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Software Review
by David Ben Leavitt

  Product: iCalamus, V. 2.08

Company: Invers Software

URL: http://icalamus.net/index.php?lan=en

Price: € 108.4

System Requirements: OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) or higher, 200 MB on your hard drive,at least 512 MB RAM andscreen resolution at least 1024 x 768

Level: Intermediate

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Apples

I've been using ReadySetGo (RSG) as my page layout program of choice for years. I originally chose it over Pagemaker and QuarkXpress primarily on the basis of price, but I quickly found out that RSG was a powerful piece of software, and certainly sufficient for non-professional page layout. In fact, I liked it so much that I often used it in place of the various word processors I own.

But time marches on, and the last system software that RSG would work with was Snow Leopard. The Mac version was no longer being updated, and when I moved to a new iMac running Yosemite I had to find a new page layout program. iCalamus seemed to fit the bill. iCalamus is available by download only, and right now its manual is only online. While this allows convenient hyperlinks, it is inconvenient for studying and learning about the software. In addition, I found the entries a little terse; enough clicking usually let me find the information I needed, but I occasionally got frustrated. My problems with the manual were my only major complaints; otherwise I found the software to be reasonably easy to use and quite powerful.

Of course, there's a bit of a learning curve, especially if you are used to another page layout program. Some of the terms are different than the ones I was used to, but that's only to be expected. Overall, though, I got up to speed pretty quickly.

I first decided to create a simple one-page text document in iCalamus, without consulting the manual. Choosing 'New...' from the file menu brought up a New Document window, where I was able to specify the number of pages, the page format (in my case, Letter), and the number of columns, among other attributes. Once the new document was created, I drew a text box and was able to start entering text without a problem. But a one-page document, with text only, can be done in any word processor. My next task was to create a multi-page script (about 100 pages) that I would be using for a show I'll be directing later this year. My preferred format for this has the character name in a narrow column at the left side of the page, the dialogue in a much wider column in the center of the page, and stage directions in another column (intermediate in size) at the right of the page. I wanted the text in each column to flow into the corresponding column on the next page, and I wanted the height of each line of text to be identical across the columns, whether I was using a plain text face (for the dialogue), a boldface version (for the character names), or italics (for the stage directions). This was a little trickier, but I was able to get everything set up and working the way I wanted without a lot of headaches.

The key to iCalamus is a series of 'inspectors' which it makes available via a separate window when the application is active. These are grouped into seven tabs, so that functions which work together are on the same tab. For example, one tab has the Text Inspector, the Text Style Inspector, and the Text Ruler Inspector. Each inspector can have multiple adjustments; the Text Inspector controls the font, style, and size of the text, but also its color (from a small, predefined list which also includes transparent), line style (underlined, strike- through, etc.), superscript and subscript, text direction, and justification, among others.

I found that getting used to these inspectors was the hardest adjustment for me to make, but once I did I gained an immense amount of control over the appearance of my document. There's a lot of help available, including an online forum where members of the development team often respond quickly to problems. I posted a question there, and had an answer within hours. Other users can chime in with answers also, which can be a big help. When I spotted something which appeared to be a bug, I was asked to send them my file so they could check it out; they are very responsive.

In sum, iCalamus has proven to be a powerful page layout program at a fraction of the cost of the 'heavyweight' standards like InDesign. While it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of my prior program (ReadySetGo), it has a lot of new features that more than compensate for the ones I've lost. I highly recommend it.

David Ben Leavitt

Reviewer:David Ben Leavitt

David started using a Fat Mac back in 1986, and hasn't looked back; he's owned a number of Macs since then, and recently purchased a retina iMac.
David retired after 40+ years working for Social Security, and now spends his leisure time working with several community theatre groups.

This site has many more reviews, all written by MLMUG members.
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