Aimed at home users and small businesses, Bento 3 is a highly useable and useful tool for anyone who finds the likes of Excel and Filemaker Pro dauntingly complex. There are plenty of video tutorials available on the Bento web site should you become stuck, but even the most casual user should be up and running within minutes.
£ 29.95 (£19.95 upgrade from version 1 or 2)
Bento is named after the Japanese lunch box which keeps various bits of food neatly contained in separate compartments, and is a perfect choice for Mac users who need to keep every aspect of their lives organised.
The personal database is now in its third revision, and takes the familiar feel of Apple's OS X and applies it to keeping neatly organised just about anything you could make a list of. If you're the kind of individual who can't sleep unless your CDs are in alphabetical order, or needs to know exactly when and where every snap in your iPhoto library was taken, or craves a neater wine cellar, then Bento is for you.
Databases can be dizzyingly complex beasts, and those of you who like to footle about under the bonnet of your organisational tools are well served with the likes of Filemaker Pro, Bento's complex and infinitely adaptable elder sibling. But if you just want to get on with keeping every aspect of your life in shape without having to worry about creating your own relational database, then this £29.95 option could be the solution you've been looking for.
It's true that there are a panoply of cataloguing programmes for the Mac out there, many of which are cheaper than Bento, and some even free. A quick search on Mac Update will return hundreds of database applications, which will keep track of your DVDs, CDs or Star Wars action figures, but none of them offers the kind of seamless integration with a host of core Apple applications as Bento.
Start Bento up for the first time and, at the tip of your mouse pointer, you have full access to your iCal calendars, Address Book entries, and entire iPhoto library. The only application conspicuous by its absence is iTunes, which seems to be a bit of an oversight, considering that one of the most popular uses for Bento is cataloguing music collections.
That aside, Bento presents even those users who would normally run a mile at the mention of the word 'database' with a user-friendly, familiar and intuitive interface, which will soon have your Beanie Baby collection in regimental order. Bento supplies a broad spectrum of genuinely useful templates straight out of the box, grouped into Educational, Work and Personal categories. These range from set-ups for keeping your digital media, user names and passwords, and customers in order, to party planning, time billing and expenses.
All of these templates can be tweaked and customised should you wish to add an extra field, or a new drop-down menu. Or if you want to go it alone you can start a new custom database from scratch, adding as many data and picture fields as your heart desires.
In addition, Bento has set up Template Exchange, a web-based depository for new templates created by the application authors and those uploaded by Bento users. These range from the somewhat mundane 'Books I have Read', to the rather more esoteric 'Lab Antibody Database' which, according to its author, is "an easy way to catalogue primary and secondary antibodies in a laboratory environment. Includes URL and image fields for quick access to the antibody web site and all the essential information to make searching easy." Phew. Our search is finally over.
Drag-and-drop data import
Importing data is a doddle, and you can drag and drop entries from Mail or iCal straight into data fields. Your entire photo library is accessible from the handy sidebar, and is organised in exactly the same way it is in iPhoto. Again, pics can be dragged and dropped into database entries without fuss, as can short video clips.
One feature which does seem to be missing, however, is the ability to import images directly from a scanner, although it is possible to grab frames from a webcam. Not a lot of use if you have a shoebox full of receipts you need to catalogue, especially as you only get three seconds to get the item in frame and in focus before the snap is taken, and the default setting provides a flipped mirror image.
Creating templates from scratch is a simple procedure with basic pallets of useful drag-and-drop items provided, all of which can be customised and repositioned at will. If you have data you don't want to share, individual entries or entire libraries can be password protected by adding an encrypted field.
Libraries can be easily shared across your local network, but any form of web sharing has been omitted as Apple would obviously like you to buy its Filemaker Pro software for £260 if you need that kind of functionality.
If you need to carry your data around with you, however, there is a solution in the form of the Bento for iPhone app which, at £2.99, is a cheap alternative to full web functionality.