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Jewish World Review
April 18, 2008
/ 13 Nissan 5768
Bento, Simple Database, Shines
Long ago and far away, around 1982 or 1983 according to the online
reference Wikipedia, there was a database called "Nutshell" which 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 believe 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 still, 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 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
Launching these collections is as simple as a couple of 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 AddressBook.app and iCal.app
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.
Naysayers will note that Bento is only available for Mac users and, as
noted, only for those running the latest version of the operating
system. Fair enough, but Apple seems to be growing its user base, at
least a bit, and those first-time Mac buyers are largely purchasing
the newest Macs with the "Leopard" version of OS X, formally known as
10.5, pre-installed. Bento is a worthy accompaniment many users will
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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2008, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com