Tech Friday: Bento database – First Look

Well, although I’ve managed to not worry about a database for several months, it finally happened and I need to keep track of my “opportunity matrix”, that is, a list of grants, their deadlines and status, the responsible contact person, partners, and whether I’ve created all the necessary collateral: prospectus, project summary, grant application, etc.

Typically this would be done in Access on a Windows machine, and I’ve got Access 2007 installed in my copy of Parallels so that I could run this up pretty quickly.

But, since I want to stay native on the Mac, I poked around at an old favorite, Filemaker Pro. One thing I’ve always thought about FMP is that is relatively expensive, even in an academic edition, especially if you want to share the data using a server. But FileMaker now offers a “home” version called Bento for about $50.00, and this looks promising for my app.

I’ve downloaded the 30 day trial, and installed without fuss. Installation consists of dragging the the file to the applications folder. I started playing with one of the templates, and after ten minutes or so, I’ve ended up with the following data entry screen:

Points of Interest:

  • Bento integrates with iCal, Mail and the Address book. You can eMail from a field which is designated an email field.
  • One to many relationships are supported. For example, you can have a task list for a project, with multiple tasks displayed for a single project. Some relations are already connected; for example the tasks list from iCal can be embedded into a Bento form
  • What one would consider to be a “database” in Access, or, loosely, a “group of tables” in another database program is called a “library” in Bento.
  • What might be called a “recordset” in Access, or a “cursor” in an SQL database is called a “collection” in Bento. Collections are much like playlists in iTunes, they are a subset of records from the entire library.

You can create your own drop down list, so I’ve attempted to capture the workflow in a “status” field which currently contains the following:

Seeking Partner: Since virtually all my projects are with others, this is the first step in any application project.

Developing Project

Application Submitted

Awaiting Feedback from Funder (may be redundant with the previous step)

Under Revision

Revised Submitted

Awarded

Rejected

I was curious about the name, but I think it refers to a Japanese bento box, which are the compartmented dishes for serving Japanese food.

Here’s a review of Bento in MacWorld. They point out a couple of limitations. For one thing, there is no way to export data in anything other than a comma delimited ASCII format. 

Another limitation is that the Bento data libraries are strictly single-user data files for a single machine. Anything larger needs to go into something like Filemaker. So, is is inadvisable to think that we could run a multi-user grant flow application using Bento. That’s OK. For $50.00 we can play with Bento for awhile and work out the data that we need to keep track of. We’ll be that much farther ahead when we’re looking to move up.
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