Archive for March, 2011

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

We bought the first generation AppleTV with a built-in 40GB hard drive as soon as it was released. With market trends driving the movie industry to start including digital copies with many new releases, it didn’t take to max out that 40GB and we wish we’d been able to buy the 160GB version, but it was not available when we bought our unit. Just one of the risks being early adopters, but one we accepted. We found it most advantageous  to keep our favorite movies and songs on it, and stream any others we want to watch. Overall, we really did enjoy it and found it absolutely worth the $199 price tag.

When Apple announced the new version of AppleTV, we were hesitant to get another unit even though we really like our AppleTV, because the new unit has little on-board storage and replies on streaming video and music. Our experiences using streaming with our first unit was not impressive – too much jerky replay and it was almost impossible to fast forward (not an issue on locally stored movies).

At the start of the 4th week in March, we decided to buy an new unit because the only version of AppleTV that supports Netflix is the newest model. We wanted to get away from the large satellite bills we have every month, and Netflix offers a low streaming option of $7.99/month for all you can watch. We bought a new AppleTV at Best Buy and it took very little time to install and configure it – we didn’t need to read the documentation, as the product requires very little technical knowledge.

The AppleTV 2.0 was $99.00 (a $100 drop in price from the first gen version) and came with the unit, a remote control, a power cable, and a short instruction manual. The 2.0 version is tiny – much smaller than the 1.0 version. I unpacked and unwrapped the unit and power cord and noticed it lacked the composite video and audio outputs found on the 1.0 version – this was bad as our HDTV only has a single HDMI input so I had to use that one. There is also an optical output I will eventually use for audio, but I need to pick one up before I see how good it sounds.

I used an HDMI cable (not included with the unit) to connect the AppleTV to our television, then I had to configure the unit to access our wireless network (which uses an Apple 1 GB router), which only took a couple of minutes. Then I setup iTunes on a computer to provide the movies and that too was simple.

As I said earlier, we’ve had difficulties fast forwarding movies we stream on the 1.0 version, so I tried fast forward several movies as they were streamed and it worked great. Exactly the same as when fast forwarding locally stored movies on the version 1.0 product. Next we watched a movie and the only time we saw any glitches (where the video/audio transfer was not smooth) was at the very start of the movie. I’m not certain, but I think Apple streams most of the movie as soon as possible, so playback is smooth and more than merely watchable. We also watched movies on Netflix and there was a few times movies did not flow as smoothly as we’d have liked, but they were still watchable, so the viewing experience was fine.

I have found I use the Remote app on iPod Touch more than the remote that shipped with the AppleTV. I also feel Netflix brings enough movies – old and new – to the table that I’ve decided to drop satellite service. Neither satellite vendor can compete with $7.99 a month, and we rarely watch any network shows, so I doubt we’ll feel deprived sans satellite.

Positives

  • The price, especially compared to both versions of the 1.0 release of AppleTV, is excellent.
  • The small size of the unit makes it easy to place the unit wherever I want.
  • Almost no heat given off, especially when compared to version 1.0 of the AppleTV.
  • Streaming movies is no problem. I’ve only seen a couple of times where streaming was not flawless, which is impressive.
  • I like the new remote that comes with this version of AppleTV. It is thin and metallic and the battery is replaceable, while the 1.0 version’s remote is white and plastic and the battery cannot be replaced. And the new remote works with the 1.0 version, so I view this as a decent improvement.
  • I enjoy being able to use iTunes Playlists to organize movies so they play in the order I want.
  • I have been using the iPod Touch remote app with the AppleTV for over 6 weeks (as of May 9, 2011) and love it.

Negatives

  • Some Netflix streaming issues (since then fixed). I’ve never seen it the first time I watch one movie or show, but have had this issue several times when watching more than two shows or movies sequentially. The symptom: jerky video/audio.
  • I wish the composite audio/video outputs were still available.
  • I have noticed that I occasionally lose iTunes connectivity between my laptop and AppleTV. To resolve it I just quit and restart iTunes and that restores my content to the AppleTV. (NOTE: Appears fixed with the March 2012 update to AppleTV)
  • I really, really wish Apple provided Netflix support for the 1.0 version of AppleTV. Our older AppleTV still does a fine job, but without Netflix we have no choice but to buy another unit if we want to see Netflix content on another TV.

Conclusion

Our impression of AppleTV 2.0 has been very favorable. The remote is better and has a replaceable battery, the unit itself is much smaller than the 1.0 version, the unit itself does not heat up the way the 1.0 version does (it can get quite toasty when left on for more than a few days), and the iTunes video streaming was smooth and far superior to what we saw on the 1.0 version.

Will we go to the AppleTV 3.0 (released March, 2012)? Yes we will. We want to see if the higher resolution is noticeable, and we can always use the 2nd gen AppleTV downstairs – waste not, want not.

Recommendation

Would I recommend it to someone? Absolutely. A very good price for something that works great with our environment. I did test the unit using a 1GB router and would suggest upgrading to one if you are still using a 100MB router – Apple’s new wireless router is dual band, so you can have 100 MB and 1GB devices access it at the same time without slowing down overall access.

3/14/2012 Review Update

There was another update to the AppleTV I installed today. The AppleTV menus changed – they are laid out instead of under menu categories at the top. The 2nd generation AppleTV has a max output of 720p, so you have to scroll down to see all of the items on the screen. I wonder if the newer 3rd generation AppleTV’s 1080p resolution means you don’t need to scroll to see all of the items on the screen – comments, anyone with the 3rd gen AppleTV?

Something else to note. In the past, if my laptop that has the movies I stream to the AppleTV went to sleep, I had to quit and restart iTunes to get the movies to show up – that is no longer the case. One thing that bothered me before, was that I could not see movies on the AppleTV if there was an update available on my laptop with the movies I want to stream – I had to accept or quit out of the the update notice before I could stream, and this is still the situation after the most current update.

11/20/2011 Review Update

I’ve downloaded a couple of AppleTV updates the past week, with the most current (4.4.2) today. This update addresses Netflix support in Mexico, plus audio issues via the optical output when a television is off. Click here for a detailed list of updates from Apple.

5/28/2011 Review Update

Today I spoke with Brad, who is another AppleTV 2.0 owner, and he mentioned that he had too many problems streaming Netflix content. Several times I’ve seen streaming problems with Netflix content, but put that down to network traffic. The only times I saw this issues was after I watched two shows or movies, which is very rare, so this had not happened enough to concern me.

Brad said he spent 2 months trying to get a resolution and after no luck he returned the AppleTV 2.0 and went back to his AppleTV 1.0 unit. He mentioned a couple of discussion threads where people discussed this problem: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2616899 https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2597992.

Brad said he mainly streams music and podcasts, not movies, so he has no problem using his older AppleTV. I do a lot of movie streaming and the newer AppleTV unit is so much better at steaming than the original version, so I will stay with the newer unit. Hopefully Apple will find the source of the problem and issue a patch to the AppleTV – They did (see comments below).

Have you experienced a Netflix streaming issue?

5/9/2011 Review Update

It has been over 3 weeks since the April 17th update to this review, and I still have occasional problems accessing iTunes on my laptop, but iTunes streaming is still smooth as locally stored movies on the AppleTV 1.0 product. I should add that using Netflix is always good on the first movie or TV show, but I sometimes have streaming problems when watching more than 1 show.

Updates

November 20, 2011 – added comments about AppleTV updates, plus a link to Apple’s list of AppleTV updates.
May 28, 2011 – added date-based section, add another negative feature, add ‘Have you experienced?’ question
May 9, 2011 – add date-based section, add another negative feature
April 17, 2011 – add more positives, plus a 2nd negative feature

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Product: PDFpen Pro 5.2.1 – a tool to split, combine, re-order, and edit PDF files
Vendor: Smile Software
(Developer’s Website)
Cost
: Price PDFpen $55.95, while the Pro Version is $99.95 [USD]. An upgrade from Pen to Pen Pro is available, if desired at a later date. An upgrade from PDFpen version 5 is available for $25. [USD]
Availability: Download (41.7 MB)
Quill Ratings 4.5
A Functional time-limited demo is available

System Requirements: System Requirements:

  • PDFpen 5.x and PDFpen Pro 5.x require: Mac OS X version 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or later.
  • For Macintosh OS X 10.4 and 10.5, use PDFpen 4.7.1 or PDFpen Pro 4.7.1.

Audience: All individuals needing to modify PDF, no matter their general level of Macintosh proficiency. This is NOT an Acrobat Pro replacement, nor is it meant to be, but it’s a darn fine PDF content ‘text’ and PDF page-editing tool.

Strengths: When it comes to modifying PDFs, SmileOnMyMac’s PDFpen far exceed the functionality of OS X’s free Preview and is a one-for-one feature competitor to Adobe’s $449 Acrobat Pro. At only $50, PDFpen goes well beyond Preview’s PDF processing power, yet it offers some of the same features you’ll find in the much more costly Acrobat Pro.

Weaknesses: Within its stated design and functional scope, I could find no serious or even significant flaws in the software. Like all complex and full-featured software packages, the product has both its strengths and an occasion weakness. The strengths includes include a clean but not quite intuitive interface, low cost and exceptional stability. None of my experiments crashed this program. However, an occasional task that isn’t intuitive only took a quick check at the instruction manual or help files. The combination of a Macintosh compliant design, an easy to explore interface, and acceptable availability of help made becoming comfortable with it an easy task.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Doc’s Introduction Including the Publisher’s Summary

Background On This Software Genre — I spend somewhere between six to eight hours a day on my iMac doing research for and writing many articles and an occasional book. I am passingly skillful at most non-graphics oriented software and even review Macintosh software genre tools for word processing, image editing and label creation, email, database creation and use, and internet search. Most of my time is spent either word processing in MS Word [MSW] and on occasion NeoOffice, or in editing and annotating downloaded (mostly) or scanned and OCR’d PDF files using Acrobat Pro or more recently PDFpen Pro.

By circumstance I’ve become quite proficient in using the editing and page reformatting = features of Adobe Acrobat Pro 9.x, in part from having had the opportunity to beta test version 9 for Adobe. I have also demonstrated Acrobat’s editing tools focused narrowly on cleaning up messily formatted web recipes for my local Macintosh users group and in articles for the now defunct macCompanion eZine.

I’m also half-way, perennially, through writing an ebook into which I crammed everything I learned about editing PDFs with Acrobat Pro, a fantastic Mañana project that will serve as a source of at least a baker’s dozen tutorial articles.

Never the less, or perhaps despite this focus, I’ve followed the evolution of Phil Goward’s Smile On My Mac’s (now, Smile software) PDFpen and PDFpen Pro software. Indeed, in back in 2009, for macCompanion [macC], I reviewed PDF Pen 4.0.4 giving it a stingy 4.5/5.0 rating. My June 2005 macC review of version 2.1 rated the product a 4.0/4.5.

Two Things Have Led Me To Re-Review This Product.

First and foremost it was a excellent, easy to learn and use PDF editing tool that met many if not most of my editing needs. The fact that the Smile products were moderately priced, did not hurt my incentive for a re-review.

I have no needs for doing collaborative reviews in PDF format, which I do in MSW. I have never needed to create interactive forms, seriously control document formatting for commercial publication and distribution, or using top-level securitization.

Second, unlike the introduction of Elements by Adobe as a poor man’s Photoshop, and Bento by FileMaker Corporation, it appears that Adobe has not committed to an Acrobat Elements for the rest of us at a reasonable non-business users price.

  • I found a $199 upgrade to Acrobat 9.x to X on the Adobe site,
  • A Student/Teacher edition for $199 or Adobe Acrobat X Professional Upgrade [Mac] for $183 both on Amazon, and
  • A student/teacher edition for $119 and the Pro version for $159 on the at the Academic Superstore site

I found the newest version of PDFpen for ca. $36 but not the Pro version on Amzon.com. Of course Smiles Software offer an upgrade path. – The combination is what Consumer Reports would call a best buy!

Publishers Summary Product(s) Description — Edit PDFs easily with PDFpen! Add text, images and signatures. Make corrections. Fill out PDF forms. Merge, delete and reorder pages. Pro allows you to convert websites into PDFs, create PDF forms, and build a table of contents.

In the Appendix, I show Smiles comparison, using an edited version of the core abilities in PDFpen, PDFpen Pro and Adobe acrobat, with an added bit of Apple’s Preview for information. The short version is provided below.

Features of PDFpen Pro:

  • Replace text in original PDF with editable text blocks
  • Move, resize, copy and delete images in original PDF
  • Overlay text and images onto PDF (for example, sign purchase orders by applying signature image)
  • Perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on scanned documents
  • Insert and remove pages; re-order pages in a PDF by drag & drop
  • Copy and paste rich text; retain fonts and formatting when copying from PDFs
  • Select and copy text across multiple columns
  • Fill out and save PDF forms
  • Add (and print) notes and comments
  • Markup documents with highlighting, underscoring and strike-through
  • Save frequently-used images, signatures, objects and text in the Library
  • Use with Page Sender for a complete fax turn-around solution
  • Automate PDF manipulations with AppleScript

Getting Started

This is a well-developed Macintosh application. Drag it to your applications folder. Start using it in demo mode or type in a password. Decide which preference settings you prefer. Check out any readme files. Your good to go.

Working With the Product — My tough love choice.

I knew I was well trained (conditioned) both consciously and subliminally to edit any new PDF in the ‘acrobat’ manner. So, for most of this review, I turned Acrobat Pro off, and instructed the finder to open all PDF files in PDF pen. No you don’t really want to do this – I hated every minute of it!

However, I couldn’t think of any better way to force my self to do ALL my routine work in the Smile product.

Using the Software

Over 3-4 weeks of routine on and off PDF associated work, I did my thing with Smiles latest Pro Version 5.2.1

What thing(s)…

  1. Annotating several dozen downloaded (with Safari mostly) technical articles for my software and greening articles including some posted at a technical meeting site for which I am a peer reviewer,
  2. Cleaning up 10’s of downloaded recipes, both for my general recipes collection but mostly for my new ‘cooking for Kosher-keeping friends’. Cookbook. These download were created by (1) using Apple’s print to PDF feature and either Safari’s (2) new reader tool, or the (3) get a printer friendly copy on a site’s web page.
  3. Working with and extracting technical information from scanned/OCR’d documents, of the still to be shrunk down, collection of paper documents. Much of this was simply annotating the papers for easier future search [HoudahSpot a Spotlight front end] by adding key words, or other notes relating the document to other related technical work.

Some of the items I worked with were documents that I’d printed to PDF from MS Word files, others came to me as PDF files from my PC using colleagues — the remainder, were web downloads from technical information sites. A nice mix, if I do say so myself!

The Bad, but Only Transient, News — The user interfaces, menu and command structure in PDF Pro were sufficiently unique, that my knowledge of Acrobat Pro was a distraction if not a downright hindrance to my relearning the new software. I was also seriously distracted but the tool named created by the software’s developer, that bore little or no relationship to the semantics of the Adobe tool names and at times function. More about that later. As a result, for perhaps a long week of intermittent use, it slowed my work down. This was unlearning curve time, while I tuned in to, and became comfortable with the PDFpen interface. For me, a one time significant but quickly passing productivity problem.

Troublesome Tools Interface, At Least Initially — The lack of the ability to highlight the various icons shown below to show their names, unlike tools in in Acrobat, slowed me down. The help files told me that each tool did, but the icon functions were unfamiliar and their tool names/functions took time to learn.

But checking PDF Pen Help on line helped in making my review possible, but didn’t shorten my Acrobat trained, learning curve. …Old dogs, new tricks?


PDFpen Pro Toolbar [Customized]
Format Menu Text Tools Select Objects Tools

The Good News — I soon learned how to do everything I needed that was within the software’s functions, with the Smiles product. Once I’d learned the interface, it’s like owning and driving both a stick shift high performance car and a family automatic SUV. For less experienced users to those new to PDF editing tools, beyond a PDF reader, that learning curve is more normal, and not at all as steep.

Note — Apple has provided some PDF editing capabilities in its free Preview Application, but I’ve never knowingly tried to use it. Preview has some ability to view PDF files including read, search, and add notes to PDF files; as well as allowing you to annotate image files by adding your own notes, for highlighting text you want to remember, and circling sections you don’t want others to miss. It however it is not, nor claims to be, a full featured PDF editor.

Rather than continue this review, by summarizing the focus of PDFpen and Pro’s main features and where appropriate identifying each feature where PDFpen and Acrobat have functions in common — Reader, check out the appendix.

Note Apple has provided some PDF editing capabilities in its free Preview Application, but I’ve never knowingly tried to use it. Preview has some ability to view PDF files including read, search, and add notes to PDF files; as well as to annotate image files by adding your own notes, highlighting text you want to remember, and circling sections you don’t want others to miss. It however is not, nor claims to be a full featured PDF editor.

Software Focus and CapabilitiesAlthough PDFpen Pro can be used for tasks I don’t yet need, it serves mostly as a tool for PDF file creation, manipulation and ultimately content editing. It is software for people who want to work with, tweak of make major modification to PDF files rather than just read acquired PDF documents.

The product allows you to insert images, text boxes, comments, and links to other pages in the same document. You can also create hypertext links to website or email address, edit text, and draw almost any shape. PDFPen, since version 4.5.2 had added an improved OCR engine, and better scanner support in Mac OS X 10.6.

Specifically, features I value, I can replace text in original PDF with editable text blocks, move, resize, copy and delete images in a downloaded PDF and insert and remove pages; re-order pages in a PDF by drag & drop techniques. The software allows me to to copy and paste rich text from Word or other word processed documents into PDFs and to retain the original fonts and formatting when copying from PDFs into a document into NeoOffice or MS Word. When I need to, rarely, select and copy text across multiple columns that works with a minimal need to reformat the materials to unscramble the words parsed by lines not columns.

The software provides you the ability to use multicolored highlighting and

and remove the background color from imported images, neither of which interest me, yet. According to a tidbit by Rob Griffiths on Macworld, this is great for inserting your signature into PDF documents.

Although I have not yet used the software to develop a table of contents for a long PDF document, I’ll give that a try while working on my new eCookbook, useful since most of its example pages are downloaded and annotated web-blog recipes.

The original Smiles Features Comparisons List also contained information on PDFClerk Pro and Apple’s Preview, which I’ve eliminated as irrelevant to this review.

Kudos

There were two small but useful things I was delighted to easily do in PDFpen that required a round about route in Acrobat Pro 9.x.

  • First adding a new black PDF page was a menu item – no need to import a blank page from the finder.
  • Second, scanning Prescription or Medical ID card, two images are obtained, one for each side of the ID card. Combining these images (two PDF pages) using PDFpen was easy; I never did figure out how to do this in Acrobat. My required pasting the two images to a MSW document and printing that to PDF. Oh, when doing this with PDF pen, DON’T OCR the image… for obvious reasons.

Discomforts

I would welcome an easy way to split a full pdf page in to two or more parts, each part becoming a separate new PDF page. I’ve done this with both acrobat and PDFpen, but it’s a several step process — tedious.

Conclusions and Recommendations

One strength of PDFpen, apart from its lower price, is its simple WYSIWYG graphic interface where you can all the changes that occur as you work, and can undo any actions that don’t meet your needs or intent. Although I’ve gotten quite skillful at using Acrobat 9, there are too my things going on under the hood, to allow me to relax with the software.

Phil G, I will not give up Acrobat Pro for PDF Pen Pro, call it teaching an old man new tricks. But I do thank you, here an in an accompanying article entitled “WYSIWYG or Not which I will post later in the week.”

However, I unabashedly recommend PDFpen and ultimately PDFpen Pro to all of you readers who have not been gifted a corporate copy, of Acrobat Pro. In addition, should you have a copy of an earlier version of Acrobat pro (say v.7 or 8) on your computer, and need PDFpen’s rich feature set — do not pass GO – do not collect (spend) 200+ dollars; check out and do a test run with the Smiles Product.

PS:

I will be shortly posting an article called “WYSIWYG or Not — Web Page Content Redesign in Acrobat (Pro) and Now PDFPen Pro, A Responsible Macintosh Column [MHReports]. It contains my adventures, with the help of Smile’s Phil Goward, in pushing PDFpen beyond it’ design limits to clean up a really cluttered web downloaded obtained by printing a raw blog page recipe to PDF.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – –

Appendix

This Appendix contains an edited, truncated version, of the PDFpen and Pro product features as compared to Acrobat Pro 9 (Macintosh) posted on the Smile’s website. I have not, nor needed to validate the accuracy of Smile’s comparison for the all the itemized features of PDFpen, PDFpen Pro, and Acrobat 9. However, I vouch for those I used!

However, all the tools I needed for doing routine PDF file editing and reformatting were available to me. As I mentioned earlier, being a self acknowledged expert at editing in Acrobat was a liability. I’m guessing that most of you, my readers, will not be troubled by such skills so you learning curve will be shorter, or just perhaps just less frustrating than mine.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.
Sidebar #1: Reviews were carried out on my iMac 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM running Mac OS X version 10.6.4 with all security updates kept current.
Sidebar #2: Disclaimer: When reviewing software I will often use the developer’s product, functions and features descriptions. Because of this unless I’m quoting directly from another source, I do no cutter up the review with quotation marks. All other comments are strictly my own and based on testing. Why need I rewrite the developer’s narratives, if they are clearly written?

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: Bento 4
Vendor: Filemaker
Website: www.filemaker.com
Price: $49.00 new purchase, $29.00 upgrade from versions 1-3
Format: Available as boxed product or download (93 MB)

System Requirements for Bento

  • Bento requires Mac OS X v10.5.7 Leopard or Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard and will not work with earlier versions of the Mac OS.
  • A Mac computer with an Intel, PowerPC G5, or PowerPC G4
  • 867 MHz or faster processor
  • 512MB of RAM; 1GB recommended
  • A CD drive is required for installation of boxed product software

Introduction

Filemaker has released version 4 of its popular and very capable consumer database program called Bento. Bento 4 offers all the abilities of the earlier versions and includes a list of enhancements that approaches my wish-list for this program.

Bento is a powerful database program that makes it easy for the home user to create and maintain databases for any purpose they can imagine. Programmers at Filemaker have obviously applied their years of experience with creating their professional level database program to develop a truly powerful program for the home and small office use. The interface is easy to learn. Most users will be able to apply an existing template, or even create their own layouts with ease.

This powerful database program integrates nicely with Apple’s iPhoto and Address book, and iCal programs. Allowing the user to take advantage of features these applications don’t offer but Bento does. For instance creating a “smart list” that instantly creates a subset of the data that meets specific criteria. A popular smart list in my house is one that extracts those close friends we normally exchange gifts and cards with, from a huge list of friends, business associates, and other contacts that reside in our home address book.

I and others have written many reviews of Bento since the release of version 1. If you are unfamiliar with this application and all its abilities I recommend that you search for one of these reviews. This review will primarily consider the improvements and new features of this program.

On with the Review

First of all, Bento 4 seems to perform very well. I have run into no issues, including upgrading my old database. The people at Filemaker say that this new version is faster. Not much has changed in the interface, except for a few new commands, so if you already use Bento there is only a short time to learn how to use this new version. It is important that the user upgrading to Bento 4 learn about the new features, since they are mostly well integrated into the program and you will only see them if you look for them.

For instance, one feature I have begged and pleaded for is for Bento to print labels. Now it does! Previously, Bento shifted the label printing functions to those native to Apple’s address book. This was okay for some purposes, but posed some challenges. For instance, Apple’s address book doesn’t recognize any smart list you create with Bento, so there was no way to print labels from a smart list, (although there was a work around).

The design of this new feature is well thought out. The default is a basic address label. When you select print, there is a button on the print dialog that says, “print labels”. Click on this and a new print dialog opens. The default layout makes a fine label. However, you can choose to include other fields from your database as well. There is an option to attach an image on the label. The program shrinks the image down nicely to fit into the small label size. Bento includes templates for Avery and Dymo labels by their number. If you need a specific label layout, you can easily create your own layout by adding fields and stacking them as you like. Which means you can use the Bento database to create labels or tags for just about any purpose you can imagine.

These printing routines give you a lot of control on how the label is organized. There is a print preview, so you can see how the labels will look. There is also the ability to start printing on some label other than number one. This is great if you have a partially used sheet of labels and want to finish it up.

Another useful feature is the ability to share the data in a database along with the template. You could share the database template, but not the data in previous versions of Bento. Now you can share the data as well. I can see this is very useful in a lot of situations. For instance, in an office where one person is tasked with maintaining a database which is to be used by others. In previous versions, you could share and even update a database from another computer that has sharing turned on, but this database would not be available when you are not connected to the local network. You could also export the database and import it on the other computer, but important items like the layout of data fields, images and other media would not be transferred. So a small business could not easily share a catalog of their products, with animations, and images with their own sale people or even customers.

With Bento 4, when you choose the export function, there is an option to include data along with the template. The data includes all the media as well as the text. I think this is a terrific new feature. Years ago there were programs on the Mac that gave anyone the ability to share organized data about something of interest to them to others who owned the application (Hyperstudio and Apple’s Hypercard for instance). Using the sharing feature of Bento 4, I could create a database of information and share it with students in a class or just friends who own Bento. This feature has a lot of potential!

Of course, this leads me to suggest one more step in the sharing process, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to share a copy of the catalog, information, or whatever with people who don’t own Bento as well? Some form of a licensed runtime only version of Bento. Just food for thought!

In any case, the export feature is easy to use and works as expected. Just one work of caution, since the export data is part of the export template dialog, be careful to turn it off if you intend to just share the template! Otherwise potentially personal information might go along with your template.

Speaking of sharing templates, Bento 4 makes it even easier to share with the template exchange. In the template export dialog you just need to click on share with template exchange and the template is sent. I assume you can share the data with the template exchange as well. It will be interesting to see what type of new templates along with data make their way to this exchange in future.

For people who want to include even more data in their databases, Bento 4 includes two new interesting features: Voice memos and automatic location. Automatic location uses the location services of your portable device to find and record your current location. Using an iPhone or iPad with cellular services, you could capture an image, or write some information, then have the location services record the exact GPS location of where this occurred. The location feature is also tied to Google Maps, so you can click on the coordinates and see a map of the location.

Using the voice memo feature, you can create a field in the database to record audio into. There are several practical uses of this feature, one that comes to mind is the classroom. A database could be created which includes space to take notes during the lecture as well as recording the lecture. After, when reviewing the notes, the lecture could be reviewed as well, and those points that weren’t clear or even missed will become available. I could also see  it being used to provide information about an object in a database that might not be apparent by looking at the object.

Another very useful new feature is the ability to lock a form’s layout. I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of accidentally grabbing a field when I click around a database. So instead of doing what I intended, I move or re-size the field I clicked in. In Bento 4, you can choose to lock the form. This turns off the ability to rearrange and re-size fields on a form. If you later decide you would like to work with the fields, click off the lock, and the fields become movable again.

A lot of people are not happy that they cannot move iCal tasks onto their portable Apple devices. It doesn’t make sense, moving your task list onto a portable device makes them available for review no matter where you are. With Bento 4 you can now sync the iCal tasks with Bento, then sync them to your portable device. You will see them and be able to edit them on the Mac.  This is a feature I think a lot of people will be very happy with.

Along with the release of Bento 4 for the Mac, Filemaker will be releasing new versions of Bento for the iPod Touch / iPhone and iPad. These new versions take advantage of the new features in Bento and add several new features to the portable device.

I am a big fan of the iPod Touch and tend to use it as a PDA as more then a music player. I have been using Bento on the iPod touch for a number of tasks, but the most important use is for shopping lists. Rather than wasting a scrap of paper, I created a database of products at various stores. Along with this list, I created a smart list that shows only the items that I designated when needed (using a check box). At the store, I load the smart list, and as I put items in the cart, click off the check box, which removes the item from the list. Really cool and efficient! In the previous version of Bento for the iPod Touch, I had to select the item, open the record, to be able to click off the needed check box. In Version 4, you can choose to have a check box field shown on the list view. This means I can click off items directly from the list view, without opening the record. I love it!

Bento 4 also makes accessing the smart list view easier. Previously, there were two ways to view one’s list of databases in the iPod version of Bento, list view and cover flow view. While any large database could have a number of sub lists, you could not access a sub list from the list view. To access a sub list, you needed to select the main database in cover flow view, click on a button to flip the cover view around, then select the sub list from those listed there. In the new version of Bento for the iPod Touch, the cover flow view is now used only for selecting templates to create a new database. Your created databases all show in a list view. If there are sub lists, an icon at the end of the database name shows the number of sub lists, touch this icon and you get a menu of sub lists, then select the list of interest. This seems a lot more efficient to me.

The new version of Bento for the iPod/iPhone also now allows you to change screen orientation. This is very useful when trying to read a longer entry. It also means that the virtual keyboard has a wider aspect when you need to type, a real benefit on this small screen.

Voice memos seem like a great feature for these portable devices. It would be a lot quicker to speak a comment, or thought, onto the device, then later you can transcribe it into text. Or remember a thought you had.

While this is not an issue for me, the newer version of Bento for the iPhone/iPod Touch will also be available in other languages including: Japanese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch.

Although I do like all the changes and improvements, I am still unhappy when a database created on the Mac is moved to a portable device. Most of my databases are simple lists of information and the arrangement of the data isn’t really that important. But I also keep a database of books I have either read or listened to the audio version. My list has names of books, author’s name and website, and other useful information which I use to find more books. The list is organized with the title on top, author’s first and last names, website link, then a description of the book. I also keep an image of the books cover art (just for fun). There is other information as well. When I transfer this database to my portable device, the fields are scrambled. The author’s first name ends up near the top, but the last name is someplace near the bottom, title is in the middle, and so forth. On the iPad, the cover art is given a field large enough to see the entire image, but the longer text description field defaults to 2 lines of text. (I realize on the small devices (iPhone / iTouch), only a little text can be seen on one page and I can live with that.)

On the iPad, I expected more. For my longer text field, there is a way to tell the iPad to give it more space, by choosing how many lines of text to show, not intelligently by how much data is in the field. Each database field takes up one entire line, so instead of a neat layout of the author’s first name on the left side of the line followed by the last name to the right, they are forced to be displayed on two separate lines. With the iPad and its larger format, I would expect some semblance of the layout on my Mac display would transfer to the iPad, but this was not the case.

I realize that the transferred database can be shifted around to make sense on the smaller device, but why not keep some of the original order? In both cases, the transferred layout still mystifies me. What I get bears little resemblance to how I had the field organized on the Mac. Granted, you need to tell the app which two fields, and which media or check box field to show (if there is more than one), when you view the list of records in the database. But when I enter the view showing the full record, the layout is scrambled. I expected data would be organized a bit more like it is on the Mac. And especially do on the iPad.

I see an easy solution for Bento on the Mac. Among all the layouts that one can create, there should be an option for iPad and iPhone/iTouch devices. This way one can take advantage of the Macs interface tools to create logical screens for the portable devices. The default layout of fields should at least, approximate that of the Mac’s layout.

This doesn’t mean I don’t like these two portable versions. I do. I regularly use Bento on my iPod Touch as a shopping list, to find contact information, and even to research what is going on with an author’s web site.  I would be lost without Bento on the iPod! I have yet to find a real purpose for Bento on the iPad, but that’s just me. I am sure there are thousands of users who have found this App to be very useful. I can see it used in classrooms, as a high end catalog with pictures and even animations, and other uses.

Overall, the new version of Bento is terrific. It is a must-have for all current Bento users. If you use the portable devices, the new versions of Bento is also a great idea and I would recommend downloading them. The cost of Bento 4 is the standard $49, and there is a $20 rebate for current Bento owners. A group of five licenses can be purchased for $99. The portable versions are $4.99 each and the update is free to current owners. I highly recommend Bento for anyone who has a need or interest in organizing data. It is the easiest database program I have ever used and by far the most powerful consumer one available.