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Bevi Chagnon is a consultant to publishers in academe, business, and government. She has agreed to share with JEP some of the information she gives to clients about the publishing business. In this issue she compares five of the best desktop-publishing packages, reviewing their strengths and weaknesses, and suggesting which types of publications they're best suited for.


 
You can save time and money at the service bureau division of your print shop, and make your life easier, if you prepare your files well and according to the print industry's specifications. The five most popular desktop publishing packages — Adobe PageMaker, Adobe InDesign, QuarkXPress, Adobe FrameMaker, and Corel VENTURA — can help you do that.

Of course, no one program has all the tools to meet every publisher's needs. Some programs have specialized tools for long documents and tabular material, while others have specialized tools for design- intensive publications such as magazines and brochures. The evaluation below categorizes the publishing layout programs by key features needed for different types of publications:

  • Basic desktop publishing: tools to control type, graphics, and the layout and design of pages; ability to create master pages and stylesheets that are used to automate and structure documents; and utilities to check files for technical compliance with the printing industry's standards (also known as "preflighting") before sending them to a service bureau.
  • Special design effects: graphic tools that allow you to create drop shadows and text on curves; image-editing tools; and other design tools.
  • Support for books, multi-chapter publications, and long technical documents: the ability to create footnotes and endnotes, to generate tables of contents and indexes, to cross reference, to manage multiple chapter files, and to handle centralized stylesheets.
  • Tabular material: the ability to import from various data sources, control the layout of tabular material, and create equations.
  • Support for electronic distribution: exporting to various file formats, including Adobe PDF and XML.

Each of the desktop publishing programs has its strengths, and those strengths should be matched to the needs of the publication. Publications fall into one of three categories:

  • General publications and graphics (newsletters, magazines, brochures, small booklets, posters, and flyers). For general desktop publishing, I recommend QuarkXPress, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe PageMaker.
  • Long, multi-chapter documents (books, journals, academic publications, and manuals). For long multi-chapter documents, I recommend Corel Ventura, Adobe InDesign, Adobe FrameMaker, and QuarkXPress.
  • Publications with tabular material (scientific publications, technical and statistical publications, and data- intensive publications). For tabular material, I recommend Corel Ventura, Adobe FrameMaker, Adobe InDesign, and QuarkXPress.

Some publications could fall into several categories. For example, if a document had just one or two small, simple tables, it could just as easily be done in PageMaker (which has minimal table capabilities) as in Ventura (which has robust table features). And any of the three categories could have footnotes, a feature in which Corel Ventura, Adobe FrameMaker, and Adobe InDesign excel.

Adobe PageMaker version 7

Originally developed by Aldus Corp. in the late 1980s, PageMaker was purchased by Adobe in the mid- 1990s and given a mild facelift to make its interface more consistent with Adobe's other products. Version 7 was released in spring of 2002. It's the most widely-used layout program on the Windows platform and is used by a large segment of the professional design community on both Macintosh and Windows platforms. PageMaker files are readily accepted by service bureaus. It's available for Macintosh and Windows.

"It's showing its age"

Adobe PageMaker has a full set of basic tools for creating general publications, flyers, brochures, and other items. It has tools for generating simple tables of contents and indexes. Those tools are adequate for reports and office documents but miss the needs of book publishers. Version 7 added tools for corporate publishing, including pre-designed templates and "data merge" functions for direct mail and catalogs. The software's built-in "Story Editor" shows only the text in a word-processing format and has basic editing tools. Adobe PageMaker can import a wide range of file formats, including data and images from databases and spreadsheets. The software can export in Adobe PDF, HTML and various text-file formats. It can convert existing files from QuarkXPress and Microsoft Publisher.

Version 7 comes with PageMaker 7, pre-designed templates, 180 fonts from the Adobe Type Library, high- resolution stock photos, Adobe Type Manager Light 4.x, Adobe Distiller 5, and Acrobat Reader 5. It can be purchased as a stand-alone program, or as part of Adobe's Publishing Collection, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat. Several third-party plug-ins are available for specific tasks.

My opinion: PageMaker is one of the easier layout programs to learn, and its interface is clear and clean. People with experience with other layout programs will make the transition to PageMaker quite easily. However, it's showing its age. The program's source code is over ten years old, and new programming methods have been developed that PageMaker can't take advantage of. Since the release of InDesign (described below), Adobe has marketed PageMaker to corporate publishers rather than to the professional design and publishing community. Adobe is not likely to add as many bells, whistles, and new features to PageMaker as it will to InDesign.

Adobe InDesign version 2

Adobe's InDesign, first released in 1999, was built with object-oriented programming and other modern software-development methods. Object-oriented programming is "modular," which means that pieces of code stand alone, and can be substituted for others easily. That means it will be easier to incorporate new publishing technologies and features into InDesign as they become available. Version 2 was released in spring of 2002 and added features for book publishing, tables, XML, and graphic effects similar to Photoshop's. In less than three years, InDesign has gained significant market share and respect in the professional design and publishing industry, and several major commercial publishers have migrated to InDesign. It is targeted to design and publishing professionals, but its interface is clean and easy enough to be used by less-skilled desktop publishers, too. InDesign files are readily accepted by more advanced service bureaus, and the majority of the prepress industry will accept InDesign files as it becomes more widely used by designers and publishers. InDesign is available for Macintosh and Windows.

InDesign has a full set of basic tools for creating magazines, newsletters, newspapers, flyers, brochures, advertisements, large format posters, and other items. It also has good tools for book publishers, including multi-chapter and stylesheet management, tables of contents, indexes, and endnotes (but not footnotes). Version 2 added a moderate set of table features that allows importing from Microsoft Word tables, Excel spreadsheets, and tab-delimited text files such as those commonly created from databases. Tabbed data in InDesign can be laid out in a cell-based table quickly. InDesign's table features are slightly more robust than QuarkXPress 5's, but lack several key features that FrameMaker and Ventura have. InDesign can import a wide range of file formats, including spreadsheets and XML. It can export in PDF, HTML, XML, SVG, EPS, and text file formats such as TXT, RTF and tagged text files for automated publishing. It can convert existing files from QuarkXPress and PageMaker.

"This newcomer is destined to become the darling for designers"

The software package comes with InDesign 2, Acrobat Reader 5, Adobe PostScript printer drivers, XML plug-in (on second CD), five OpenType fonts from the Adobe Type Library, and technical documentation on using OpenType fonts and InDesign Scripts. It can be purchased as a stand-alone program, or as part of Adobe's Design Collection along with Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat. Numerous third-party plug-ins are available for specific tasks, such as advanced footnotes and indexing tools, and magazine workgroup tools. Adobe InCopy is a plug-in from Adobe. It is an editorial authoring module that works with InDesign to create a complete workflow for publishers of periodicals and newspapers.

My opinion: For beginners to desktop publishing, InDesign is a bit more difficult to learn than PageMaker, but because of its well-designed interface, is not quite as difficult to learn as QuarkXPress. InDesign's interface uses movable, dockable (or "nesting") tabbed palettes which gives users quick access to most formatting commands, and helps minimize the visual clutter on smaller computer monitors. Professional users often have two monitors, one to show the page layout, the other to hold the palettes. Overall, the interface is clear and logical. People with experience with other layout programs will make the transition to InDesign quite easily.

With version 2, InDesign is now well-outfitted for professional designers and publishers. InDesign's graphical features, including Photoshop-like transparency effects and natural drop shadows (semi- transparent shadows with diffused edges) on photos, graphics, and text, eliminate the need for cumbersome clipping paths (techniques used to mask the background of a photo), and sets InDesign clearly ahead of QuarkXPress, which does not have that feature. Because so many Illustrator and Photoshop tools have been brought into InDesign, most — if not all — of the design tasks can be completed directly in InDesign. Professional designers who create book and magazine covers will no longer need to switch from their drawing program to their image-editing program and then to their layout program to build complex designs. Adobe has created a solid base for future growth in the program. Because InDesign's code has an open architecture format, expect many more plug-in modules to become available in the future that will add more sophisticated features for special types of publishing. This newcomer is destined to become the darling for designers, and it definitely will be here for the long-term.

QuarkXPress version 5

Quark was first released 1987 and by the early 1990s became the leading program for professional designers and publishers because of its excellent tools for layout and design. It is the most widely used program by professionals in the design and publishing industries, with the bulk of its user base on the Macintosh platform. Version 5, which was released in spring of 2002, added features for tables, layers, basic Web design, and XML export to accommodate the needs of cross-media designers. It is targeted to design, publishing, and advertising professionals who demand stable, powerful tools to produce the highest quality design. Considered the leading design software, Quark produces files that are readily accepted by service bureaus. It is available for Macintosh and Windows.

"It's the industry standard for professional designers and publishers"

QuarkXPress has a full set of basic tools for creating magazines, newsletters, newspapers, flyers, brochures, advertisements, large-format posters, and other items. The program has a few tools for book publishers, including the ability to create tables of contents, and multi-chapter and stylesheet management. (Features for indexes, endnotes, and footnotes are available with additional third-party extensions.) Version 5 added a basic set of table features. Tab-delimited text files, such as those commonly created from databases and spreadsheets, can be imported into Quark, and then quickly laid out in a cell-based table and formatted. However, Quark's table formating tools lack several key features, including the ability to directly import spreadsheets and word-processing tables, and the ability to turn off the grid lines around cells. QuarkXPress can import a wide range of text and HTML file formats. It can export in Adobe PDF, HTML, XML, EPS, and text file formats such as TXT, RTF, and tagged text files (XPress Tags) for automated publishing. It can convert existing files from XML and HTML documents.

QuarkXPress 5 comes with some QuarkXTensions (plug-ins) on the software CD. Free online learning modules and additional extensions are available at the Quark site. The extensions, several hundred of them, are available for specific tasks, such as advanced footnotes and indexing, magazine workgroup tools, advertisement design, database publishing, catalog publishing, data merges, business forms, running headers/footers, mathematical equations, and many more. Additional modules from Quark include: avenue.quark, which adds an XML exporting feature from QuarkXPress; and Quark CopyDesk SE, which gives writers and editors on publication teams the ability to copyfit (i.e., to edit writing and adjust typography in order to make text fit a layout) and control the formatting of text.

My opinion: For beginners to desktop publishing, QuarkXPress is a bit more difficult to learn than PageMaker. Its interface uses movable palettes to access most formatting commands, and this can be unwieldy on smaller monitors. Professional users often have two monitors, one to show the page layout, the other to hold the palettes. Overall, the interface is clear and logical. People with experience with other layout programs will make the transition to QuarkXPress with minimal training.

QuarkXPress is the industry standard for professional designers and publishers. Third-party vendors have created hundreds of extensions that add features to fill out the toolset, especially for books, long documents, advertisements and newspapers. However, those extensions cost $100 to $300 or more, adding to the total cost of a full-featured set of tools, and many of those features are already built into the other desktop-publishing programs. Many service bureaus have a great deal invested in specialized tools to process Quark files efficiently and have fine-tuned their workflow around Quark, so there are some advantages to getting and customizing Quark. Out of the box, QuarkXPress has all the basic tools needed for general publishing, but when combined with appropriate third-party extensions, it becomes an extremely powerful design and publishing tool for complex publications and periodicals. QuarkXPress has rightly earned its position among professionals in the industry.

Adobe FrameMaker version 7

Adobe FrameMaker version 7 was originally developed by Frame Technologies in the late 1980s; FrameMaker was purchased by Adobe in the 1990s. Version 7 was released in the spring of 2002. FrameMaker is geared to book, technical, and enterprise publishing rather than general publishing, and the new version 7 incorporates the SGML features that were available only in the previous, separate FrameMaker+SGML 6 version. A related product, FrameMaker Server 7, works with applications such as databases to create dynamically generated PDF publications like catalogues for businesses. FrameMaker files for printing are accepted by some service bureaus, but because FrameMaker is a highly technical program, not all service bureaus have the ability to output its files. It is available for Macintosh, Windows, and Unix.

"It's for document specialists"

Framemaker has an extensive set of tools for creating scientific, academic, or technical books and other multi-chapter documents. It handles footnotes and complex tables that run over several pages superbly, and can generate tables of contents, indices, interactive cross-references, and dynamic running headers and footers. Its book-management feature is quite good, and its built-in equation editor lets scientific publishers control the appearance of every component of equations and formulae. FrameMaker can import spreadsheets and word-processing files with tables, maintaining the table structure in both cases. Version 7 adds extensive support for round-trip XML, where XML files can be imported into FrameMaker, formatted and published, and exported back out in XML. Two view modes are available: a standard WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) design view and an XML structure view, giving FrameMaker one of the best XML design environments available for publishers. The program also has a robust template feature that allows a structure to be created for a publication, and then XML or tagged text to be imported into the pre- designed structure. Workgroup features control checking files in and out, permissions, and updating content. FrameMaker also supports the WebDAV protocol (World Wide Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning). It can import an extensive variety of text and graphic files, and also XML, PDF, Flash, sound clips, video clips, and Microsoft Equation and Graph files. It can export in Adobe PDF, HTML, SGML, XML, and assorted word-processing and text file formats. It can convert existing files from XML and HTML documents.

Framemaker comes with FrameMaker 7, Quadralay's WebWorks Publisher Standard Edition for HTML publishing, Acrobat Distiller, templates for books and structured documents, and samples of FrameMaker documents for learning purposes. It also has three sample documents for structured authoring with DocBook 4.1, xDocBook 4.1.2, and XHTML. Additional modules for Framemaker include PatternStream by Finite Matters, which provides advanced connectivity to databases for data-intensive publishing. Through the Adobe Solutions Network, third-party specialists are available to develop custom solutions for specific publishing needs.

My opinion: FrameMaker's vintage 1980s interface is complex, cumbersome, and outdated when compared to the other desktop-publishing programs. That's one reason why this program is not well suited for graphic designers. Rather, it's for document specialists who need to develop hundreds of pages quickly and efficiently, and who can work in the structured view when necessary for XML publishing. This is an extremely powerful program; consequently, the learning curve is steep and it requires some time to master FrameMaker's tools. People with experience with other layout programs will miss the familiar interface and design tools when they migrate to FrameMaker. Those with extensive experience with higher-end word processing programs and scientific publishing software, such as TeX and LaTeX, are better candidates for FrameMaker.

However, FrameMaker is the most powerful long-document publishing program available, and it's at the top of pack for XML publishing. Its round-trip XML capabilities and database-publishing features make it ideal for those who publish technical manuals, catalogs, scientific and academic books, statistical data, and corporate-knowledge documents for print, Internet, and electronic distribution. But that power comes with a price: a steep learning curve and an interface that is anything but user friendly. I wish Adobe would keep the power, but give me a new, easier-to-use interface. FrameMaker would then be perfect.

Corel VENTURA version 8

Originally developed in 1985 by Ventura Software Inc., Ventura Publisher ran on the DOS/GEM operating system. It was the first professional-level desktop-publishing program available for the IBM PC; all others had been developed for the Macintosh. In the 1980s it was marketed through Xerox, and in 1990 was purchased outright by Xerox. Ventura was purchased by Corel in September of 1993 and modernized for the Windows operating system. Version 8 was released in 1998, and the forthcoming version 10 will be released in the fall of 2002 (there will not be a version 9). Unfortunately, there have been times when Ventura's future has been uncertain as it was passed from one owner to the next, and the program has been overlooked by the Macintosh-dominated publishing industry. However, a strong and loyal user base continues to support it (especially in Europe and Asia), and Corel Corp. has dedicated significant resources to produce the forthcoming new version. Ventura's Database Publisher module provides an easy-to-use tool to create database-driven publications. Ventura is geared to book, catalog, technical, and academic publishing rather than general publishing. Ventura files are accepted by some service bureaus, but because it's a highly technical program, not all service bureaus have the ability to output its files.

"This program is not for traditional graphics designers"

Ventura has extensive tools for creating books, catalogs, journals, scientific, academic, technical, and other multi-chapter documents. It handles footnotes and complex tables that run over several pages superbly, and can generate tables of contents, indices, interactive cross-references, and dynamic running headers and footers. Its book-management features are excellent. The Navigator palette shows not only every chapter in a book, but expands to show every text and graphic file that is in each chapter. This feature makes it much easier to find and manage all the components of large publications. One key feature that no other desktop- publishing program has is Ventura's central stylesheet configuration, in which one stylesheet holds all the formatting specifications for page tags (master pages), paragraph and character tags (styles), and frame tags (frame styles) for the entire book, rather than just for each individual chapter. This feature greatly enhances the production of multi-chapter publications: because every chapter or document file is controlled by the same stylesheet, changes made to the stylesheet are reflected throughout the entire book instantly, and the book's format stays consistent from chapter to chapter. Ventura's built-in equation editor is thorough, logical, and easy to use, giving scientific publishers complete control over the appearance of every component of equations and formulae. Its built-in Copy Editor shows only the text in a word-processing format and has basic editing tools. Database Publisher, a module that ships with Ventura, can extract data from live databases to create catalogs, technical reference manuals, and other data-intensive publications. Ventura's forthcoming version 10 will add extensive XML features that will tie into Corel's other XML products. Ventura can import spreadsheets or word-processing files with tables, maintaining the table structure in both cases. It can import an extensive variety of text and graphic files, and also PDF and DXF files. It can export in Adobe PDF, HTML, CSS, and basic text file formats. It is available only for Windows.

Ventura 8 ships as a suite of products, including Database Publisher 8, PhotoPaint 8, WordPerfect 8, ScriptEditor, CorelScan, OCR-Trace 8, Corel Capture, and Bitstream Font Navigator (for managing fonts). Hundreds of TrueType and PostScript Type 1 fonts are also included on the CD.

My opinion: Ventura is a highly technical and powerful program, and its interface reflects that. Many buttons and control palettes dominate the computer screen, but somehow Ventura has made it logical and tolerable to the eye. This program is for book and technical-document specialists who need to develop hundreds of pages quickly and efficiently, but graphic designers will see many familiar tools from more traditional desktop-publishing programs. The learning curve is fairly steep and it requires some time to master Ventura's tools and the concept of Ventura's underlying page. People with experience with other layout programs will miss the free-form design capabilities from PageMaker, InDesign, and Quark, but they'll gain efficient automation tools for multi-chapter publications. Those with extensive experience with higher-end word processing programs and scientific publishing software, such as TeX and LaTeX, are better candidates for Ventura.

Except for XML capabilities, Ventura matches FrameMaker's capabilities for producing multi-chapter technical publications, but its interface is more user friendly. When version 10 is released in fall 2002, Ventura will gain extensive XML tools that may match FrameMaker's. But this program is not for traditional graphics designers who create brochures, advertisements, magazines, and other design-intensive products. Rather, it's a powerful yet flexible tool for creating multi-chapter structured publications . Unfortunately, Ventura's reputation in the industry has been tarnished. It was ahead of its time when initially released in the mid-1980's; it contained many features, such as drop caps and stylesheets, that were overwhelming and confusing for early desktop publishers who at that time were still honing their basic computer skills, and were not ready for advanced features that today are commonplace. And, it was a DOS program, not even Windows, so service bureaus had a difficult time outputting Ventura files from their Mac-centric systems. It took a few more years for the industry to mature and work out the kinks in the new publishing workflow, but by that time Ventura's reputation had been sullied, and the industry has ignored it ever since. If I could induce amnesia about the software and re-introduce it, I'm sure the industry would be convinced that this is a great program for most books, journals, technical manuals, and database-driven publications.



Trademark information: All products mentioned in this article are trademarked by the companies that own them.


In future JEP issues Bevi Chagnon will write about PostScript and about publishers' relations with service bureaus and printers.


Bevi Chagnon is an information architect, graphic designer, and digital media consultant in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Her credentials make her a top specialist for every facet of the publishing industry, including visual design, marketing, computer technologies, and electronic distribution. Through her firms, PubCom and i-Imagery Design, she works with major corporations, academic publishers, government agencies and nonprofit organizations to improve their print and Internet publications. She is a frequent speaker on technology at industry conferences. You may reach her by e-mail at bevi@pubcom.com.


Links from this article

Adobe Solutions Network, http://partners.adobe.com/asn/partnerfinder/search_developer.jsp

PatternStream, http://www.patternstream.com/

Plug-ins for Adobe InDesign, http://www.adobe.com/store/products/plugins/view_by_application.jhtml?id=catPluginsForInDesign

Plug-ins for Adobe PageMaker, http://www.adobe.com/store/products/plugins/view_by_application.jhtml?id=catPluginsForPageMaker

QuarkXTensions, http://www.quark.com/products/xpress/xtensions/

QuarkXPress, free learning modules, http://www.quark.com/service/desktop/training/