Bambi and Tera both have a history of page layout applications on the Mac. Both extend back to Aldus Pagemaker, now they prefer Adobe InDesign. I use BeLight’s Swift Publisher.
This week I found Ragtime. Again. I thought this page layout application had died years ago. It didn’t. Now there’s a free version.
Maybe I’m just not old enough to remember when Pagemaker ruled the world of page layouts on Mac and Windows. After all, I don’t even know how old Tera is. No one does.
Bambi actually uses page layout in her public relations business and swears by Adobe’s InDesign, curses Quark Express (something about taking forever to get to Mac OS X and delivering bugs with a price increase).
At $700, InDesign is expensive and complex. Quark Express is more and more so. For most of my page layout needs, I’ve come to love BeLight’s Swift Publisher. I know it’s not an Apple to apple comparison, but price matters.
Imagine my surprise when I read that Ragtime had been updated. Ragtime has been around a few years as an odd but attractive page layout application that fit somewhere between InDesign/Quark Express on the high end, and Pagemaker and everything else on the low end.
Ragtime is a little like having Pagemaker, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Word all bundled together.
Think of it as AppleWorks without the elegance (but with more frequent updates).
Ragtime Solo is the free, personal user version of Ragtime.
The stellar feature of Ragtime is the integration of text processing and spreadsheet. As with Apple’s $79 AppleWorks, the spreadsheet is built in as a layout function.
What you get is a powerful, unique page layout application for documents which require spreadsheets which can be updated instantly, thereby updating the document.
It’s not just a spreadsheet function, either. There’s also typical page layout text processing, tables, drawings, pictures, and graphs, all of which can be dropped into Ragtime.
Meanwhile, the spreadsheet continues to calculate and display data while you build a document around it. That’s plenty cool.
Things you’d expect to find in a page layout application are there. Automatic table of contents, indexing, footnotes, and the standard array of design tools.
Ragtime treats content as elements, so the same elements can be used again and again within a document, without the need to recreate the element.
That’s handy, as all that’s required to update 20 elements is to update the element master (similar to how Templates work on content management systems for the web).
If you think about it, this integrated spreadsheet approach makes sense for businesses which need to make on-the-fly adjustments in documents.
Links within the document are dynamic, so when one is updated, they’re all updated. That goes far beyond the home or SOHO page layout application.
Ragtime Solo is the personal, home user version of Ragtime. Did I mention that it’s free?
Ragtime is at version 5.6.x, as is Ragtime Solo, though a new beta version of Ragtime 6.x is available.
If you’re familiar with page layout applications, you’ll get into Ragtime Solo within minutes. The metaphor for layout is similar, but the addition of a live, working spreadsheet as a page layout element opens up many design possibilities.
Here’s why Ragtime Solo looks like an application worthy of a try. Ragtime is $695, though it runs on Mac and Windows, it’s clearly aimed at the business publisher market. There’s an education and non-profit version of the same package for only $125, and the Ragtime Solo version is free.
As you’d expect, it’s try before you buy, including the hefty PDF manual. From what I can tell from the Ragtime site, there’s also multiple language support, including English, French, and German, among others.
Page layout applications on the Mac range from free to low price to expensive and aimed at professional users. Ragtime and Ragtime Solo fit the whole spectrum, though with a unique set of features.
Ragtime Solo is not as quickly intuitive as Swift Publisher, but, in some areas it does much more, though Swift has no limitation on use (Pro vs. Personal).
If you’re deep into Quark or InDesign and have no need for spreadsheet elements, don’t bother. If you’re willing to try something a bit different, Ragtime Solo won’t disappoint.