RagTime

When it comes to laying out a book or publication, the software set-up is generally simple. But, a business with weekly or annual reports, catalogues and price lists, has different requirements: integrated graphs, spreadsheet-based tables, and the manipulation of data can be awkward to handle with a DTP package. Office 98 offers a solution – but the programs are hardly integrated, requiring the creation of a number of documents, followed by importing-&-exporting between them. What’s needed is a program, that handles all the different elements in the same way. RagTime is the answer. A RagTime page consists of a number of boxes, the shapes of which can be selected from a long list, including rectangle and oval, through to polygon and bézier. Rather than differentiate between a box containing a graph or text, any box on a RagTime page can contain any of the eight basic elements: text, drawings, spreadsheets, buttons, pictures, graphs, movies or sounds – no moving between different programs to create such items. This also has the advantage of just a single document for each job. Drag-&-drop is implemented fully, and can be used to copy almost any item. RagTime uses two other important concepts: style sheets and the inventory. Anyone who has ever used a DTP program will appreciate the importance of style sheets. RagTime takes the idea a stage further, by allowing any attributes to be set as a style: value formats, characters, paragraphs, fills, lines – the list is endless. The inventory is even more useful, as it shows a list of every component in use within the document. Each can be edited within a dedicated window by a simple double-click, or drag-&-dropped into another document, or as a picture clipping on to the desktop. The eight modules fare well in terms of features. The text processor, for example, offers 18-language support, character and paragraph style sheets, and more. It also integrates with MacLinkPlus Translators, and the Claris XTND System, to offer an import facility from almost every conceivable source. As for the spreadsheet, the RagTime component has all the functionality you could possibly need. Even the drawing module has more than enough features for business use. As might be expected from a program aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses, the graphing component is powerful. Half a dozen formats are available, plus the options of 2D and 3D. Choice of placement for legends and titles, position, width and length of tick marks, and position of category titles make this a comprehensive module. The sound, movie, and picture containers each handle the standard Mac items. Image-import formats include TIFF and EPS (though not with a JPEG preview), plus most other variants through the translators. But, GIFs are precluded, and JPEGs have to be drag-&-dropped from the Finder. In fact, most images can be placed in this manner – you can even drag-&-drop a movie into a picture box and RagTime adjusts the box automatically. Full AppleScript support takes the tedium out of repetitive tasks, while contextual menus give access to common functions. Most menus can be torn off and placed anywhere on-screen for ease-of-use. Additionally, full ICC colour management is implemented, with a dazzling number of profiles for both RGB and CMYK. In terms of output, RagTime has some nice touches. While the standard procedure of page set-up is followed by the print process, there’s also the option to ‘print 1 (item)’ which bypasses this. The Fax option picks up either a FaxSTF or FaxExpress driver if installed, and there’s even a Print to HTML option, albeit a very basic one that outputs the entire page simply as a JPEG. Because it’s modular, various add-ons have been developed. One of these, FileTime 4, allows a FileMaker Pro database to be linked with RagTime.

OUR VERDICT

RagTime is unique. Designed to take the pain out of business publishing, it’s an alternative DTP. The learning curve is steep, but given the power of the package, that’s hardly surprising. The documentation is superb, and includes a 220-page manual. There are a few gripes – such as a lack of keyboard shortcuts for Import – but, all in all, it’s a decent – albeit expensive – product.

Find the best price