Calibre

The ultimate in open-source e-book management.
Getting to Know Calibre

Calibre's project manager Kovid Goyal deserves a big pat on the back (and tips in the tip jar). Not only is the program organized well, the Web site easily navigable, and the installation relatively painless, but the documentation is very comprehensive as well.

When you open Calibre, you're presented with the main interface screen (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Calibre Interface

You'll notice the unique interface concept. There is no standard menu bar—just a toolbar with a few basic buttons and drop-downs under the buttons to allow you access to finer-grained controls on each of those tools.

Starting at the top left is the button that starts it all: Add Books. The list box attached to it gives you the option to add a single book, add a directory or a nested directory structure, or to add an empty entry into the database that you can populate later. This last option is useful if you're also adding your physical books to the collection—it can serve as a placeholder with instructions on where the book is shelved.

Moving along to the right is the metadata tool. This is the heart and soul of your database. The metadata are all your obvious tags: ISBN, Author, Series name, Publisher, Copyright date, Publication date for that edition and so on. It also includes the cover art, the listing of the different formats in which you have the book, a comments field and a tags field. Fetching metadata from the remote server populates the fields for you, not including the cover art, and it puts the back-of-book copy in the comments field and the genre in the tags field. Downloading the cover art pulls the cover art linked to that ISBN from the ISBN or Google Book servers. If you get art for an edition you didn't intend, you always can replace it by hand.

Pushing the metadata button brings up the metadata edit screen for the individual book you have selected (Figure 2). Using the drop-down list, you can act upon the metadata of multiple selected books in a variety of ways using batch functions—most handy.

Figure 2. Editing Metadata

The third button is the conversion tool, which lets you translate one format into another—very handy for devices like the Kindle, which reads only one kind of proprietary file format. You can translate EPUBS, properly formatted PDFs (some formatting conventions, like headers and footers, can cause major headaches), OpenOffice.org documents and so on, into Kindle AZWs for easy viewing on your Kindle. In many cases, the default settings are quite adequate, but for the occasions when they're not, the tool gives you direct access to the document's structure and several of the XML wild cards. This is the one section of the program that, at the time of this writing, is not well documented, so you'll need to experiment if you're getting wonky results from the default conversion.

The drop-down list also gives you the option of creating a device-exportable library catalog—handy for those who like to compare book lists with their friends or who, like me, are simply nuts for library catalogs. (Don't laugh, there are more of us than you think, and we live on the Internet with vast botnets at our beck and call. Taunt us at your own risk.)

Next is the View button, which is fairly self-explanatory. Clicking it opens the default viewer for the highest-priority format in which the book is available. Clicking on the list box gives you the further option to view a specific format rather than just using the one Calibre picks for you by the numbers.

Next up, there's a button curiously entitled Fetch News. This is actually a very sophisticated RSS reader, and it comes preloaded with more than a thousand news feeds in various languages. If your e-reader doesn't have Wi-Fi or 3G, and you want to batch-spool up your morning news or blogs, this is the tool for you. It can pull down anything with an RSS feed, so you always can have the latest installment of Doctorow's current novel added to your library as soon as it's released.

Clicking the button brings up the scheduling window if you don't have anything scheduled yet (here you set the download schedule) or it grabs all queued downloads if you have them scheduled. Using the drop-down menu lets you fetch the news and customize the feeds by creating “recipes” for your specific news-reading needs (basically, a list of RSS feeds and the way you want them to appear in your customized electronic newspaper).

The next button along is your device controller. It syncs your selected reading list with your e-reading device. The drop-down menu lets you select the particular driver (if autodetection is not working properly) and tweak other sync settings.

If your device isn't recognized, due to driver problems, kernel issues or the device being so new there isn't a driver for it yet, fear not. The next button is Save To Disk, which will save the selected books to any location in your file tree that you please, including a USB mass storage device, such as your e-reader's internal Flash memory. When using this option, you'll usually need to reboot the device so that it rescans its file tree and updates its database accordingly.

Next is the Remove Books button, which also is self-explanatory. The drop-down gives you the option to remove singles, multiples, specific formats contained within the selected titles only, cover art only, or to remove the selected books from the attached device, but not from the library.

Finally, there's the Preferences button, which brings up the granddaddy of all dialogs (Figure 3). This is the beating heart of the operation, offering lower-level access to the database, debug functions, conversion defaults and a bunch of other stuff. Most interesting, perhaps, is the Calibre server setup, which allows Calibre to operate like a remote library system for other computers on your network (or on the Internet, if you often experience the sudden need for one of your e-books while at the office). Pretty much everything in here, sophisticated though it is, is self-explanatory.

Figure 3. Preferences Screen

Below the button bar, there's a field listing the available collections. Calibre can support multiple libraries, and this is where you switch between them. Below that, there's a search bar. It doesn't search within the books, alas, but it does search the metadata quite effectively.

Moving down again, is the library itself. In the left pane, you'll find the available hierarchies—Authors, Publishers, Tags, formats and ratings. It offers all of these as pre-sorted searches, and clicking on them will modify the list you see in the center pane.

The center pane is your library itself. All the metadata is listed in easy-to-read rows of alternating colors. You can organize them alphabetically by any of the available fields simply by clicking on the column title, just as you can do with any spreadsheet or other list-driven program.

The rightmost pane shows you the cover art and a quick rundown on the book currently highlighted. File types, comments and so on all appear here.

Finally, along the bottom of the screen are three buttons that control the layout of the program. Toggling these three buttons turns on and off different panes on the screen. The one that's turned off in my default layout is the graphical bookshelf (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Graphical Bookshelf Browser

This handy interface allows you to flip through the list as it appears (search-restricted and all), like you'd flip through books on a bookshelf. Clicking left shuffles to items farther up the list, clicking right shuffles to items farther down the list.

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