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Author Topic: GCstar - Personal collections manager  (Read 10518 times)
Lashiec
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« on: June 07, 2008, 07:51:21 PM »

Basic Info

App NameGCstar
App URLhttp://www.gcstar.org/
App Version Reviewed1.4.0
Test System Specs
Quote
AthlonX2 5200+, 2 GB RAM, WinXP Pro SP2 & Sandboxie 3.26
Supported OSesFreeBSD, GNU/Linux, Mac OS X and Windows
Support MethodsSupport forum
Upgrade PolicyIt's a free application, so use your imagination :)
Trial Version Available?Nope, free for all
Pricing SchemeThe price is LOW: $0
Author Donation LinkYou can make a donation via PayPal
Reviewer Donation Link Donate to Lashiec, the author
Relationship btwn. Reviewer and Product Hey, it's free as in freedom of speech (not free as in beer, sheesh ;D), how can you think I was paid to do this? OK, seriously, I am just testing the program for my own use

DISCLAIMER: This is not the usual mini-review, it started as a simple remark in General Software Discussion, but in the end it got so big I decided it should belong here. So that's why the usual sections are missing.

After looking at the mess created by all the items sitting in my shelves, drawers, and other unspecified places (room corners, for example), I decided that it was impossible to remember what I have and where it is, so it was time to put my ass to work and catalog these things to prevent future losses and be able to accumulate more crap have quick access to my precious belongings :D

So I searched around for the software to let me accomplish such thing. The main option was (and continue to be, despite this post) MediaMan, a very polished piece of software that lets you catalog music, films, books and other media pulling data from the Internet, but shareware. A quick search in DC also unearthed Libra, very much like MediaMan, not as good, but freeware, and Listal, a web service that looks like a nice option to have your data up in the cloud, while having a social component in it, it seems you can even backup that data locally.

Then I remembered that an OSS movie cataloging software called GCfilm stopped development a while ago to be fully rewritten and contain every kind of collectible thing created by humankind. So, I googled it, and came upon GCstar. GCstar is a cross platform app, that uses the GTK toolkit and several external libraries to do its job.

The first thing that impressed me was that it looked quite nice under Windows. Usually, I cringe every time I run a GTK app in Windows, but the developers did a nice job with the skin. Still, it maintains most identifying widgets of GTK, including its file browser. It's easy to get used to it, but still feels awkward despite packing some shiny eye candy:


After getting familiar with the interface, I decided to create a new database. Contrary to other apps, GCstar does not let you have different types of things coexist in the same collection, so forget about having Krzysztof Kieslowski and Britney Spears sitting one next to the other (unless you were so crazy to bought that "movie" she made). GCstar brings along quite some plugins to extract information from various sources, instead of using the APIs sites like Amazon provide, GCstar queries and parses HTML code to find the relevant data. This has an advantage, being that it can interact with far more services than its competitors, but also it's quite slower, and not very flexible.

For example, I decided to build a game collection to test the program, and when I went to select the source of the data, I was thrilled to found MobyGames between the sources (those guys hold tons of high resolution videogame covers scans). Unfortunately, instead of importing the covers, the program imports the thumbnails, as the real covers are a few pages ahead. Not a letdown, as I can import them manually, but I prefer to do it automatically. Also, maybe it's because I'm running the program sandboxed, but it seems like those images imported by hand are not saved along the others, that means if you delete the source files, you lose the pictures in the program.

Apart from that, the most prominent bugs are three: First, sometimes the information fetching stage gets stalled, but I ignore if it's the program's fault, or the server being queried. In those cases, all you can do is restart the application, which despite this, stays fully responsive, so you can save the database before exiting without problems. Second, the commands calling external applications, specially browsers, sometimes hang up as well, a console window shows up but nothing happens until a minute or two later. Again, I don't know what causes this, though it's as easy to correct as to close the window and try again. And third, sorting the elements alphabetically when you add new items only works when you save the database, exit the program, and enter again :S

Other features include item searching, complete with the creation of virtual folders; data replacing; integration with the digital copies of the catalogued objects (game executables, music files, DVD rips...); a system to track borrowed items; tagging, and specific information for each collectible (secret codes for games, historic data for coins, etc.). A high point is the choice of objects to catalog, going from your typical movies and games to more exotic things, like coins, wine or board games, and with the option of creating custom collections (beer bottles, wife jewels, etc.). And no, no barcode scanning for the moment, but the developing team is toying with the idea.

Wrapping up, GCstar is a excellent piece of software, handicapped by its cross platform heritage (well, I'd say "handicapped by the choice of GTK"), but still very attractive and well designed, and quite capable to compete against the big names of this particular type of software. Being freeware and open source, I think the problems inherent in the program will be fixed while the program continues to evolve. It may not steal market share from the MediaMan users (of which a gorgeous new version is in development) or the worshipped Delicious Library in the Mac, but for those searching for a quality alternative without paying a cent, it looks like the best alternative...

... unless you don't run Windows, in that case Tellico looks quite nice, and it has some advanced features GCstar lacks, like barcode scanning.
« Last Edit: June 07, 2008, 09:06:06 PM by Lashiec » Logged
BigJim
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« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2008, 10:58:47 PM »

Thanks for the review.  Thmbsup Helpful and timely as I, too, need to get my act together. I'm on the verge of plunking down $75 for ReaderWare (http://www.readerware.com). Time is money and I don't have a lot of either. But this thing seems to work impressively right 'out of the box'. I've got a lot of books, music and videos to catalogue so need a system that works, works well and doesn't slow me down.
Hopefully, GCstar will mature quickly. It would be nice to have in the wings for other things and media (as you suggest).
NB Developers: Bar code scanning is crucial, IMHO. Most stuff that doesn't have a bar code already will have one applied by me once catalogued.
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Lashiec
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« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2008, 10:35:44 AM »

Thanks! Glad you liked it, and proved useful for such time-consuming job smiley

Readerware looks pretty powerful, and its array of data sources is impressive, but it does not click with me. Being Java based, having separate programs for each type of media, lack of more types (games, comics, which I really need), and its price means a no-no.

Also, it seems that without UPC codes you're in trouble if you want to import data, which is also another problem for me, as I have several products that were only released in Spain. Of course, this is not a problem of Readerware alone, most of the other alternatives are geared to the USA market, which is understandable (you'd need separate programs for each European nation :-D)

Barcode scanning is quite useful for sure, but I don't have a webcam, and without it, sometimes I finish faster inputting the data myself than importing it, because most times there is always some cleanup to do (and I'm such a perfectionist :-P). I think that in this particular type of software there is quite some room to ease the chore of introducing tons of new objects, maybe by pulling data from various sources, not only for the sake of completeness, but also to fix that data automatically before storing it in the database, using some data comparison and merging, and also by presenting the user the best options when it comes to scanned covers (image quality, resolution, etc.). Maybe they could look at what some music taggers and rippers are doing, and improve from there. In this case, web-based services like Listal surely have a big advantage, as much of the data is already existing in their databases, and after looking at the bookshelves, I'm tempted embarassed

Another thing that I'm concerned about is interoperability between the various programs. Although you can always export database data to .CSV, I ignore if when importing into another app this data, it will be automatically stored in the proper sections, or if some will go into a generic field (or worse, lost in the process). It would be nice to have a universal format, and as a few apps already save its data in SQLite, I guess that would be an option (or something based in XML). Perhaps I'd grab a few apps and test such interoperability myself...
« Last Edit: June 11, 2008, 11:27:45 AM by Lashiec » Logged
Darwin
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« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2008, 10:38:24 AM »

Thanks Lashiec - nicely done  Thmbsup

Don't forget everyone, toss a few DC shekels the way of the authors of reviews here on DC. It's a nice way of saying "thanks" and "well done"...
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BigJim
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« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2008, 04:56:42 PM »

Thanks again for your thoughts and insights. Our needs are similar but not exactly the same (makes the world go 'round, right?). My requirements are more in line with what ReaderWare offers although I'm not too happy with having three separate applications, either. On the other hand, that aspect allows for more precise and meaningful database fields. Less generalization as to what goes where.

I recently spent less than $50 on a used bar code scanner. What a buzz to sit with a pile of CD's, for example, and just blip them as fast as the checkout person at Wal-Mart could ring them up. PRESTO! - they're in the ReaderWare application with the cover art and all the data and reviews harvested from as many sites as I have cared to define. I certainly recommend the investment in the scanner! That almost completely covers the errors problem that you mention. (Also streamlines a lot of other searches, too, BTW. Just scan your cereal box into Google and you go right to the product's website. Even in Spain, I suspect, since UPC's are registered internationally.

Further, for something that doesn't have a bar code actually on it (e.g. a rip) I can still look it up on Amazon or similar, drag it into ReaderWare and, if needed, print out the bar code to put on the item from the data imported. Really neat, IMHO.

I'll certainly be interested to see the results of your comparative analysis if you decide to do it!

[Darwin:  Thmbsup got it covered]
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Lashiec
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« Reply #5 on: June 12, 2008, 05:02:30 PM »

I think I should look into getting a barcode scanner if I can get a cheap one, although I tried the UPC trick with the cereal box and other things, and did not work Sad cheesy

As a side note, I retested GCstar without using Sandboxie (in the live system if you prefer), and all the bugs mentioned (including the imported image one) persist. What's more, I uncovered a few more, like that it's impossible to create a collection of discs (once you select the template, the program sits there with the buttons grayed out), and it's difficult to do the same with comics, as the program automatically uses a serialized string that can't be replaced by the name of the comic, except in the fetch information dialog. I don't know, but perhaps I should have tested the program under Linux...
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mahesh2k
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« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2008, 06:01:28 AM »

Nice Review  thumbs up
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