Review of FileMaker Bento 3 Database Software

If Only Organizing Your Life Was This Easy

Bento 3 - Review of FileMaker Bento 3 Database Software
Bento 3. Courtesy of FileMaker, Inc.

Bento 3 is geared towards consumers, home-based businesses, and small businesses who need a capable database for organizing information, tracking projects, planning events, and keeping inventory, but who don’t need the high-end features or cost of FileMaker’s flagship product, FileMaker Pro.

Bento 3 offers new features, including integration with iPhoto, new security options, new view options, and the ability to share Bento libraries with up to five users on a local network.

Bento 3 is a must-have upgrade for current Bento users, and a must-look-into if you’re shopping for your first database software.


Filemaker has ceased offering the Bento database product in the summer of 2013. Filemaker continued to provide support through the summer of 2014. At this point Bento is obsolete, however, the features and style of the Bento database can be found in similar applications, including Records for Mac, one of my software picks for 2015.

Bento 3: Installation

Bento 3 is available in a retail (boxed) version and as an online download. I chose the download version for this review, but both versions follow the same installation process.

Load the Bento installation CD into your CD/DVD drive or double-click the file you downloaded from the FileMaker web site. You will be presented with a window that contains the Bento application and a folder that represents your Applications folder.

Simply drag Bento to the Applications folder icon.

If you’re upgrading from a previous version, as I was, then the first time you launch Bento 3, it will create backups of all your older library files by copying the files and appending the phrase ‘UpgradeBackup’ to the library name. So, for example, if you have an old library called MyLibrary.bentodb, Bento 3 will create a backup file called MyLibraryUpgradeBackup.bentodb.

Once it creates the backups, Bento will perform a little mojo on the libraries to make them compatible with Bento 3. By creating backups of your libraries, Bento makes it easy for you to go back to older versions of Bento, should you wish or need to.

Bento 3: First Impressions

Bento 3 retains the same basic look as Bento 2. The two-pane interface is still the default. The big difference is the left-hand source pane. In addition to listing available libraries, it now has new entries. Most notable is the new iPhoto Library that Bento 3 creates. (More on that a bit later.) Just below the Library list is the Fields list, which displays the fields used by the selected Library.

The largest pane displays the current record or a list of records, depending on how the view options are set. Bento originally supported viewing records in a table format or individually, but Bento 3 has added new grid viewing and split-pane options that let you see your data in two views at the same time.

Overall, the Bento 3 interface hasn’t changed that much. If you’ve worked with iTunes, you will quickly pick up how Bento’s interface, and for that matter, Bento itself, works.

Bento 3: New Features

Let’s get right down to the new features that separate Bento 3 from previous versions.

It seems FileMaker has been listening to Bento users and reviewers about Bento’s weaknesses and the features they wanted to see added in the next version.

Two often-cited weaknesses have been addressed. The first, sharing libraries with multiple users, was something that not only wasn’t Bento able to do, it wasn’t designed to do. Bento was originally designed to be a personal database application, but based on overwhelming requests from users, FileMaker added the ability to share a Bento library with up to five users on a local network. Yes, that means that five different people can use a single library at the same time.

The other major weakness was security. FileMaker corrected this by adding encrypted field types, which makes using Bento 3 to store personal information, including passwords and other vital data, a much better solution than previous versions. You can also now password-protect entire libraries.

Other new features include iPhoto integration; grid views of data; the ability to view details of a selected record as well as view all records in a library; an updated Table view; new field types; a new image box; the ability to print blank forms; group emailing; 10 new templates; and a better theme chooser.

We will take a look at some of the major changes in Bento 3 next.

Bento 3: iPhoto Integration

One of the first changes you’ll notice when you launch Bento 3 is that the source pane now has an entry for iPhoto. Clicking on the dropdown triangle next to the ‘iPhoto’ icon will reveal all of your iPhoto albums. All of your iPhoto images are automatically available for use in Bento; no need to import them individually or in groups. In addition to images, you will also see the basic iPhoto data for each image, including file name, date taken, image type, and file size. None of the embedded iPhoto data can be manipulated from within Bento, and deleting or copying images in Bento has no effect on the iPhoto originals.

Bento does however, add fields in the iPhoto records that you can edit: Photographer, Subject, Style, Category, Caption, and Comments. You can also add your own custom fields. Bento seems to be trying to serve as an add-on iPhoto catalog system. While an iPhoto catalog may be of interest to some users, the real power here is the ability to associate individual photos with other Bento libraries and records. Are you maintaining a home inventory? Drop the image of your new refrigerator from Bento’s iPhoto collection onto your home inventory record and you’ll have a linked image, with the home inventory record containing all of the product details.

Of course, you can use the iPhoto collections in Bento 3 in much more creative endeavors than home inventory. Product marketing, sales tracking, and inventory management all come to mind. You can expand the iPhoto cataloging records to meet almost any need.

Bento 3: Sharing

Bento 3 now allows you to share individual libraries, or your entire Bento 3 collection of libraries, with other users running Bento 3 on your LAN (Local Area Network). Bento 3 enforces a five-user maximum for sharing.

Sharing is controlled globally from Bento’s preferences, where a new sharing option is available. You can enable or disable sharing, as well as choose which libraries will be available to share. Shared libraries can be read only, or you can allow others to make changes. One problem I noticed is that the sharing option lacks granularity for setting read/write privileges. I can choose to let others read my shared libraries, or read and write shared libraries, but I cannot set privileges per library; it’s all or nothing. While I may want to let everyone read and write my projects library, I may not want to allow everyone to modify my daily planner, but Bento 3 doesn’t let me make this distinction.

The same granularity issue is present for setting up passwords for sharing. If I set up a sharing password, it is applied to all libraries, even if I want to make one or two libraries available without passwords.

Another problem is that if I have sharing turned on, only the shared password is honored. Any local password I set up with Bento on my Mac is ignored.

While I’m glad to see FileMaker bring library sharing to Bento, I think it needs to move the entire sharing system from a global option to one that is implemented at the individual library level.

Bento 3: Passwords and Encrypted Fields

Encrypted fields may be one of the best new features in Bento 3. This feature allows you to create new fields that can be used to hide important personal data, such as log-in passwords or sensitive banking information. The data in the encrypted field is stored on your Mac’s hard drive using 128-bit AES encryption. The field displays bullets for the characters until it is unlocked with the database password.

In order for the encrypted fields to work, you must assign a password to Bento 3, which is set globally for all libraries. You can set the password to be required when Bento launches or only when you access encrypted fields. Only the encrypted fields are encrypted; the rest of your libraries may have restricted access, depending on how you set up the password options, but the actual data on your Mac’s hard drive remains unencrypted.

I was disappointed that there seems to be no easy way to change an existing field in a library to an encrypted field. This may make it very time-consuming to update old libraries with new encrypted fields.

Bento 3: New Views

Bento 3 adds a new grid view, as well as an updated table view. The new grid view is similar to icon view in the Mac’s Finder. A grid of thumbnails displays; each thumbnail represents a record in the selected library. You can adjust the size of the thumbnail, as well as select the contents of up to four fields to display below each thumbnail.

The grid view is best used with libraries that contain multimedia content, such as the iPhoto library, address book, or other libraries you create. Viewing thumbnails of photos, or maybe the cover art in your MP3 collection, provides a lot of visual information that helps you cue in on what you’re trying to find, but most basic library records look pretty much the same in grid view. That being said, the ability to display the content of up to four fields under a thumbnail is a great idea, and the fact that you can choose which fields to display makes it especially useful.

Table view also got an update, with a new media cell that displays thumbnails. Of course, the thumbnails are quite small in table view, about the size of small icons. However, they do support Leopard’s Quick Look previewer, so you can simply select a cell and press the space bar for a larger view.

Both the new grid view and the enhanced table view work well when used appropriately. The ability to size the thumbnails in grid view is a big plus.

Bento 3: Wrap Up

Bento 3 continues to be one of the most user-friendly database applications for the Mac. With the addition of database sharing on a local network, Bento 3 reaches out to small workgroups, both in business settings and at home.

Bento 3’s list of new features includes many that were requested by the Bento user community. Because FileMaker listened to its users, Bento 3 is a must-have update for current users, as well as an excellent choice for new users looking for an easy-to-use but powerful database.

I noted a few shortcomings in this review. Some revolve around design choices, such as whether sharing should be a global level feature, or one geared to individual libraries; others seem to be oversights, such as the inability to change existing fields to the new encrypted field type.

Considering how Bento is usually used, both these problems are probably of minor concerns to most users, and something I think FileMaker can address in subsequent releases.

Bento 3 Requires:

OS X 10.5.7 or later. Bento 3 is fully compatible with Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6.x).

A minimum of 512 MB RAM.

Published: 10/30/2009

Updated: 12/2/2015

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