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Real World Bento: the formidable, personal database

It suddenly occurred to me that my needs for software have changed.

It was while I was browsing for a native Mac application for monitoring weight loss that I realized that little out there would suffice if it couldn't sync with my iPhone. While there are several popular online sites for tracking diet and exercise, I wanted something that would sync with my Mac and that I could maintain from both my desktop and iPhone without having to go through a third-party website.

I didn't find that hoped-for software, but I did discover Bento.

I've had a love affair with bento lunches since I began Japanese studies in 2000. They're still my favorite lunches to pack, and the concept behind them is simple: A compact way, yet attractive for those who put the time into it, of carrying a lunch. Everything is tucked away in its own compartment and it's easy to access.

FileMaker took this concept of bento lunches and used it to make Bento, a database application that works hand in hand with your Mac that we've covered quite a bit and also now has an iPhone version. It is supposed to be a database program for the rest of us -- you know, those of us who open up a spreadsheet in Excel or Numbers and suddenly go cross-eyed and immediately move onto something else ... or just never bothered using a database program in the first place.

"After all," I thought once upon a disorganized time, "I will never use something like this on a day to day basis."I considered it briefly when Bento 2 first came out, but discarded the idea. However, in a stroke of excellent marketing on Filemaker's part, they give you 50 ways to integrate a database program into your daily life that I discovered upon searching for diet/exercise software.

I realized that, hey, there were quite a lot of things in my life that could be tracked via Bento. My fiancé and I are in the beginning stages of planning our wedding. I'm going on a trip to the United Kingdom. I'm about to start writing a graphic novel. I'm doing freelance work. I just started expanding my tea collection -- and many other things. For the first time, I could see a need for this. But, will I actually use it? I've downloaded the free trial of Bento for the desktop and grabbed the iPhone version from the App Store to try it out.

There are many of you who already use Bento or other database programs and are quite versed in it. But this series of articles is for the rest of us: Those who want try Bento and have no clue as to how to make it work for them, or who are new to Macs and haven't considered it before. With a little elbow grease, and a 30-day window in which to try it out, we're going to see how easy it is to adapt Bento to the real world.

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