some kind you’ll need access to that kind of data. You can’t do that in iPhoto, but with Bento you can add as much information as you need to a photo. This alone has made the application the price of admission for me. It’s going to let me keep track of a lot of info on clients, projects, and other daily tasks that have been real chores lately.

Simple Lists

If you’ve spent any time in databases at all you know just how annoying putting together a list of some kind can be. Originally, in Bento, they had you add a new field for each line. It was pretty counter intuitive. They’ve made it a lot simpler this time around. There’s actually list support. It’s a time saver. You no longer have to keep creating fields for your point form notes.

Table View, Grid View, and Thumbnails

They’ve also spent a lot of time giving you access to your information in a variety of ways that previously did not exist. You can actually view the table information, which would be super beneficial if you’re trying to quickly track a trend, or even make some bulk changes. The thumbnail and grid view’s also let you quickly see information that you might not get by looking at items record by record. Do you want to find the cheapest website design you’ve done? Get a quick list of all the prices attached to a project. Simple.

SecurityShare your Bento information over a network

This is the one thing that really put me over the top with this version of Bento. Again, if you’ve spent any time at all with FileMaker in the past, you’re well aware that you had the ability to share a database over a LAN, if you’ve been lucky enough to mess around with FileMaker Server, you’ll know that you can share the databases across the internet. Bento now let you share your databases over the LAN, just as simply as you’d expect. It’s very much like sharing your iTunes library on a network. That makes this whole software package a real possibility for small businesses. The limits seem endless.

That being said, a part of me wishes that they’d take the sharing to the next level. With everything going “cloud” these days, it seems like the ability to access this stuff from anywhere on the web is a logical next step. It would certainly make my life a little easier.
In speaking with the Bento team, they did point out that a VPN network would sufficiently address these problems, so if you really need access from across the world the options exist. But, it hardly seems like the Bento way.

All in all I think Bento 3 really took the application to the next level. I’d highly recommend checking out their trial version and making the call on your own, but I’ll tell you this much, it’s going to be a major part of my workflow in the near future.

Image Credit: idorionna

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