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The Cutting Edge: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION : Two Approaches to Desktop Publishing

February 07, 1996|RICHARD O'REILLY

About a decade ago, desktop publishing got its start on Apple's Macintosh. While Apple's future may look a bit murky these days, the future of desktop publishing is clearly bright. A look at two software programs, one 20 times the price of the other, shows the breadth and diversity of technologies that are now used for everything from memo writing to newspaper and magazine production.

PageMaker 6.0 from Adobe Systems ([800] 42-ADOBE), available for under $600 despite its $895 price tag, is for professional-quality publishing. If you're not experienced in professional printing and design, you'll need to read the excellent Print Publishing Guide that comes with it just to understand what the program can do, let alone learn how to do it.

PagePlus Home/Office Edition, sold for about $30 in some computer chain stores or direct by publisher Serif Inc. ([800] 55-SERIF), is a desktop publishing program for the rest of us. It enables virtually anyone to turn out a decent-looking newsletter, resume, invitation or poster.

PageMaker 6.0 comes in nearly identical versions that run on Apple Macintosh and Power Macintosh and on IBM-compatible computers with Windows. But PagePlus runs only on Windows.

If you're not yet committed to either Macs or Windows PCs and want to get started in serious desktop publishing, Macintosh is the best choice--despite the uncertainties about Apple. Serious desktop publishing only begins on the desktop. For most people, it ends at a publishing service bureau or a specialty printing shop, where the common denominator is Macintosh, not Windows.

One good way to decide whether you need a high-end desktop publishing program or would be just as happy with a low-end product like PagePlus is to look at where you intend to do your "publishing." If the office laser printer or a color ink-jet printer is going to be your printing press, you probably don't need PageMaker.

But if you want to produce glossy color publications designed to impress the most discriminating clients or customers, you definitely need PageMaker or one of its rivals, QuarkXPress, Corel Ventura 5.0 or FrameMaker 5.

Adobe is a familiar name in desktop publishing, but not because of PageMaker, which was actually created by Aldus Corp. Adobe is best known for creating PostScript, the "page description" language that made it possible to print high-quality text and graphics on everything from a laser printer to the highest-resolution imaging device. Adobe bought Aldus in 1994 and now has the most complete lineup of publishing software available.

PageMaker 6.0 is the first new version of the program introduced by Adobe and hence has been closely watched in the trade press for signs of how strongly Adobe would commit to improving the program. Reviewers in the trades have generally praised the latest version for its new features, but at the same time pointed out a number of areas where they believe it still lags QuarkXPress.

Where PageMaker 6.0 does shine is in dramatically improved color management abilities, including support for emerging six-color printing processes that can create many special effects.

If you intend to "publish" on the Internet's World Wide Web, PageMaker 6.0 is equipped to apply the HTML (hypertext markup language) formatting necessary to do so. Or you can produce so-called portable documents that look and print the same no matter what computer system they are used on, through the application of Adobe's Acrobat document-conversion software, which is included with PageMaker 6.0. A large collection of Adobe PostScript fonts are also included on a CD-ROM, though only some of them are free.

One aspect of PageMaker 6.0 is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Its page layout system is highly flexible. Basically you place text and graphics on the page and move them around however you wish. That makes the program fairly easy to use (but it's still pretty hard compared to something like PagePlus). However, this flexibility means that page design can be labor-intensive.

PagePlus Home/Office is a new product, or rather a new derivative of Serif's PagePlus 3.0, and it has been tailored for Windows 95 users, complete with a bevy of "wizards" that take all of the design work out of creating a wide variety of documents for home or small-business use. It's aimed directly at Microsoft's well-regarded $80 Publisher program.

The PagePlus packaging is aimed more at the home user--the young home user, in fact--than the office worker. A comic-strip-like image dominates the box, and you wonder why they just didn't go ahead and sprawl a good-size "Shazaam!" across the box as well.

If you can take the program seriously despite the box--and forgive Serif for the too-casual hand-printed-style typography chosen for chapter names and headings in the slender instruction book--you'll find a powerful program that will help you publish a variety of good-looking documents.

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