The Bento Book: Beauty and Simplicity in Digital Organization
Author: Jesse Feiler
Bento is a database for people who need more than a spreadsheet, but less than a full-fledged complex database. It was designed with Mac users in mind, and integrates Mail, iCal and Address Book. This book deals with Bento version 1 and 2, so don’t worry if you use the former – everything is well explained.
About the author
Jesse Feiler is Software Director of Philmont Software Mill. He knows Macs and databases inside out. He’s the author of Special Edition Using FileMaker 9, Real World Apple Guide and many other books.
Inside the book
I have been using Bento for quite some time now, and I must say that I was curious about this book. I was wondering: “What can this book reveal?” I may not be an extremely heavy user, but I did and I do find that Bento is a rather simple program to use. Most of the things in it are so intuitive, that I never felt the need for something more than the occasional glance at the Help file.
Nobody can deny that this book is comprehensive. It deals with Bento basics (terminology, usage, customization, template creating), then teaches you how to organize your data (importing various file formats and from various applications). Using one of the built-in libraries, it shows you how to create and format different types of fields, including calculations. Through another you learn about relationships and collections.
There are a few chapters that explain how to integrate the previously mentioned Mac applications into Bento, but chapter 13 was by far the most interesting one for me – Organizing a Group Project. Because Bento is a single user database, you might think it cannot replace a networked database for multiple users when it comes to project management. This chapter shows you how it can be done (and explains a few crucial points of database theory in the process).
Another eye-opening chapter is the last, named Bento Quickies. It points out some interesting ideas for everyday (work and non related) use, ideas that maybe you haven’t thought about – such as: a software inventory, a clipping database, a recipes book, etc.
All this being said, the negative point of this book is that the author doesn’t succeed in rendering the subject interesting. I don’t doubt his knowledge, but his style is dry and the book reads like a product declaration. There are probably people out there who prefer this kind of writing, but I doubt they are in the majority.
I like using Bento, and I’m glad that I started using it before I read this book. I did find some helpful advice in it, but after all is said and done, I would recommend this book only to people like myself: not experts, but definitely advanced users.
For first-time users I would recommend first some solo tinkering with Bento, then reading chapters 4 and 15 (building a library from your own data and importing and exporting data and libraries), maybe a glance at the basics to see what you missed, and finally, when you start to hunger for more complex things – search the book for things you need.