Update 7/30/13 – Bento is being discontinued as a product…so FileMaker is your best choice for a replacement.
Often I get the question about the difference between Bento and FileMaker. Most of my consulting comes from doing FileMaker work, but I will recommend Bento when it fits the type of work you need to get completed. Here I’ll outline some of the differences between the products.
I think of Bento as the iTunes of databases. It’s designed for personal productivity. FileMaker is aimed at workgroups and organizations.
Bento is not cross-platform. It only works on the Macintosh running Leopard 10.5.7 or above. FileMaker works on Windows and the Mac OS.
Bento integrates directly with the Apple Address Book for contacts, iCal for calendars, Mail for e-mail, and iPhoto for images. FileMaker can link to these tools but requires more development work via a plug-in or AppleScript. FileMaker has many other options for connecting to Microsoft Office, creating email, accessing internet browsers, adding functionality with plug-ins, utilizing PHP for creating web/internet solutions, and accessing other external SQL databases.
Bento limits the number on shared users to those on a local network with no more than 5 users (since Bento verson 3). FileMaker can handle hundreds of users with FileMaker server across a wide geographic area.
Bento is less customizable and less powerful than FileMaker. Bento’s simplicity allows someone to more easily create a database that looks professional with a lower learning curve. For its powerful features and capabilities, FileMaker is the easiest-to-use database tool in the world. This makes it possible to develop, expand, and customize solutions more quickly.
Bento is much less expensive than FileMaker. Bento $49 for one user or $99 for a family pack. FileMaker is around $299 for one user with many licensing options as you move up to more users.
Since the release of FileMaker Go, both FileMaker and Bento have options for easily running their databases on the iPhone and iPad. The pre-built templates in Bento make this more accessible with less work.
So if you are a do-it-yourself kind of technology person, I’d recommend you start with Bento and see where you can go. If you decide to build something on your own with Bento and run into limitations, it is relatively simple to move your data forward into a FileMaker database.
If you’re moving out of Bento and into FileMaker, you might also consider utilizing a pre-built FileMaker solution such as fmIgnite to gain access to many features without the necessity of building them all from scratch.