This morning, Push Popcorn, a software development company based in Bologna, Italy, released "Records for Mac OS X." Records is a personal database app, and is designed to make it as easy as possible for anyone to create their own databases. It fills a gap left by Bento, which was discontinued back in September of 2013.
Here's a quick overview of Records, and my thoughts on this new, intriguing application...
The Records application groups related data into libraries, which are listed in the application's left sidebar. You can right-click on a library to delete or rename it. Libraries are essentially the individual databases that Records maintains. When you first use Records, a database named "Database 1" is created for you, and you're ready to go. And, of course, you can add your own libraries at any time (via File > New > Blank Database, or Command-N).
The records in a database are displayed individually via forms, and you can setup multiple forms for each library. To add a new form, you can click on a "+" icon located in the bottom-most area of the application's toolbar, select File > New > Form, or use the Command-N shortcut. Unfortunately, Records does not provide an option for viewing multiple records in a table or list format.
Field Types Supported
Records supports a 14 different field types. As you would expect, it supports text fields, pop up buttons, check boxes, dates, times, images, numbers, and currency.
To add a new field to a form (and, simultaneously, to a library), you simply drag a field type from the fields inspector (which is located in the right column of the application), and drop it on the form layout. This drag and drop, WYSIWYG approach makes setting up a database very easy. In fact, you can get a new database setup in no time at all.
Records also supports e-mail and web site field formats, which are quite interesting. These fields are essentially text fields, but when displayed, they include a button next to them. When the button next to an e-mail field is clicked, Records automatically opens your e-mail application and pre-addresses a new message using the e-mail address in the field. Similarly, when the button next to a web site field is clicked, your browser will open (or a new tab will be opened), and the URL that was entered into the field will be loaded.
The contact field type is also interesting. It integrates with the OS X Contacts app, so you can easily locate a contact in your address book and place their name into the field.
Records also provides horizontal and vertical separators, which can be used to visually group related fields. No additional graphical objects (rectangles, etc) are supported, nor are text labels (such as header or section titles). Additionally, while Records does support check boxes, it does not provide support for radio buttons.
Once a field has been placed on a form, you can change its properties via the Property Inspector. For example, you can change the field's title (label), position, size, text-alignment, default value, format, and more. For numbers, you can choose to format the values as currency, decimals, percents, scientific values, or have them "spelled out" (so that a value of 50 appears as "fifty"). For date values, you can individually choose the format of the date and time values.
Records provides alignment guides which makes it easy to place and align objects on a form. You can enable or disable the guides via a button in the toolbar. You can also align multiple objects by selecting them, and then selecting either a horizontal alignment option (Left, Center, or Right), or a vertical alignment option (Top, Middle, or Bottom). You can also position the "z" element of objects, placing them in front of or in back of, other objects. These alignment options are present in both the Properties Inspector, or via Arrange > Align Objects.
The pop up field type makes use of value lists, which you can edit via the List Editor (View > Show List Editor, or Command-3). Records provides five pre-loaded lists, including Countries, Credit Cards, Currencies, Events, and Priorities. Adding your own lists is an easy, straight-forward process.
A screen shot of a simple Records database, with the fields inspector displayed. (Click the image for a larger view.)
Locking A Form
You can "lock" a form via a button in the toolbar, which essentially disables the form design functions.
Working With Records
Records makes it very easy to add a new record to a database. You can either click the "+" icon in the toolbar, select File > New > Record, or use the Shift-Command-R shortcut. Similarly, you can delete a record by selecting the "-" icon from the toolbar, or by selecting Edit > Delete Record. And when deleting a record, you are prompted to confirm the deletion.
To navigate between records, simply click the left and right arrow icons in the toolbar. The number of records in the database, as well as the number of the record that you are currently on, is displayed in the toolbar between those icons.
Finding records that meet your criteria is easy, as Records provides a nice full text search function. Simply click the "find" icon in the toolbar (represented by a magnifying glass), and then enter a few keywords. As you type, the application immediately begins to display records that meet the criteria, and you can click on a record to go directly to it. However, this feature only helps you find and navigate to a record. It does not change the set of records being displayed.
Importing and Exporting Records
Records provides limited support for both importing and exporting data. The application only supports its own "Records" field format which has a ".Records" file extension), and each file represents a library / database. The files are actually OS X packages, and after spending a little time poking around inside one, it appears that the data is stored in a SQLite database.
To import a Records file, you can either double-click it, or select File > Import From > Records. Upon opening a Records file, you are asked if you would like to import the library into the application.
You can also export data from Records, via File > Export To > Records. From what I can tell, you can only export to the "Records" file type. Also, you cannot filter the records that are included in the exported file.
You can easily share your Records database templates with other users. To do so, select File > Export To > Template. I found it odd that, when opening a file that was saved as a template, the imported database actually included the records that were in the original database.
Output / Reporting
With Records, you can print a form or save it as a PDF. However, only the record currently being viewed is printed. You cannot print multiple records at one time.
Customizing the Interface
You can easily customize and adjust the Records interface. For example, you can choose to hide or show the Sidebar (where the databases appear), via View > Hide / Show Sidebar or the Command-1 shortcut. Similarly, you can hide or show the Inspector (where the fields and properties inspectors appear), via View > Hide / Show Insepctor or the Command-2 shortcut. The application's toolbar can also be toggled on and off, via View > Hide Toolbar, or Option-Command-T. In addition, you can completely customize the toolbar, via View > Customize Toolbar.
And finally, you can change the color scheme for individual forms. Records provides six themes, including Blue, Gray, Green, Purple, White, Yellow.
Impressions and Thoughts
Records is a very interesting, compelling entry into the personal database space. It certainly does feel a little like Bento did, but with greater simplicity and maybe just a little less elegance.
It's this simplicity that really appeals to me, and I know several users of more sophisticated databases, and refugees of Bento, who will also find the simplicity appealing. Records a user friendly application, and it most certainly makes it as easy as possible to get a database up and running quickly. For such a simple application, there's a lot to like about Records.
There are just a few things missing from this initial release of Records, and I'm sure we'll see this addressed in future versions. For example, the ability to view records in a table or list format, to view filtered lists of records, and support for additional file types when importing and exporting data. An iOS version of the application, with support for iCloud, would also be welcomed.
That all being said, I strongly recommend that those looking for a personal database solution, and who aren't quite in need of the power that more sophisticated database applications provide, consider Records.