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The Web and the Future of Desktop Publishing

September 23, 1996|CHARLES PILLER | Charles Piller ( is senior editor at Macworld magazine

Judging from Seybold San Francisco, the premier trade show for the desktop publishing and pre-press industry held this month, the Internet is well on its way to seizing control of desktop publishing from print. But is it a friendly takeover or more like the invasion of the body snatchers?

Conference sessions featured a spate of "how to cash in on the Web" advice--sorely needed, given how few businesses (particularly publishers) have cashed in yet. Such technicalities aside, just about every product on the show floor--from computers to graphics software to scanners to printers--had to be Web-ready (perhaps meaning it doesn't crash your system while you're surfing the Net) to capture any mind share. Or maybe the vendors' minds have been taken over by cyberspace pods.

Actually, the Web's hold over Seybold may have a more down-to-earth explanation: Netscape and Microsoft. One of the few things on which these two leading browser vendors agree is that the future of publishing is the Web. That's a shock. To Netscape's hammer, every nail looks like the Web; as for Microsoft, it has never been able to take control of print publishing from Apple, so the Web looks promising.

In his keynote address, Jonathan Seybold, the show's founder, anointed Netscape and Microsoft as the two leaders of the desktop publishing industry. He may have jumped the gun a bit. Then again, he could be experiencing anxiety about presiding over a Mac-dominated show in a Microsoft/Netscape world.

Skeptics raised a few eyebrows about embracing the Web wholesale, sans any coherent business plan. But in fairness, the potential is real; even if they don't make millions, many businesses will soon at least save money by moving operations to the Web.

Where does the Mac, the computer that created desktop publishing, fit into all this? It still enjoys the largest presence in the pre-press and graphic design worlds, by a wide margin. Apple has joined the Web joy ride too, albeit more recently and with less marketing muscle and clarity of direction than Netscape or Microsoft.

Apple's approach so far has been good for you and me. It logically begins with content creation. The Mac's traditional superiority--in color management, typography and support for output devices--translates well to the Web. At Seybold, Apple released a faster version of its ColorSync system extension--the best way to get predictable colors across a range of devices, from digital camera or scanner, to screen and printer. And Pantone released its ColorWeb software, a Mac-only utility that lets you specify a color for a Web page and know that color will be represented accurately on any computer or screen used to view the page.

Apple is also supplying the Mac with great Internet navigation and development tools, such as Cyberdog--a compilation of small applications that can browse or search the Web and Usenet groups; handle e-mail and Internet file transfers; and manage and organize sound, pictures and QuickTime movies on your Mac or over a network. And other companies' products, such as Adobe's excellent PageMill Web publisher and QuarterDeck/StarNine's WebStar server software, have given the Mac an initial edge over similar Windows products.

So almost without trying (judging by Apple's lackadaisical presence at Seybold; its biggest push on the show floor, inexplicably, involved advice on digital branding), the Mac has grabbed an early disproportionate market share in Web creation and Web servers.

Even so, the Windows presence in San Francisco was notable. For the first time in ages, no one from Apple participated in the keynote panel. And in a move that's symbolically troubling, Adobe will soon release Windows PageMaker 6.5--a Web-enhanced version of the seminal product of desktop publishing--about a month ahead of the Mac equivalent.

Still, Windows' cyberpods have a ways to go before they acquire the publishing franchise. Microsoft Vice President Brad Chase seemed a little taken aback when he asked how many people at his keynote use the Mac. Nearly every hand went up.

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