The latest word-processing packages have caught up with DTP, says Hugh John
Caught in a pincer movement between supercharged word processors and the new generation of multimedia Web applications, desktop publishing programs are under threat. It's barely 15 years since Aldus PageMaker helped launch a thousand magazines and liberated publishing from the professional print bureau. Suddenly, the astonishing success of the World Wide Web and the maturing of multimedia technology has wrong-footed DTP. With the likes of Microsoft Word offering what were once considered exclusive DTP tools, is there any need for a dedicated package? And does a print and picture layout have much future when multimedia has the immediacy of video and sound?
Yes. And yes. There's no questioning the ability of many word processors to create complicated, attractive documents, but it's doubtful if they can do it as well or as quickly as a DTP program. And yes, the print and picture media still has a powerful role to play. Posters, flyers, cassette and CD labels, cards, envelopes and magazines can be given a distinctiveness they might not otherwise achieve. Cheap colour inkjet printing has given DTP a similar sort of impetus in the Nineties that laser printing did in the Eighties.
If, however, you intend using a word processing package for desktop publishing, then Microsoft Word is the obvious choice with its text flow, multi-columns and Word Art feature. Look also at that Apple Macintosh workhorse ClarisWorks with its large template collection.
Textease and Pendown, both available on the Acorn platform, are deceptively powerful programs whose bright, almost simplistic, interfaces belie a wealth of features. Text and graphics can be resized, skewed or locked in place. Frames can be applied to blocks of text and drop-shadow added - even the paper colour can be specified.
Low to mid-priced desktop publishing programs offer tremendous value for money. Microsoft is well represented in this area with Publisher and, for younger users, Creative Writer, both of which have "wizards" whose purpose is to guide users through the process of document creation and printing. Creative Writer is especially strong educationally, with editing and rewriting exercises and on-screen encouragement.
In a similar vein, but more for home-use, are Mindscape's PrintMaster Suite and Print Shop Deluxe from Br?derbund. These two programs have a huge range of templates - cassette labels, envelopes, CD covers, borders, you name it, they've got it - and all the clip-art anyone is likely to need.
Serif PagePlus 5 and Multi-Ad Creator are also budget professional applications that would be more than sufficient for most schools' needs. Creator has an especially impressive suite of tools which includes multiple undos, unlimited master pages and the ability to turn type into editable outlines.
Acorn users looking for a top quality program would opt for Impression Publisher or, for the sort of advanced colour control needed in professional publications, the Impression Publisher Plus supplement recently available.
At the very top end are the two industry standards that effectively launched desktop publishing in the mid-Eighties, Adobe PageMaker and QuarkXPress. You pays your (considerable) money (Pounds 557 and Pounds 700 respectively) and makes your choice. Which program you chooses is largely a matter of personal preference as the latest versions of both are bristling with advanced features. As part of Adobe's graphics and DTP empire, PageMaker is now tightly integrated with Illustrator and Photoshop, its graphics and photo-editing stablemates.
All three programs have a similar look and feel. Transferring files between them couldn't be easier. Photoshop and PageMaker support layering which enables complex pages to be broken down and the constituent parts added or subtracted individually. PageMaker is significantly cheaper than Quark and has an excellent set of tools for saving pages for Web publishing.
QuarkXPress is still the first choice within the professional publishing community. And while PageMaker users would be likely to import art from Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand, XPress 4, the long-awaited upgrade, has a pen tool for drawing shapes, lines picture and text boxes, which means that some artwork could be done within the oneapplication.
There are plenty of desktop-publishing programs for most needs and, with the notable exceptions of PageMaker and XPress, don't expect to pay much more than Pounds 100 for a DTP suite that in all save the most esoteric areas of publishing is more than sufficient for most tasks you're likely to undertake.
10 THINGS TO LOOK FOR
1 A good selection of formats - envelopes, letter templates, cassette covers - and an exciting clip artimage collection can be very stimulating for children.
2 Spoken help and advice - is particularly encouraging for younger users.
3 Multiple Undo Function - for those mistakes you'll inevitably make.
4 Drawing tools - enable users to prepare much of their artwork and graphics in one program.
5 Text Flow around images adds a professional dimension.
6 Importing - a package that can introduce images from other sources, such as digital cameras, with ease.
7 Master pages - these make working with longer documentssignificantly easier 8 Web-ease - the facility to convert ordinary pages into Web pages.
9 Colour Management - if you are going to send your work to a professional print bureau, you'll need to specify colours with some precision and confidence.
10 Layers - high-end technology which makes it easier to create complex pages.