When the first page-layout software appeared in the mid-1980s, publishing professionals scoffed at using a Mac to design publications. No wonder: The first publishing programs were primitive, limited to creating short documents containing a few type fonts. And an early Mac's 9-inch black-and-white screen was a far cry from a layout table. Some publishing pros toyed with the Mac, but most continued to use six-figure typesetting systems, pasting type onto layout boards with rubber cement and wax.
Times quickly changed. The Mac evolved to support color and large screens, and publishing programs gained the layout and typographical control professionals demanded. High-resolution laser printers and image setters appeared, and if you didn't own one, you could take disks to a service bureau for output. (Hard as it is to believe now, only about 20% of Mac users had modems back then.) The Mac had transformed an industry and gave the power of the press to just about everyone.
But that was then--before Microsoft Windows took over the world. What's the picture like today? According to publishing industry veterans I talked to, the Mac is still the dominant computing platform in the print-publishing world, but Windows is a closer competitor on the new publishing frontier: the World Wide Web.
"When it comes to print publishing, Apple still has a good footing," said Pamela Pfiffner, editor in chief of Creativepro.com, a Web site for publishing professionals. "People who grew up doing graphics and publishing on the Mac have remained faithful to the platform."
Some of that faithfulness may stem from the passionate loyalty of what a friend calls "Mac Davidians"--those Apple zealots who say IBM stands for "I bought Macintosh." But print publishers are sticking with the Mac also for practical reasons, Pfiffner said. "It's just more reliable, and most service bureaus still prefer to deal with Macintosh files."
Sandee Cohen, coordinator of the graphics curriculum at the New School Computer Instruction Center in New York, agrees. "Designers are wedded to their Macs," she said. The New School uses Mac systems in its print publishing courses.
In the Web world, however, it's a different story. Areas in which the Mac is especially strong--color management, precise typography, service bureau support--aren't relevant to the Web. This, combined with the lower cost of Windows computers, has enabled Windows to become a major player in the Web scene.
"I haven't seen Windows make any significant gains in print publishing," Cohen said. "But when companies established their Web departments, they often outfitted them with Windows machines."
Another advantage to using Windows for Web work is that designers can conveniently assess what their efforts will look like on most Web browsers. Mac-based Web designers must either keep a Windows machine handy for testing or run Connectix's Virtual PC software, which runs Windows on the Mac.
Apple is better off ruling the printed page. Print publishing demands faster computers than does Web design: Image files are larger and layout programs are far more complex. This means print designers are more likely to upgrade their hardware as faster computers become available.
Apple has a similar advantage when it comes to yet another publishing frontier: video production, which imposes even more demands on a computer than does print publishing. And the Mac is transforming this industry as it transformed print publishing--so much so that Apple recently won an Emmy award for its FireWire technology, which simplifies connecting video gear to the Mac.
And how does Mac OS X fit into the publishing picture? It doesn't, at least not yet. Expect to see some progress on this front at the upcoming SeyboldSF publishing conference in San Francisco.
Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.