Publish without perishing – Adobe Systems’ Pain and Publish, Corel Systems’ Ventura 5, Microsoft Publisher for Windows 95, Serif PagePlus Publishing Suite 3.0 – Software Review – Evaluation

William Harrel

So you want to publish some documents for your business, perhaps a monthly newsletter, a manual, or a few brochures. The problem is that you’ve got too many other chores to do–and not enough in your budget to hire a designer. There are books to keep, taxes to prepare, and phone calls to return. Who’s got time to design and lay out advertising materials?

Because small-business owners wear so many hats, they’ll appreciate the new easy-to-use desktop publishing software that’s hitting the market. These inexpensive products help you quickly design your material and get on with other tasks. With the right software, your computer instantly becomes a typesetting and document layout station–without your having to learn typesetting.

A New Era One of the biggest events in this year’s DTP market is, of course, the release of Windows 95. When we tested the products, only one page layout program had made the transition from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95: Microsoft Publisher. Others–Serif’s PagePlus, Adobe PageMaker, Corel Ventura, and QuarkXPress–should be ready by the time you read this, or shortly thereafter. The Windows 95 barrage proclaimed that desktop publishing, in particular, was one area that should benefit from the new operating system’s 32-bit underlying structure. Despite the smoke, however, it’s difficult to tell whether Win 95 will light a fire under desktop publishing.

One thing’s for sure, the number of existing players in the DTP arena is shrinking. This is probably due to a number of factors, including improvements made to word processors over the past few years. In many cases, it’s often just as efficient to use Microsoft Word or WordPerfect to lay out simple documents. This year there are only four economy-minded products in our review: Adobe Paint & Publish, Corel Ventura, Microsoft Publisher, and Serif PagePlus. Even Ventura is arguably a high-end product due to its brute power and high learning curve.

You Take the High Road, l’ll Take… Historically, DTP software falls into one of two categories: professional packages–QuarkXPress, PageMaker, FrameMaker, Ventura–used by book and magazine publishers and professional designers, and low-end programs, which are for those who create occasional publications, such as a company brochure, simple fliers, and so on. Whether you need to step up to a professional package depends primarily on what kinds of documents you want to create.

The differences in the two types, however, have become less discernible. Serif’s PagePlus and Corel Ventura are quite efficient at creating the prepress color separations necessary to run full-color documents on a printing press. This was once the exclusive realm of such high-end programs as QuarkXPress. Still, Ventura is the only product reviewed here that is adept at creating long documents comprising several chapters or sections.

Economical packages tend to best high-end ones in ease of use. Although easy to use can mean fewer features and less power, this is generally not the case with the four programs here. Instead, they make those features and that power easier to wield by providing templates, helpful tips, wizards, and other mechanisms to help you lay out your documents.

Traditionally, Microsoft Publisher has lead the way in usability. Its Wizards and onscreen tips have taken almost all the guesswork out of basic document layout. The new Windows 95 version provides even more help with newly designed dialog boxes that offer visual guides to help you make decisions. The Fancy First Letter (drop caps) dialog box, for example, allows you to select the style of the drop cap and where it sits in relation to the paragraph from a list of examples.

The other programs provide various levels of help, but they,re not as extensive as Publisher’s. PagePlus, for instance, offers Page Hints in its templates that guide you though adding and formatting text and graphics. Ventura and Paint & Publish feature several professionally designed templates in which all you do is replace existing text and graphics with your own. Paint & Publish also provides AutoCreate, a feature similar to Microsoft Publisher’s Wizards.

Color Counts When it comes to output, these four programs part paths in two significant ways. Microsoft Publisher and Adobe Paint & Publish are basically designed for printing on your desktop laser or ink-jet printer. Corel Ventura and Serif PagePlus are quite good at preparing documents for the print shop. The difference is each one’s ability to print color separations.

There are two types of color documents. Spot color is the type that’s used in simple newsletters and stationery. Process color is used to print full-color ads and photographs, such as those used in this magazine. Each one requires a different type of color separation. Although all four programs can print spot-color separations, only Ventura and PagePlus can print process separations. What this means is that if you use process colors in your Paint & Publish or Microsoft Publisher layouts, the only way to reproduce them is on an output device that can print color, such as a color ink-jet or thermal wax printer. If you,re ready for process separations, you may also be ready for a professional-strength DTP program.

To review each program, we laid out two types of documents. A one-page, fullcolor book cover tested each program’s ability to import, place, and print color graphics. A couple of chapters in a software manual allowed us to sample text formatting, style sheets, and some long document features, such as page numbering, indexing, table of contents, and others. The results were interesting, as you’ll see in the following reviews.

Adobe Paint & Publish 1.0

Rating: * * 1/2


The only Mac publishing program in this review, Adobe Paint & Publish is a combination page layout (HomePublisher) and paint (SuperPaint) bundle. Since acquiring HomePublisher, Adobe has added Adobe SuperPaint, a relatively full-featured image editing program for touching up photographs and creating graphics. Also included in this CDROM Deluxe version are 1,500 pieces of clip art, a handful of fonts, and 50 templates.

HomePublisher fared well enough on laying out the book cover, although it provided no way to print the process separations. The program especially shined in laying out the pages for the software manual. HomePublisher has a strong style sheets feature, making formatting multiple paragraphs a snap. It also imports style sheets from word processors, such as Microsoft Word and Mac Write II. Unfortunately, HomePublisher cannot compile multiple documents into one long book or manual, and it provides no way to generate tables of contents or indices.

One of HomePublisher’s most interesting features is AutoCreate. Similar to Microsoft Publisher’s Wizards, AutoCreate uses a set of scripts to create a layout according to your specifications. The script prompts you for document size, number of columns, tone, and several other crucial settings and then creates a template based on your answers. You can even fill in headlines, headers and footers, and captions during the AutoCreate process, and the program automatically places them.

The program supports spot-color separations as well as crop and press registration marks, making reproducing two- and three color documents at the print shop easier. You can even use the color palette to display objects on separate color plates. If you only have a monochrome monitor, this feature helps correetly print your separations.

Disappointingly, HomePublisher does not support the Pantone Matching System (PMS) spot-color model. You’ll have to pick your colors from a swatch book after you get to the print shop. Professionals typically work the other way around, adding color as they design their document.

The inclusion of SuperPaint makes HomePublisher an especially good value. Although not as powerful as Ventura or Adobe’s PageMaker, it is great at newsletters, brochures, and other short documents–especially on a modestly equipped Macintosh.

Corel Ventura 5

Rating: * * *


Although Corel Ventura lacks the ease-of-use features of the other low-end DTP programs here and its suggested list of $495 for the CD-ROM version makes the others look like bargains, Corel offers so many ways to get the software for $199 that we included it in the review as a low-cost alternative to other full-featured programs. You can, for example, get Ventura for less than $200 in a competitive upgrade from virtually any other desktop publishing program. You can also get this special upgrade price from any earlier version of Xerox Ventura Publisher or from CorelDraw 3 or 4.

Even at full price, it still runs approximately $400 less than Adobe’s PageMaker or QuarkXPress. In addition, about the time you read this, Corel should be releasing Corel Ventura 6, a Windows 95 application the company claims will be quite different from the current version. Corel plans to sell version 5 at a substantial discount.

In our tests, Ventura pulled off all aspects of both documents with ease. It has great process-color support, and its longdocument features are the best in the business, topping even those of QuarkXPress and PageMaker. In addition to robust multiple file compilation and management, Ventura creates tables of contents and indices handily. It also automatically numbers and renumbers figures and tables, and it sports several special catalog and directory page-numbering options.

All this power comes at a price, however. Ventura is not an easy program to learn and master, unless you,re a CorelDraw user. Wherever possible, Corel made Ventura’s interface resemble CorelDraw. Corel has done a great job of migrating most of the commands and options from the nested dialog boxes of earlier versions onto moveable palettes called Roll-ups. Ventura also uses CorelDraw’s print, color management, and color creation dialog boxes, which are easy to use and powerful.

In addition to all that power, you get an arsenal of extras and utilities, including the CorelMosaic image cataloging utility, 650 Type 1 and TrueType fonts, 17,000 clip art images, 100 color photos, and 75 professionally designed templates. These extras alone may be worth the $495 price tag.

Did we mention that Ventura also comes bundled with Corel Photo-Paint, a full-featured image editing program? Photo-Paint is second only to Adobe Photoshop for powerful image touch-up and enhancement, and it comes with several industry standard special-effects plug-ins.

There was a time when Ventura was owned by Xerox and called Ventura Publisher. It was ungainly and very difficult to learn and use. But Corel has turned it around and made Ventura a viable alternative for people who need brute-strength desktop publishing at a reasonable price.

Microsoft Publisher for Windows 95

Rating: * * *


Microsoft Publisher approaches page layout with the attitude that most people don’t want to learn desktop publishing, they just want to get their documents laid out. So, what you get is a somewhat quirky but quite capable program.

Microsoft Publisher could’nt finish either of our tests. It could not print the separations for our book cover, nor could it compile our long document. So why did it win our Best Buy award? Mainly, be cause it provided excellent control over text formatting and graphics importing. Its page numbering and other basic layout options are strong and intuitive. This truly is the program for people who need to whip out their documents fast.

The program offers a wealth of ease-of-use features, including Wizards that query you with style and content questions and then create a document based on your answers. All you do is pour in your text and graphics. In addition to Wizards and the Help system (context-sensitive tips), the program now supports Page Wizards that walk you though the creation of about 20 different common documents. A Design Gallery contains predesigned page elements, such as banners and pullquotes, that you simply drag into your document.

One interesting feature is Publisher’s ability to open Microsoft Word automatically when you need to edit text extensively. We were also impressed with the Layout Checker, which looks over the document and points out layout problems and makes suggestions on how to solve them.

Microsoft Publisher’s use of “understandable terminology” for common desktop publishing terms, however, means that drop caps are called Fancy First Letters, for example, and kerning is called Character Spacing. Another area where Microsoft seems to listen to its own drums is in printing and applying color. It does not support the Pantone Matching System, the industry standard spot-color matching process. Nor does it support process-color separations.

Interestingly, the program prints a checklist for users to take to the print shop with them, but colors are defined in RGB (red, green, and blue) values rather than CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), a print shop’s preference. Monitors use RGB values, but few print shops know what to do with RGB definitions. We wonder if print shops and DTP service bureaus will find that this approach makes their jobs tougher when people demand that Fancy First Letters be printed in a particular shade of blue.

But hey, these things may not be important to non-desktop publishers who are only interested in getting their documents out quickly and painlessly. And if that’s all you want to do, what Microsoft Publisher lacks in power it makes up for in convenience.

Serif PagePlus Publishing Suite

Rating: * * *


Ever since version 1.0, Serif has made sure that PagePlus is a step ahead and a great value. That first version offered spot-color separations and artistic text manipulation; version 2.0 was the first inexpensive package to offer process-color separations; and so on. The new CD-ROM publishing suite version is no exception. Everything you need to publish quality documents is here, including a capable DTP package, modules for painting, drawing, word processing, and spreadsheet manipulation, and special text effects, fonts, and clip art. .

Although PagePlus couldn’t get us entirely through the long test document–it lacks some crucial long document features, such as indexing and table of contents–it did exceptionally well on the book cover. The graphics modules even helped create and touch up the book cover’s graphics.

Unlike Microsoft Publisher’s interface, which approaches desktop publishing from a novice’s perspective, PagePlus approaches page layout from a more conventional standpoint. The interface is very much like PageMaker’s, complete with a pasteboard metaphor that mimics a conventional layout station.

Version 3.0 provides several new learning features, including event-driven hints and tips, multi-media demos, layout checking, and links to pertinent help topics in all dialog boxes. Among the other packages reviewed here, these are options available only in Microsoft Publisher and should make PagePlus simple to learn and use. In addition to all the learning aids, an innovative ease-of-use option lets you customize the interface to three levels of difficulty: Intro, Publisher, and Professional. Although not quite as automatic as Publisher, PagePlus holds its own in the ease-of-use department.

As impressive as PagePlus’s layout prowess is, the other stuff bundled on the CD-ROM greatly enhances the program’s value. In addition to PagePlus, you get TypePlus, a type special-effects package similar to Adobe’s TypeAlign, which allows you to fit text on a path, warp it, fill it with special effects, and so forth. DrawPlus lets you work with vector images. TablePlus lets you create spreadsheet-like tables. PhotoPlus lets you edit photographs. There are all kinds of fonts and clip art.

Serif is working on a Windows 95 version of PagePlus, which will include several additional ease-of-use features, newly designed templates, and other enhancements. Why wait, however, when the current version runs so well under Windows 95? All that would really help this program is better support for long documents. It would then truly be a great low-cost alternative to PageMaker.


RELEATED ARTICLE: About our Ratings

The one-to-four-star ratings are based on * Poor performace, features, ** Fair setup, ease of learning *** Good and use, availability. **** Excellent warranty, support, documentation, and price


In the page layout software market companies strike a balance between ease of use and features. Microsoft Publisher for Windows 95, for example, almot completely insulates the user from the page layout process with automation and prefabricated documents. Corel Ventura’s brute strength requires you to learn desktop publishing concepts and techniques. PagePlus offers value by throwing in almost all the software you’ll ever need to complete your layouts, and Adobe System’s Paint and Publish provides power and ease of use to the Macintosh market.

Contributing editor WILLIAM HARREL wrote Using QuarkXPress Special Edition (Que Publishing) and The MacWorld PageMaker 6 Bible (IDG Books).

COPYRIGHT 1996 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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