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FileMaker Closes the Lid on Bento

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Nearly six years ago, FileMaker Inc. released a new database program called Bento, designed to bring simple databases to the masses. It was a worthy goal, but as even the title of Jeff Porten’s coverage of the preview edition indicated — “FileMaker’s Bento: Undercooked and Slightly Fishy” (14 November 2007) — it was an uphill battle from the start. Although FileMaker improved Bento over the years, adding an iPhone version of the app, and later an iPad version, and even gaining adherents for whom Bento’s limitations weren’t deal-breakers (see Charles Maurer’s “Wine with Bento,” 20 August 2008), Bento never struck a chord with us. But with FileMaker’s marketing muscle behind it, Bento sold well, shipping more than one million units as of January 2012.

Despite those sales numbers, FileMaker has announced that it is discontinuing Bento, as of 30 September 2013, to “increase focus on FileMaker Product Line software.” Read FileMaker’s Knowledge Base article for more details. For a while, it seemed as though Bento might become FileMaker’s iOS solution, but Bento never gained any integration with FileMaker Pro itself, and the company ended up releasing separate FileMaker Go iOS apps (see “FileMaker Go Brings FileMaker Databases to iOS,” 9 February 2012, and “FileMaker 12 Adds Power, Clarity, and Free iOS Apps,” 4 April 2012).

Needless to say, FileMaker is encouraging Bento users to investigate whether FileMaker Pro might be an alternative, even offering both the Bento 4 to FileMaker Pro Migration Tool to convert data and a 40 percent discount on FileMaker Pro, dropping the $299 price to $179. There are limitations, though, since FileMaker Pro has no integration with the Mac Contacts, iCal, and iPhoto apps, nor does it offer Wi-Fi syncing between Mac and iOS versions. Plus, FileMaker Pro doesn’t support Bento’s Rating, Encrypted, Simple List, File List, and Message List field types, and Bento’s Collections and Smart Collections have no direct equivalents in FileMaker Pro, although you can set up relationships instead. While FileMaker Pro offers vastly more power and flexibility than Bento, even its discounted $179 price is a big jump from Bento’s $49 price, if your database needs aren’t extensive.

It’s also possible to export Bento data into tab-delimited and comma-separated-value text files, and into Numbers and Excel 2008 formats. On the iPad, comma-separated-value export (sent via email) is all that’s available, though you can also download the free trial version of Bento for Mac, sync your data with it, and then export on the Mac. In other words, it should be possible to get data out of Bento, and you’ll likely want to do so before FileMaker drops support for Bento a year from now on 30 July 2014.

As to what you should import into, if you’re not interested in buying FileMaker Pro, you might investigate ProVUE Development’s $39.95 Panorama Sheets on the Mac (see “ProVUE’s Panorama Gets a Baby Brother: Panorama Sheets,” 7 January 2011). I’m sure there are other possibilities too — let us know in the comments what you’re looking at to take over from Bento.

FileMaker’s announcement is troubling from several viewpoints. Most notably, of course, is how at least hundreds of thousands of Mac and iOS users have been left high and dry, and not just for any old app, but for database software, which almost by definition holds important data. Of course, Bento won’t stop working any time soon, but without future development, there’s no telling what update to OS X or iOS will sound its death knell, and migrations are generally easier before compatibility starts being a problem.

More generally, it’s often said of free services, especially those from small companies, that you get what you pay for. But with Bento, it was quite reasonable to think that buying popular commercial software from Apple-subsidiary FileMaker would be a near guarantee of future-proofing — could it get any safer? Apparently, yes, it could.

So here’s where I want to encourage everyone to think about the apps and services upon which you rely, and more to the point, the data created with them or stored in their proprietary formats. What’s your exit strategy? What would you do if your favorite app’s developer discontinued it tomorrow (or on September 30th, as the case may be)? In the case of apps, it’s always possible to continue using the app for the time being, though operating system and device upgrades will eventually render that impossible. But with services, you could be dead in the water instantly.

In short, always have a sense of where you’ll move your data, if necessary, and when choosing an app or service, make sure it has some way of exporting or converting data to some other format.

 

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Comments about FileMaker Closes the Lid on Bento

Jim Fearing  2013-07-31 13:55
I have used Apple products since the Mac II. At one point I ran my business with Filemaker. But after a series of new editions creating problems for the docs I'd created, I shifted what I could to Excel and have stayed there since.

My wife just bought a new VW Golf with a wonderful interface for her iPhone 4S. It has a place for it and a cable that charges it and syncs it with the car's electronics. But if she upgrades to the iPhone 5 with its new proprietary port, forget it. Will there be a cable for it? No one knows. This is why Apple and critical usage, like cars, do not mix.

I still use their hardware, but am doubtful I will be able to keep up much longer with release after release of new software and hardware that is incompatible with what is already out there. Too bad for the folks with investment in Mac Pros.

Adam, you always put the best face on things you can, but the truth is Apple will leave us hanging every time.
avidcollecter  2013-08-12 08:36
Bad news Bento*, This will make me sad, although I agree the full potential was never realized.
I am an avid collector, and enjoyed cataloging my collections. I most definitely will be searching for more than "adequate" software...I'll be back with my findings!! (if I am lucky to find suitable replacement!!)
Charlie Hartley  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2013-07-31 14:46
This reminds me of another issue I have to consider as I slowly prepare to replace my old MacBook Pro with one that will run the latest system software. I am using FileMaker Pro 10.0v3 for data base work, and it is just fine for what I need. However, I don't know if it will work on MLion or later versions. Anyone out there have any experience with this? Thanks.
Steve Nicholson  2013-07-31 16:26
I've been using 10.0v3 for a while. I don't use it every day, but I do have one company assets database in which I wrote scripts to calculate depreciation and create instances that I then enter into my accounting software. It seems to work fine under Mountain Lion. I haven't tested it with the Mavericks beta.
Justen  2013-08-02 05:44
http://roaringapps.com/app:4926

Officially unknown, but looks like at least one person here is ok.

If this is mission critical to your livelihood, I would strongly recommend you bite the bullet and upgrade to the latest version before the migration if possible. The potential down time or worse, loss of data, post migration is not worth the risk. All systems can have differences, so just because it works for others doesn't mean it's guaranteed to work for you. Like it or not, it's a cost of doing business in is tech age that sometimes submitting to a forced upgrade is the best choice.
David Emme  2013-07-31 15:17
If your main focus is on the mobile, rather than the desktop, side, you might want to take a look at HanDBase (http://www.ddhsoftware.com/). It's a surprisingly-capable database system. I've been using it since the Palm PDA days, and it has support for *lots* of devices:

"DDH Software offers our flagship HanDBase Database Manager product on a wealth of mobile devices, including Apple iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android, RIM BlackBerry, Palm OS, Windows Mobile Pocket PC/Classic-Professional and Smartphone/Standard, and Symbian S60 based mobile devices."

It's not MySQL, but it does support simple relational databases.

It also has desktop versions for both Mac and Windows. The Mac desktop is a little lame, but serves for basic data entry and syncing/backups with your mobile device. The Windows desktop is full-featured (I understand), and they provide some means of running the Windows desktop on the Mac, via WINE or some such.

There is also a form creator available to make pretty interfaces instead of the basic spreadsheet table style.

I have no relationship to DDH Software; just a satisfied user.
avidcollecter  2013-08-12 08:36
Bad news Bento*, This will make me sad, although I agree the full potential was never realized.
I am an avid collector, and enjoyed cataloging my collections. I most definitely will be searching for more than "adequate" software...I'll be back with my findings!! (if I am lucky to find suitable replacement!!)
Steve Nicholson  2013-07-31 16:40
For many years I've had my wine in FileMaker. I'm not pretentious, honest, but I buy the occasional case from winemakers I like and keep them in a closet downstairs. To keep track of what I had, I would occasionally print a list of what was in the closet. When I'd take a bottle out of the rack, I'd make a note on the list. Every now and then I'd put all the new wine in the database and mark the used bottles used.

I put off switching to Bento but finally took the time to make the switch. Having the iPad app works great. Instead of an out-of-date printed list I always know exactly what's there. I can add a few bottles of wine to the database without having to print a new list so I do that more often too.

I'm not worried about how to get my data out of Bento, it's fairly simple. What I'm wondering is how I'm going to replace this functionality down the road when Bento doesn't work on the current version of OS X or iOS.
Matt Neuburg  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-07-31 18:49
"Think about the apps and services upon which you rely, and more to the point, the data created with them or stored in their proprietary formats. What’s your exit strategy?" Judging from my past behavior, my exit strategy seems to be "lose those documents forever." I have a host of documents where I don't even know what application created them; they seem to have turned into generic documents with an icon taken, with appropriate irony, from the Terminal.
Dr Alun J. Carr  2013-07-31 18:58
This has started to make me worry about the future of Aperture. Apple hasn't produced a major revision for ages. I'm thinking that maybe I should have gone with Lightroom instead.
Steve Nicholson  2013-07-31 20:56
I wouldn't necessarily take this as an omen for Aperture. Bento isn't exactly at the intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts so it isn't close to Apple's corporate heart. Besides, look at Logic Pro. How long was it between the last two versions? Three years?
Paul Purcell  2013-07-31 22:17
TAPFORMS http://www.tapforms.comis perhaps a viable replacement for BENTO. I have played with it over the years. The latest versions looks good.
Andreas Steinmann  2013-08-01 04:18
I've used Filemaker from the very beginning when it was a flat database - and I'm still happy with it for anything with data, sorting, formatting etc. Guess, there are some people using spreadsheads and others - like me - using databases. For online (websites) i dropped FileMaker server etc. for MySQL years ago. Bento never really worked for me - however it was a nice tool to edit AddressBook and the like. Looks like, that FileMaker gives a 120 USD FileMaker discount for Bento owners. So far only in the FileMaker US shop - but I hope, they will extent this offer to other countries too.
Andreas Steinmann  2013-08-01 04:31
One thing more: looks like, the upgrade in the FileMaker shop Denmark costs 20 USD more than the full version in the US! Without taxes! Wonder why... US upgrade/migration: 179 USD US full version 299 USD Denmark upgrade migration 319.60 USD Denmark full version 532.66 USD -sometimes I whish to be over there...
Andreas Steinmann  2013-08-01 04:39
Filemaker also offers a Bento > FileMaker migration tool: Read more here: http://info.filemaker.com/FMP_overview.html -don't know, why I'm doomed to be Anonymous - I enter my name every time: Andreas Steinmann
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-08-01 09:13
Sorry about the name thing - it's a known problem. See if deleting the tbcomm cookie solves it. http://tidbits.com/article/13728
Curtis Wilcox  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2013-08-01 12:04
The Denmark prices probably include a VAT which explains some of the difference.
Andreas Steinmann  2013-08-01 12:16
These prices are before VAT - imagine: 25% VAT will be added to this also! So VAT is not an explanation for the higher price...
Pascal The Rascal  2013-08-06 02:39
Here are the UK and Ireland prices
Bento Upgrade: £131 + VAT @ 20% = £157 = $241.54
FM Pro 12 in UK
£219.00 + VAT = £262.80 = €304.359 = $403.793
FM Pro 12 in Ireland
https://store.filemaker.com/IE/ENG/RTL/product/view/group/FPT/
€349 + VAT = €418.80 = £361.614 = $555
At the time of writing, https://store.filemaker.com/IE/ENG/RTL/product/view/group/BN4/ is offering Bento 4 for €39.99 and mentions that
"FileMaker will stop offering Bento Sept. 30, 2013."
However, it is not offering a Bento to Filemaker upgrade at this moment in time.
As you can see, Irish (and Danish) customers are being mugged big time.
Pascal The Rascal  2013-08-06 03:30
I should add that UK customers, paying $403 for the full FM Pro and $241 for the upgrade from Bento, are paying far too much relative to the US prices.
Andreas Frick  2013-08-01 05:39
I have the same problem with my AppleWorks database files. They were perfect for me, but no other program can read them (unfortunately also not bento). Also in AppleWorks 6 the export to other formats has been removed. So I will need an old Mac with AppleWorks 5, convert all documents to that format and then export them.
artMonster  2013-08-01 09:45
Having an export or migration option should be high on the list when deciding on any important use software or services. Think iWeb. Entropy in action. The exit strategy is to start all over.
Sharon Stevenson  2013-08-01 10:56
Adam, Ok, maybe I'm just incompetent in Numbers, but is there any chance that in the following weeks y'all might post a blow-by-blow suggestion of how to transfer to Numbers which I assume would be the most used way Mac owners will "save" their Bento material? I find the transfer somewhat baffling since it seems one cannot move columns in the Numbers version.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-08-01 11:04
Alas, I don't have a current copy of Bento, so I'd recommend asking FileMaker support.
Sharon Stevenson  2013-08-01 11:51
Thanks, will do. I guess i assumed they'd abandoned it totally. We'll see.
Jeffree K Lassitter Jr  2013-08-01 14:54
It’s like FileMaker has never really wanted to play ball with iOS ... not sure who suggested Bento to them, but the way they implemented it one gets the impression that the idea came from Apple, and it’s as if they had to figure out a way to pay lip service to Apple and develop it with built-in incongruities and incompatibilities ... thus forcing eventual dissatisfaction and cancellation. Cynical? You bet.

FileMaker is still stuck in the client server days and doesn’t seem to have the brainpower to grasp the cloud concept. They’re pushing their FileMaker Server idea for businesses ($1000) suggesting in demos that databases can be easily created on the desktop (how quaint) through FileMaker Pro clients ($180 each) and then read by other members of the team on iOS devices through FileMaker Go. WTF ... that’s SO 20th century. They think that they’re competing with Oracle or something.

Since FileMaker is so standoffish (but apparently Apple enjoys having them as “a wholly owned subsidiary”), Apple needs to have its own iWork team come up with a nice relational database for the iWork package that works like HanDBase ... maybe buy HanDBase and call it iFields. IMPORTANTLY ... it should be fully iCloud functional (!!) so that changes made on the iPad, the iPhone, the iPodTouch, or the Mac are reflected immediately in the other versions on the other devices, AND integrated with Calendar and Contacts. For me, data entry into my little databases is more important on the iPhone and less so on my MacBook Pro. The latter serves as more of a backup. Unfortunately, because of the monumental stupidity exhibited in the Bento incompatibility between the iPhone and iPad, I’m forced to do all the design and data-entry work on the iPhone and then use the laptop version for backup. Bento for iPad doesn’t get used at all.

Apple seems to have always had a love/hate relationship with relational databases. It’s like yin and yang teams simultaneously within Apple, some of whom love the idea and others who hate the it. And so the resulting apps (starting way back in Appleworks) end up being NOT all that they could be and they don’t always “just work” the way one wants them to. Too bad for us.
Tommy Weir  2013-08-01 15:34
I'm disappointed but perhaps not surprised that this has happened, the product kicked off with a lot of energy but that was not sustained. I've bought all three versions of Bento, Mac, both iOS versions, and kept pace with updates, some of which were full price if I recall correctly. I've recommended it to colleagues, many of whom took it up, and who worked from my templates. Looking forward to those conversations.

The price point was right for my level of database needs. And FMPro would be overkill. Curious as I am, I won't be paying that upgrade price.

Rats. Only hope is that it's a sign of Data being a fourth wheel in a new iWork.
Francisco Hirsch  2013-08-02 17:44
"There are limitations, though, since FileMaker Pro has no integration with the Mac Contacts, iCal, and iPhoto apps, nor does it offer Wi-Fi syncing between Mac and iOS versions."
Nice summation.
Nick Morris  2013-08-05 18:39
Yes, I thought that about the summation. Spot on. I have used Bento for years for tracking data about my students (e.g. see http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/bioscience-elearning/surviving_the_semester_tracking_students) and what I liked was the ease of import and export, and the ability to sync my iPhone and iPad (which I could then take in to the lab where there was no or limited Wifi) and have that data to hand. Interactions with the students in the lab could be recorded on the iPad and then synced back to Bento when I was next in my office.
Martin Wagenmann  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2013-08-05 23:38
The lack of (WiFi) Sync is the major issue for me. In my current workflow, it doesn´t matter where I add new data into the database (iPhone, iPad, Mac) since I synced the databases regularly.
I have no problem using FMPro (I use it for larger projects anyway) and transferring the databases from Bento to FMPro but I seriously have to think about a feasible and convenient way to keep my databases on the different devices in sync.
Does anybody have a good idea?
Anonymous  2013-08-09 06:46
There are a number of FM developers working on sync products; check out http://360works.com for one of the better ones.
Adrian Ryan  2013-08-02 23:55
FileMaker used to be one of my favorite Mac applications. It was a pleasure to work with. I abandoned it for two reasons: an irreparable bug which offset the insertion point from the cursor position by about two character-widths (making data entry very risky) and the high cost of upgrades whenever the operating system changed.
I have been seeking a decent Macintosh database application ever since. I consider the dearth of easy-to-use, relatively inexpensive, relatively future-proof relational database applications to be the great shame of the Macintosh platform. There should be lots to choose from! I now use Nisus Writer Pro’s macros to roll my own, with all data in RTF files.
Just for the record, LibreOffice Base has a very, very steep learning curve. Numbers is well overdue for an upgrade, particularly in AppleScriptability. It would probably not take too much for Apple to give it database capability, but I guess they are unlikely to do so as long as they are hitched to FileMaker.
Barry Webster  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2013-08-03 06:07
Panorama Sheets has not been updated since January 2011. It is functional, but has its quirks. ProVUE's website still shows a 2011 copyright. And ProVUE's Appcuity database of the App store, based on Panorama Sheets, has not had its data updated since last fall. I would therefore not recommend Panorama Sheets, and suggest users of it also develop an exit strategy.
Jim Rea  2013-08-03 18:49
I'm the developer of Panorama and Panorama Sheets. We're working on major new versions of both of these packages for release in 2014. We have a long history of developing Mac software going back to 1984, and we intend to carry that forward for many years to come.
John Faughnan  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2013-08-03 18:40
"FileMaker Pro has no integration with the Mac Contacts, iCal, and iPhoto apps" If Apple added that to FM I'd be a happy customer. Ominous that they didn't say they would.
Frankly I'm surprised no one has mentioned LibreOffice. It has a flat file database wizard as a base with many commonly used templates. I also believe it can be expanded into a relational database. If so, who needs
Filemaker give that LibreOffice is free and essentially a replacement for Microsoft Office. In any case given the price, I think it is worth taking a look at as a replacement for Bento, if not Filemaker as well.

FYI: For those who do not know, Filemaker is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple and used to be known as Claris before they dropped all their products except Filemaker.
Dennis B. Swaney  2013-08-06 13:45
Have you been able to import AppleWorks database files into LibreOffice?
Andreas Frick  2013-08-05 06:16
I think there is need for a flat file database like that in Apple Works. Should read and write AppleWorks and other formats. A spreadsheet like numbers is no real substitute.
Dennis B. Swaney  2013-08-06 13:46
Apple has always said that Bento was the replacement for the AppleWorks database module.
My exit strategy will be to move everything over to MySQL -- it's not that hard with a little programming effort.

I'm tired of companies dropping db software -- I've upgraded several times over the years bringing forward a lifetime of data.

I thought Apple would support Bento, but I guessed wrong. This reminds me of when M$ dropped QuickBasic leaving developers to fend for themselves. That was not a good time.

My next guess (hopefully better) is that MySQL will be around for some time. After all, there are far more Web Apps that use MySQL than there are Bento users.

Good luck everyone.
Tom Robinson  2013-08-05 21:14
Given your concern about support, MariaDB is a better option than MySQL. It's led by the original MySQL developers and is a drop-in replacement for MySQL. Projects like Wikimedia Foundation are switching.
Nick Morris  2013-08-05 21:39
My take on the Bento Story (http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/bioscience-elearning/what_is_your_elearningtools_exit) and also last year I did a compare and contrast of FileMaker v. Bento (http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/bioscience-elearning/software_i_use_bento_versus) and generally concluded that FMP was not really keeping up with the century in terms of cloud integration and synchronisation with mobile devices. I am basically mystified as to why FileMaker has dropped Bento, and the only explanation I have is that Apple may have taken it back 'in-house' for development to add it to the next release of iWorks (which is long overdue for a refresh).
Ken Mitchell  2013-08-05 23:18
I'm very disappointed with Apple's dropping of Bento! It may not be fantastic but it has been very good value for me, until now. I could have done my databases in Excel and now wish I had. I am having a look at Tap Forms and it has some good features but I'm not convinced it is what I want, yet. I hope there are other options that can fil the space.
Michael Destefano Jr  2013-08-06 03:05
Very disappointing. I have used Bento on my Mac Pro desktop for years. I don't have the money to upgrade to File Maker Pro.

I wonder if it's just better to create a database in Excel. I think Excel will be around for a long time
JohnB (SciFiOne)   2013-08-06 10:55
OK, I'm convinced. I'll keep my 60,000 cell data file in Excel style XLS files. May not be elegant, but lots of apps edit it. ;-)
Dennis B. Swaney  2013-08-06 13:42
Apple, when asked when a database module for iWork will come out, has always said "Use Bento". Now that Bento is dead, hopefully they will release a true iWork database module so iWork can really become the replacement for AppleWorks, even if it only replaces 3 of the modules from the latter.
Andy Gordon  2013-08-06 18:51
I hope this becomes an occasion for more people to try Panorama, an extraordinarily powerful and easy-to-use RAM-based database I long ago selected over Filemaker, Bento, or other options. It's swift as the wind, readily modified, with innumerable input- and output- options. A feature-rich programming language is included but unnecessary for day-to-day use. I keep my databases in Dropbox for transfer between computers. Highly recommended.
avidcollecter  2013-08-12 08:26
Bad news Bento*, This will make me sad, although I agree the full potential was never realized.
I am an avid collector, and enjoyed cataloging my collections. I most definitely will be searching for more than "adequate" software...I'll be back with my findings!! (if I am lucky to find suitable replacement!!)