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FileMaker Closes the Lid on Bento

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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