Gateway to the world
Word processing can take the credit for the rise of the personal computer. Programs such as WordPerfect were fine for writing letters or essays, but they could not do anything more sophisticated like laying out a page. Desktop publishing changed all that. With a computer, a program such as PageMaker or QuarkXPress, a laser printer and some paper you were in business. But then along came the Web.
The graphical face of the Internet, has redefined the role of publishing. Once a working knowledge of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) was needed, but now word-processing applications can convert ordinary text into HTML pages at the click of a button.
As computers have become more powerful, separate word processing or publishing programs have been superseded by all-in packages containing a host of tools. Microsoft's Word 98, for example, contains features - text wrapped around images, simple image manipulation - that once were found only in expensive DTP suites.
But the dedicated DTP applications have also moved on: the latest version of QuarkXPress has some drawing tools once found in high-end applications such as Adobe Illustrator. Office suites from Microsoft, Claris (now subsumed by Apple) and Corel cover all aspects of publishing, from classroom display to the World Wide Web.
How do you navigate through the maze? Three basic considerations for choosing software are the nature, scale and budget of your project. Ask what you want to do and what software will help you achieve this. Finally, consider how much do you want to spend.
It is worth seeking personal recommendations and using the software. Many computer magazines have free CD-Roms with software in demonstration form. Big software firms also offer cheaper cut-down versions. Adobe PhotoDeluxe, for example, has many of the same features as Adobe Photoshop, one of the best image editors, and RM produces WindowBox versions of Microsoft applications.
As text-to-speech technology becomes cheaper and more reliable, it will be integrated into many more areas. "Talking" software is a powerful aid for children who have trouble using a keyboard or mouse, and the interactive element can also be a significant stimulus.
Using software from the same publishing house makes sense. Adobe and Microsoft, for instance, have the same style and presentation in their applications that lets users easily switch from one program to another. Finally, consult the suppliers. Most will either have a catalogue, telephone help-line or a website.