Readerware is a database application for Windows desktop computers that tracks your book collection; applications that track your music CDs (Readerware AW) and DVD movies (Readerware VW) are available separately or as part of a bundle. All of the applications work in the same way, with a few minor differences that depend on the type of item be cataloged, so this review will focus on Readerware with discussions of the features of companion applications as appropriate.
When you first start Readerware, you’re presented with a basically empty screen with several menu items and an icon bar along the top of the application window. The first few icons are for navigational purposes, the books with plus signs on them are for adding items to your collection, and of course the big red X is for deleting individual items. The icon that looks like a bookshelf is what you use to browse your collection it removes any filters or search criteria you may have entered. The binoculars access the find fiction, while the shopping cart takes you straight to your “cart” within Readerware–a listing of the books you’ve seen or heard about that you might be interested in purchasing/reading someday. The print and save icons are self-explanatory, while the dropdown box that currently says “Default Table View” is how you access the various views, built-in and custom, that you can use to browse and organize your data.
For Readerware to help you get organized, you of course have to enter all of your information. While this may sound like a gloomy prospect, depending on how many books, movies, or music CDs you have, it really isn’t. Readerware works with a variety of barcode scanners (you even get one free if you buy a bundle) and will actually search for all the information you need for each book and fill it in automatically. All you have to do is scan each item and let Readerware do the rest! To get started, click on the sixth icon from the left, the blue book with the single plus sign on it; that’s how you start the auto-catalog wizard, which will guide you through the entire process. The first screen asks you to select an online source, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc. The list is very extensive and includes several foreign sources as well. After you click the Next button, scan in a list of items (or a box, or a shelf) then click Next again. Readerware will go out and search whatever source you selected and will fill in everything from author and title to price, publisher, copyright year, even book summaries and cover images! I’d suggest that you start with just one source at first (Borders is a good choice because they don’t add as much extra “stuff” as Amazon) in order to keep the time required to a minimum. If some of your books aren’t found, you can then use the update feature to search a larger range of sources, including Powells and Half.com, where I’ve had a lot of success filling in information on some of my older, out of print books.
After you get everything entered, what you do with your data is up to you. You can print reports of course, and there’s also a rudimentary Palm OS version available as well. You can’t enter new books in the mobile version, but it will save you from buying the same book twice if you check the list before you make a purchase. The searching and filtering features are superb; you can search on any field by choosing it from the dropdown box just under the icon bar and then entering the text you want to find in the box right next to it. The fisheye view also deserves special mention, because it gives you a graphical overview of your collection at a single glance. You can tell what categories you have the most books in, and you can also see your favorite authors at a glance. It might not serve any truly useful purpose, but it is very fun to manipulate and explore.
Readerware AW for music CDs and Readerware VW for remarkably similar to the regular version for books. The main differences come in the field names–artist instead of author, extra space for track names and DVD chapter titles, etc. If the web site you’re searching has the tracks/chapters listed, they’re automatically filled in when you auto-catalog each item, which is not strictly necessary but does make completing your collection much easier. If you love a particular artist, and you’ve ever bought a compilation CD for one song, you already know just how useful this feature can be.
Readerware is incredibly powerful and can be somewhat overwhelming at first. I had to write the developer several times in the beginning with questions, but the more I used Readerware the more comfortable with it I became. If you spend some time with the tutorial and the detailed instructional support materials on the developer’s web site, you’ll find that just about every question you have will already be answered. If not, then send a quick message to support and you’ll likely get an answer back within just a couple of hours, or maybe a day or so if things are busy. That’s important when you’re learning something new, but don’t be afraid to experiment either. I learned how to do some pretty cool things with the Fisheye view, and I can now search, sort, and filter with the best of them.
I only have three “complaints” about Readerware: it isn’t as “pretty” as it could be. While it is “skinnable” so you can change the look of the icons and such, it’s still rather grey without many options to customize how things look. That’s a very small complaint mind you, and when balanced with the power of Readerware I probably shouldn’t say anything at all. Second, it can be more difficult to do certain things than I think it should be, like remove an unused category. There’s no central place to do that, and depending on where you’re downloading your information from, you can get a lot of extra categories that you don’t really want, like “Science Fiction:Authors:J:Jordan,Robert.” In order to clean up the list, you have to go to the item detail screen, select category, click the one you want to delete, and then right click and select delete. The third isn’t really a complaint, just a fervent wish that the developer would someday make a Readerware GW version, for videogames. I’ve been able to force the VW version to work with videogames; autocatalog works just fine, and I’ve filled in “game” in the format field and specified the platform (GBA, PS2, etc.) in the location field. It works for me, and you might have similar success if you’re willing to put a little thought into how to customize your data entry in Readerware to make it work even better for you.
Readerware, Readerware AW, and Readerware VW are available for $40 each, or as part of a bundle for $75. If you want the Palm OS software for your handheld, be sure to purchase the Palm Editions for $50 each, or $85 for a bundle of all three. There’s also a client/server edition which is perfect for families that would like to catalog their entire collections and keep things separate with multiple users, or even for libraries and small bookstores looking for software to automate their inventory. You can get a 30 day trial or purchase the applications at the Readerware web site.