PageMaker vs. QuarkXpress – Aldus Corp.’s PageMaker for Windows 5.0 and Quark Inc.’s QuarkXPress desktop publishing software packages – includes related articles describing the characteristics of high-end desktop publishing software, lower-priced alternatives, and Corel Corp.’s Corel Ventura version 4.2 – Software Review – Evaluation
DOZENS OF DESKTOP PUBLISHING PROGRAMS CROWD the market, but at the top of the page-layout chain you’ll find only two: Aldus PageMaker and QuarkXPress. Ventura Publisher (recently acquired by Corel Systems and renamed Corel Ventura) and Frame Technology’s FrameMaker are powerful, but Ventura is long overdue for an update and FrameMaker targets professionals who create highly structured documents in a networked environment. Scrappy midrange packages like Microsoft Publisher and Manhattan Graphics’s Ready,Set,Go! nip at the heels of PageMaker and XPress, but they aren’t designed to deliver the precise control and flexibility demanded by desktop publishing professionals.
It’s tough for any DTP software developer to challenge the dominance of these two market leaders. PageMaker has sold astronomically well for years, creating an enormous community of desktop publishers who feel comfortable with the product. And although the number of copies of XPress shipped pales in comparison, it has been adopted by the influential professional design community–XPress is the art directors’ and graphics professionals’ darling (including HOME OFFICE COMPUTING’S dauntless page-layout pros). Both products are well supported by outside sources: books and magazine articles, utility software, instructional tapes and seminars, and DTP service bureaus that know how to turn output from either program into press-ready pages.
But there’s more to the ranking of these two programs than a simple sales snowball effect. They are both extraordinarily powerful, well-designed products. And with the latest releases of PageMaker and XPress, both continue long-standing traditions of worthwhile innovation and unflagging competition.
Similar Features in Abundance So how do you choose between the Mercedes and the BMW of professional desktop publishing packages? We’ll discuss their differences a little later. Let’s start by talking similarities.
For this review, we looked at PageMaker 5.0 for Windows and the Mac and XPress 3.2 for the Mac, which were shipping at test time. We also looked at a prerelease copy of XPress 3.2 for Windows. At press time, however, Quark decided against shipping the Windows 3.2 release and instead planned to simultaneously launch QuarkXPress 3.3 for both Windows and the Mac in late 1993. Version 3.3 was expected to differ only in minor ways from 3.2, with new features such as spot color updating; the major enhancement planned for the update was the addition of variable shaped text boxes.
The fundamentals for fast, accurate page layout are extremely well implemented in both platform versions of PageMaker and XPress. For text processing, both provide spell-checkers, comprehensive search and replace capabilities, and fully formatted file import from most major word processing packages. They also include robust style sheets for creating named sets of paragraph specifications.
PageMaker and XPress are nearly omnivorous in their current versions when it comes to digesting graphics in a wide variety of file formats, including newly implemented support for Kodak’s PhotoCD format. With this revision, XPress on the Mac nearly comes up to speed with the Mac version of PageMaker by adding the ability to import PC-based graphics formats, such as Windows metafile and BMP files, though it still lacks support for common formats like PCX.
For assembling pages, both programs let you establish column guides as well as add user-defined, onscreen guidelines. They go further by supporting baseline grids that literally make it a snap to align text accurately across multiple columns. And in 5.0, PageMaker gains the ability to open multiple documents at once (long a strength of XPress), so that you can easily move or copy page elements between different publications.
There is much hue and cry about the relative technical merits of the extensive color reproduction system that each package employs, but let us give you the quick HOME OFFICE COMPUTING version. There are two fundamental types of color printing. With spot color, an additional colored ink is applied by a separate printing plate as the paper zooms through the press. If the spot colors you’re using have a little white space around them (a headline, for example, or single-color spot illustration), it pays to create separate output pages for each spot color you print. This makes it simple for the printer to produce separate materials for each color. Both programs have always handled that assignment, and it’s probably the kind of color task you’ll deal with most often. Where spot color gets tricky is when one tint touches another, which requires trapping, choking, and knockouts. These are technically demanding print settings best left to commercial printing professionals.
Sunifar advice holds for four-color process printing, in which dots of four different color inks–cyan, magenta, yellow, and black–are artfully combined to produce full-color graphics reproduction. Since PageMaker and XPress cater to graphics professionals, both include extensive high-end color reproduction capabilities. PageMaker now incorporates process-color separation capabilities that previously required a separate software purchase, whereas XPress improves its color separation strengths by including EFIColor support (for color matching among monitors, scanners, printers, and offset presses) and continuous-tone color separations for additional graphics file formats. For most small-business desktop publishers, high-end color separation work is better left to professionals who can afford the trial and error and training it takes to get it right.
On the other hand, since many people incorporate scanned images in their laser-printed publications, the ability to adjust the brightness, contrast, and print settings is a valuable asset, one that PageMaker and XPress provide.
More similarities? Both programs are based on a pasteboard metaphor, which means that the pages you create sit on a larger electronic blank surface where you can keep scraps of graphics or text until you need them. A Library palette in each program (new in PageMaker) is available to conveniently store and retrieve frequently reused page elements.
XPress and PageMaker also each provide in-line graphics capabilities. Insert an image within a text block as if it were simply another character, and it will stay with that text block as it reflows through the document. While there are limitations on your freedom to position in-line graphics, the capabilities are perfectly adequate for creating many illustrated layouts.
Additional capabilities can be integrated into either program through add-on modules. PageMaker’s expansion technology, called Additions, is technically a bit different from XPress’s XTensions, but both get the job done. More potentially significant is that the XTensions technology has been around for a while, with thousands of special-purpose add-ons already available. But then again, some of those XTensions provide functions already built into the latest version of PageMaker, such as automatic table of contents and index generation. Across the Platforms Cross-platform compatibility– the ability to open and edit the same publication files in both the Windows and Mac versions of a program-may seem like a corporate-only concern, but it is an issue that actually comes up fairly often in small-business publishing. Writers, editors, designers, and clients who work on different computer platforms often must collaborate on a project. Cross-platform compatibility has long been a hallmark of PageMaker. With the new XPress, Quark seems to have squashed the bugs that afflicted its first Windows-based entry and achieved true cross-platform compatibility.
The other key aspect of cross-platform compatibility regards features and program structure; the Windows versions of PageMaker and XPress are now virtually identical to their respective Mac cousins. A few variations exist due to differences in the way Windows and the Mac operating system manage document linking and font handling, but anyone who has mastered either program on one platform will find familiar tools in practically the same places on the other.
Finally, both programs are speedy performers. We built graphics-intensive newsletter pages and straight textbook chapters, dragged, cut, and pasted different-size chunks within and between documents, and scrolled and jumped with abandon. While there are undoubtedly fraction-of-a-second performance differences here and there, overall, things move along at a good clip with both PageMaker and XPress.
If you are currently using the previous versions of either program, there is nothing in the current round of upgrades that seems to justify chucking your hard-won software knowledge (and existing document files) in favor of the competition. But if you’re new to the high end, think carefully about what documents you must create and how you’d like to create them. The two are on a par price-wise–$895 list, as much as $300 lower from discounters–but each program has distinctive strengths in terms of its feature set and working style.
Make no mistake–the folks at Aldus looked at PageMaker 4.0, cast a wary eye at its then-current competition, QuarkXPress 3.1, and set out to catch up in those areas where PageMaker was lagging dangerously behind.
For instance, XPress has long boasted an onscreen Measurements palette that lets you directly control a wide variety of settings (such as type size and style, leading, and page element size and positioning) and avoid time-consuming trips to pull-down menus and dialog boxes. Now PageMaker 5.0 has incorporated a similar Control palette and added an important new capability. Each of the numeric measurements on the palette is accompanied by up-and-down nudge buttons. By clicking these buttons you can adjust item size or position a little bit at a time, keeping track of the changes numerically in the control bar and visually onscreen.
Previous incarnations of PageMaker were criticized for their inability to rotate text and graphics; now rotation in 0.01-degree increments is possible. You also used to be stuck with a few limited line-width selections; today, you can set a line from 0.1 to 800 points (over 11 inches) thick.
PageMaker also fell behind typographically, lacking the sophisticated controls offered by XPress. Some differences remain XPress still has the advantage in interactive type sizing and character scaling-but 5.0 provides the essentials for high-quality typography, including expert kerning, tracking, leading, and hyphenation control. At the same time, PageMaker maintains a set of features that give it a substantial leg up in producing lengthy documents. Automated table of contents and index generation are wonderful time-savers, elegantly implemented in PageMaker and entirely lacking in XPress as it ships (they are available only as additional cost XTensions). The Book feature is another long-document strength for PageMaker. It lets you break up long publications into individual files (by chapter, for instance), work on each separately, then combine them again at print time with page numbering and table of contents and index generation automatically handled for the combined publication.
Any page-layout program lets you edit text in layout view, but every time you make a change, all the following text has to reflow throughthelayout, and that can take forever. PageMaker’s story editor is a basic word processor for editing text in a separate window. By isolating text editing and holding off on reflowing the revised copy until you return to layout view, PageMaker proves a model of efficiency.
PageMaker also bundles a separate Table Editor utility in Windows that lets you create slick-looking spreadsheet-like row and column tables, ready to be placed in a PageMaker document. If you set up a dynamic link, any changes you make to a table are updated to your document. You can also incorporate graphics imported into a document as part of that file so that everything needed for printing is conveniently in one place, or you can leave the graphics as a separate file and link it to your PageMaker document. The latter method–the only one offered by XPress– can keep your document files from growing huge and hard to transport.
These are the most significant PageMaker advantages. Now for the desirable convenience features. PageMaker provides onscreen magnifications up to 800 percent, which comes in handy for fine spacing and positioning adjustments. Interruptible screen redraw means that you don’t have to wait for the entire page to reappear as you scroll or jump from page to page. Instead, click on the spot you want to adjust when it appears onscreen and get right to work; the program waits for you to finish before continuing its page-painting duties. Another welcome extra is the ability to select discontinuous pages for printing. A single command lets you print, for example, pages 4 to 19, 22, and 47.
Finally, PageMaker has a significant ease-of-use advantage over XPress. Both the Mac and Windows versions of PageMaker include onscreen tutorials; XPress has only a manual-based tutorial. More significant is PageMaker’s well-crafted interface design, where the major options are easy to find and the relative minutiae are tucked away. And while both PageMaker and XPress are based on a pasteboard model, PageMaker maintains a single pasteboard that’s available no matter what page you’re working on. This is much easier to work with than the XPress pasteboard, in which elements stay attached to a given page as you scroll through your document.
Additionally, free technical support is available on a 24-hour basis for 90 days and the clock doesn’t start ticking until your first call, whereas Quark’s 90 days of free support (8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mountain Time) begin when you register. At $99, Aldus’s one-year service plan is also $50 cheaper.
Overall, PageMaker has the edge for long document production. And its easy-to-grasp design provides enough page-layout manipulation power and flexibility for most people without burying them in intimidating complexity.
Until the release of PageMaker 5.0, QuarkXPress held a commanding lead in typographic precision. While there are still some statistical differences (XPress can kern characters in even smaller virtually imperceptible increments), for all practical purposes the two programs are well matched on typography today.
Printing professionals and Fortune 500 companies may also debate the relative quality of the color printing solutions provided by the latest versions of XPress and PageMaker. Frankly, since publishers have largely adoptedXPress for high-end color jobs, it would make sense to follow along if you have any intention of trying that level of color prepress work in your office. In general, most small-business publishing professionals probably won’t want or need to attempt this, at least not until the artificial intelligence required to make all the tough color printing decisions is built into the software.
Beyond its expertise in typography and color control, XPress has an ace in the hole. The process of laying out pages and documents with XPress is exceptionally fluid and fast. It’s not a matter of a single feature but, rather, the result of a set of distinctive capabilities that explain the program’s appeal to the design inclined.
One key feature in this mix is the multiple master pages that have been an integral part of the program for some time. Any good page-layout program includes master pages that hold the design elements common to every page (running heads or footers and visual guidelines, for example). But most programs, including PageMaker, provide only a single left and right master page per document. XPress lets you define up to 127 different master pages per document and apply them as needed. So it’s a snap to handle a design that incorporates, say, four different page layouts, each with its own column structure, ruling lines, and repeating elements. Just create master pages for each layout, then as you need a new page in a particular style, base it on the appropriate master.
Interactive type sizing (unavailable in PageMaker) adds another dimension to 3.2’s layout strengths. Say that you’ve created a headline, but it’s not quite big enough. You’re not sure what point size would be appropriate, however. XPress says not to worry about the numerical setting– just grab the type box and drag it until it’s the size and shape you want. This feature, ordinarily found in illustration programs, saves lots of time and frustration.
That isn’t the only feature from the world of illustration software that has found its way into XPress. The program doesn’t limit you to rectangular boxes to hold imported graphics, but lets you create circles, ovals, even complex polygon picture boxes. Although most page-layout programs fill a text or picture frame with a background color, XPress goes further by supporting fancy gradient blends.
Typographically, XPress’s emphasis on artistic freedom is reflected in the greater rein it gives you to distort typefaces. Horizontal and vertical font scaling let you alter the character width and height by percentages of the original design. If you want a long, skinny character for a 10-lines-deep drop cap, just check off Drop Cap as a paragraph setting and fill in the number of lines deep you want it (the automatic drop cap function works very nicely, incidentally). To make it skinny, set the Horizontal Scaling option to a percentage of the original width.
Freedom to work on a layout creatively implies the ability to move around the document quickly, a process that is impeded when complex graphics are redrawn each time the page is displayed. Many page-layout programs (PageMaker included) let you suppress the display of all graphic images, but XPress offers a more elegant alternative: a click-on, click-off graphic display that lets you hide individual pictures until you select them. This gives you fast screen updates without forcing you to fiddle with menu selections when you want to view a particular graphic onscreen.
Another time-saver comes up in the mundane process of opening files. XPress offers a handy visual preview of your layout or graphics file contents when you click on a name in the directory.
The program’s style sheet capability is fairly standard, but there’s a nice refinement in the new option that lets you add keyboard equivalents when you define a style. After that, you can style a paragraph without having to reach for the mouse. And for those occasions when you want to reuse a paragraph’s formatting but don’t want to create a set style, XPress provides a simple key stroke combination to copy formatting from one paragraph to another.
The major problem with XPress is that it provides its power and control at the expense of ease-of-learning and use. Right up front, the program’s menu and dialog boxes are bristling with an intimidating array of options, from the vital to the arcane.
If you do page layouts with a concrete vision of what the final product will look like, either PageMaker or XPress will be fine. But if you like to tinker with a layout, XPress’s more visual environment and interactive type manipulation tools make it the better choice. If you prepare design-intensive layouts–display ads, for example, or magazine pages–you’ll appreciate the flexibility of XPress and will probably work faster in that program as well.
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If you’re new to the high-end DTP genre, consider the following: PageMaker has the advantage in long document production and it’s also easier to learn and use (and its technical support policy is better implemented), whereas QuarkXPress is a better choice for design-intensive layouts, particularly if you don’t begin with a set vision of what the end product will be. But QuarkXPress lacks an onscreen tutorial and you may find that it takes a little more work to become proficient using its interface. If you’ve been happily using previous versions of PageMaker or QuarkXPress, you probably won’t find anything in these upgrades to make it worth your while to switch to its competitor. At this point, they’re simply too closely matched.
Taking the High Road…or Not
Today’s best midrange desktop publishing programs–such as Microsoft Publisher 2.0 for the PC, and Ready,Set,Go? 6 for the Mac–deliver all the basics for constructing handsome desktop-published documents. But midrange packages have their limitations as well.
For example, none of the midrange programs offer the degree of typographic precision you’ll find in PageMaker and XPress, nor do they provide the powerful Control Panel and Measurements toolbars of those programs. Additionally, some midrange products can’t open more than one document at a time, others restrict the number of pages you can have in each document, and still others can’t import certain word processing and graphics file formats. Hyphenation also tends to be a stumbling block: Some don’t offer automatic hyphenation at all, and those that do don’t all do a good job with it. (Others work just fine, thank you.) Most of the flaws in midrange programs are the kinds of missing-features problems that you’ll recognize by carefully studying the product literature.
On the other hand, midrange programs are often easier to learn, include manuals and online help tailored to the needs of beginners, and provide more goodies in the form of clip art, fonts, and layout templates.
The upshot is this. If you’re looking for software that will let you promote your own business with relatively straightforward newsletters and fliers, you’ll probably be happy with a midrange program. If you want to prepare graphically complex layouts or lengthy projects, if you require the highest levels of typographic precision, or both, you should go for a high-end page-layout program. You should also choose a high-end package if you’re undertaking desktop publishing projects for outside clients who will know which software you’re using, whether or not the complexity or precision of these projects demands the higher-priced alternative.
Corel Launches Ventura
The recent announcement that Xerox’s Ventura Publisher and its companion products have been acquired by Corel Corp. (publisher of CorelDraw) is good news for desktop publishers.
Since Microsoft Windows became the dominant force in PC-based graphics applications, Ventura has suffered. Originally developed to run under the GEM graphical interface, adaptations of Ventura for Windows (the most recent was version 4.1) were slow to arrive and buggy, with nonstandard font handling and an unfriendly interface. Even though other programs adopted features pioneered by Ventura (most notably, style sheets), Ventura failed to implement now-standard DTP features such as free rotation of text and graphics, automatic text flow around irregularly shaped objects, and multiple open documents. And while both PageMaker and QuarkXPress are equally at home on PCs and Macs, the Mac version of Ventura was a flop.
The shame of it is, Ventura has several distinct features that still outshine the competition. particularly when preparing lengthy documents. Ventura will automatically number not only pages but chapters, paragraphs, tables, and captions. It handles footnoting like a champ and will anchor graphics to text so they stay together as your text reflows in a much more flexible and elegant way than the in-line graphics solution provided by PageMaker and XPress.
At this writing, the ink is still wet on the deal between Corel and Xerox, but product manager Steve Adams shared Corel’s tentative plans. A new version, dubbed Corel Ventura 4.2, combines a mildly updated Ventura Publisher (renamed Corel Ventura Publisher), Corel Database Publisher (Ventura Database Publisher with a new name), 600 fonts, 10,000 pieces of PostScript clip art, and a Kodak PhotoCD sampler disk. It was scheduled to ship in the fall of 1993 for just $249 but was not available in time to be included in this review.
The changes to Ventura at this juncture will be minimal: support for Adobe’s Acrobat portable document technology and improved font loading times are the main additions. But Corel promises to invest heavily in creating a state-of-the-art Corel Ventura 5. Timing? “Within 12 months,” is all Adams could promise at this point.
For now, Corel Ventura 4.2 is a bargain, with an able software publisher standing behind it to provide service, support, and future upgrades. In its current state, the program merits serious consideration if you’re producing lengthy projects that are heavier on text than complex design. And as Corel applies its illustration program savvy to the strong text-handling fundamentals of Ventura Publisher, it’s reasonable to hope for great things in the program’s next incarnation.
Contributing editor STEVE MORGENSTERN began desktop publishing in 1987, expanding his freelance writing business into a concept-to-printed-piece service for clients in publishing and marketing. He has been writing about DTP programs for six years.
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