SOFTWARE REVIEW

Canal Planner for Windows v6 Canal Planner for Windows [v 6]
from InfoClub
30 - 47.50 +p&p
T. 01543 432964
www.infoclub.co.uk

Now here's a useful piece of software, although at the outset the program's rather utilitarian user interface did make this reviewer wonder about its content and home-grown origins. However, on getting to know the workings of Canal Planner for Windows [CP4W] it really turns out to be an excellent little application with lots of potential and that's despite its visually lack-lustre GUI.

Installation is reasonably painless and once loaded the main menu bar is text driven rather than icon based... one of the things which gives the program a somewhat clunky look. The recommended screen resolution is 1024x768 which might not suit every user's hardware though the program will run at 800x600.

New users have the opportunity to review the basics through a Lotus screencam presentation but the best way of getting the feel of a new piece of software is often just by exploring. So what did we find...?

Perhaps the first thing which should be highlighted about the program is that it is very much a 'contributed' affair; programmed and produced by Syd Arkless of InfoClub but with data contributed and sourced from many canal enthusiasts and purchasers. For this reason CP4W feels like a program that is owned by people rather than a vast software giant. That said, one key data component is canalside churches. Why not Post Offices, doctors or launderettes? Are canal folk really so unholy that they need to be pointed towards the nearest ecclesiastical four walls?

What does CP4W contain? Well it has an overall map of the inland waterways but does not contain strip maps typically found with paper canal guides - one feature this reviewer would like to have seen is some sort of tracking parameter so that the relative position of the location could be easily viewed on the map... A sort of virtual 'You Are Here'. Despite this niggle there's a huge amount of data on-board... and you can add your own. For example you can find contact details of the nearest boatyard to a location, opening times and the facilities offered. You will find definitive data on the number of locks on a given stretch, distances, lock dimensions, phone number of the local waterways Manager, and brief notes of a canal's history. When planning for a cruise a pop-up window prompts the 'valid' branching waterways that join with your own route, and enable you to plan ahead. There's highly specific local detail such as that on the Basingstoke Canal where subsidence was reported 'reducing width to 12' 5" ' [obviously supplied by one of the contributors].

CP4W allows the user to plot their own routes and estimated journey time... permitting inputs for stopovers at moorings [and pubs!], and route speed to be factored in. All of this can then be used to produce your own personal canal travel itinerary. Where there are pictures available along the route these are flagged up.

Indeed, perhaps one of the most important benefits of CP4W that this reviewer can identify with is the program's ability to enable the traveller to 'see' their route and locations... a feature called the Virtual Cruise. Obviously not all waypoints are imaged, but many of the approaches to locks and key features are [the images are of varying quality - again contributed by users and other canal folk]. In short, this gives the traveller an opportunity to scout out potential mooring spots without ever going near somewhere. On the other hand seeing the Caen Hill Flight might put you of travelling to that corner of our inland waterways at all.

Bottom line...
Despite its slightly simplistic feel and look CP4W will appeal to those canal boat users with a fondness for order in their life. What's more, when you buy into the Syd Arkless' program you can become part of the on-going development of CP4W and contribute your own information and pictures.

The program's costs are very reasonable at 47.50 for a straight purchase, 30 for an upgrade from a previous version, and option of 'annual' and data update subscriptions. There is also a companion program Canal Logger for Windows which allows personal logs of canl trips to be carried out on a PC.

System requirements: PC running Windows '95 / '98 / NT / 2000 / Me / Xp

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