Entry level DTP showdown
by Alan Zisman (c)
1993. First published in Our Computer Player, July 16, 1993
Publish It! v.3.0 (DOS)
Publish It! (Windows)
625 Academy Drive
price: $149 (US list), $49.95 (US) upgrade
Express Publisher v.2.0 (DOS)
Express Publisher 1.0 (Windows)
from Power Up Software
San Mateo, CA
price: $159 (US list) or $69 upgrade or $99
trade-up from competitor's product.
Publish It! (DOS)
Publish It! (Windows)
Express Publisher (DOS):
XT/AT/PS2 or compatible
any graphics adapter
additional extended or expanded memory recommended
Express Publisher (Windows):
80286 or better
2 meg RAM, 4 meg recommended
8 meg hard drive space
When most people think of desktop publishing, they
tend to think of the Big Names: PageMaker or Ventura on the PC,
PageMaker or Quark on the Mac. Maybe FrameMaker on either as well as
Unix. Big Names. Big Programs. Big Prices. Big Learning Curve. Big
Hardware Requirements. Quark has just been ported over to Windows on a
PC... recommended minimum platform? Your average 486.
Not all of us have a 486 or can justify spending
$500-600 on a desktop publishing program. If that's what you're doing
for a living, it may make sense, but many people want the ability to
a newsletter or brochure together from time to time, without needing
the power for a price that the Big Names represent.
For a long time, the casual dtp users were poorly
served, especially if they used PCs rather than Macs. Sure, you could
multiple columns and insert graphics with a DOS word processor like
Word Perfect or MS Word. But switching back and forth from text mode to
a non-editable page preview was not exactly intuitive. Low end DOS dtp
programs like First Publisher were, well, low end. And lack of
system-wide font support made it difficult to get sophisticated
Windows promised a graphical interface and consistency
between programs. For a long time, though, PageMaker was the only DTP
program to make use of that environment.
A few years ago, TimeWorks released Publish It!. This
program used the GEM graphical interface, like Big Name Ventura
Publisher. But it traded some of Ventura's power for ease of use. It
consistently won magazine 'Best of...' awards, but was hampered by a
lack of scalable fonts, and never had a big impact on the marketplace.
Last year, Microsoft ("We are the World") released
MS-Publisher, a dtp program that ran under Windows, and sold for about
$150. Suddenly, affordable dtp became respectable. Established products
like Publish It! and Express Publisher came out with Windows-based
competition for MS-Publisher, while sprucing up their DOS versions.
We'll take a look at four of the dozen or so dtp packages available for
PCs and selling for under $200.
Why Bother? I've got a Word Processor already
You may wonder what's the point. You can use fonts and
columns and insert graphics with your word processor. If you're running
a Windows word processor, you can even see what you're doing. What
advantage is there in getting a dedicated dtp program?
The answer is that in some cases, there is no
advantage. Companies like PageMaker's Aldus have been losing ground, as
their market shrinks. Even for casual newsletters, however, there are a
number of things that can't be done (at least easily) in even the best
of this season's word processors. For instance:
-- Linking text frames. Your story starts in column
one, page one, but rather than continuing into column two, you want the
overflow to appear in column three, page four. You want text to flow
from the first column to the last if you edit your text.
-- Word wrap around the outline of the picture, not
around a rectangular frame. Even some dtp programs, like MS-Publisher,
can't do this.
-- Fine tuning of text attributes such as kerning
characters in headlines (put that capital A and W close together) or
leading, the space between lines.
-- Rotate text and graphics.
If you want to do any of these things with your word
processor, even if only once in a while, you'll find yourself wishing
for a real page layout program. (You can hammer a nail with a
screwdriver handle, but you probably don't want to).
Publish It! ver 3.0 for DOS
TimeWorks makes versions of Publish It! for DOS, for
the Mac, and now for Windows. The DOS version is the oldest of this
family, and while it was a long-time award winner, its age was showing.
The new version brings it new features and a new look, but at a price.
While ver 2.0 ran on pretty much any PC, the new version won't even
start on any machine with less than 2 megs of memory. This is just one
more sign that the venerable XT may need to be put out to pasture. As
well, the program needs as much of your standard 640k free as possible.
They suggest booting without most of your favorite TSRs if it refuses
And as pretty much any machine sporting 2 meg or more
of memory could be running Windows, should anyone bother with a DOS
program to do as graphical a task as dtp anyways?
Well, Publish It makes a good attempt at keeping you
in DOS. They've updated the GEM interface, including fashionable 3-D
buttons, and colourful dialogue boxes. It looks a lot like a GeoWorks
program. (This means it will no longer run under the standard GEM-3
environment). They've (finally) added scalable fonts. There's a toolbar
underneath the menus (just like those trendy Windows programs). While
looks like a Windows program, it doesn't have the overhead involved in
running Windows, and so runs quite a bit faster, especially on 286s or
386SXs. Still, the addition of all this cuteness makes it run somewhat
slower than version 2 did.
Publish It ships with 20 fonts, that are scalable from
3 to 250 points. As well, it ships with over 100 templates-- sample
documents for a wide range of business and personal uses. These are
easily modified, to fit your needs. The DOS version includes a Template
Manager. This lets you see a thumbnail version of a template before you
open it (it works with your own files as well).
The program has always had simple to use paragraph
styles, which are still listed in an on-screen library when you select
the Paragraph Tool-- click anywhere in a paragraph, click on the bullet
style, poof! instant bulleted text. Master pages, including separate
left and right master pages, are well-supported. Other nice touches
include text wrap around irregular graphics, a pixel editor for
bit-mapped pictures, and a set of draw tools (though not a
draw module). Text can be kerned to 0.1 pt. accuracy.
A new feature, common to the DOS and Windows version
is PowerText. This lets you create special effects with text-- wrap a
sentence around a circle, for example. This feature seems to be a
requirement for dtp in this price range these days... all four of the
programs reviewed, as well as Microsoft Publisher have a module that
does this. None of the Big Name programs support this sort of feature,
One added plus for this program is that it does a
superb job of printing on dot-matrix printers... even the old 9-pin
Roland that I used for testing. Of course, this prints slower than
the default fonts that come with your printer.
By the way, this program claims to work without a
mouse, and it will, but the keyboard controls are even harder to use
than Windows'... don't even bother trying to use it that way.
New to the DOS and Windows versions is an 80,000 word
spell checker, and about 150 pieces of clipart. Unfortunately, the
installation program only installs some of the fonts, art, and
along with the program. To install the rest, you have to run the
install program again. Despite this, if you don't want to work in
Windows, and if you have the 2 megs of memory required, this will meet
many of your publishing needs. If you can live without scalable fonts
PowerText, an older edition of this program is available under another
name, as SoftKey Publisher. Available in many outlets for around $29,
this is one of biggest secret bargains around.
Publish It for Windows
Not wanting to be left out of the Windows onslaught,
TimeWorks released the first Windows version for their program at the
same time that they upgraded the DOS version. And as much as possible,
the two versions share the same look. Both sport button bars along the
top, for example.
The Windows version takes advantage of many of
Windows' features, however, giving it some extra power to make up for
what it loses in speed. The toolbar is context sensitive... selecting
the frame, text, paragraph, or drawing tools changes the rest of the
icons to reflect what you can do in each mode.
While lacking the DOS version's Template Manager (in
fact, even lacking a catalogue of templates in the manual), the Windows
version does include a similar PowerText module. This resembles the
WordArt module included with MS-Publisher and Word for Windows. Like
WordArt, it lets you rotate text, skew it at different angles (accurate
to 1 degree), or wrap it around a half or full circle. As well,
PowerText characters can be filled with colours or patterns. Unlike the
Microsoft feature, PowerText works with any font installed under
Windows, including TrueType or ATM fonts. Microsoft's WordArt only can
use a collection of crudely-drawn bitmapped fonts that ship with it.
Unfortunately, PowerText, and Publish It in general does not support
OLE, and thus, can't be used in other Windows programs, except through
the clipboard. (Similarly, Publish It can't use OLE to import from
Both versions of the program share the same spell
checker, and collections of templates and clipart (a mix of TIF and CGM
formats), along with most other assorted goodies (except for the
Template Manager from the DOS version, and the Windows' version's
PowerText). As well, the Windows edition ships with Adobe Type Manager,
v.2.0, and 25 postscript type 1 fonts. These include a nive selection
'real' Adobe fonts, and type 1 equivalents of the fonts included with
the DOS version. As a final bonus, upon registration, you can choose to
receive Key Draw for Windows, an illustration and graphing program, for
a $10 shipping charge. There is also a CD-ROM version of the program
available with additional fonts and templates and 3000 additional
clipart images. Of course, copying all that onto your hard disk would
take up more than the 5 1/4 megs of the disk-based version.
This program lacks MS-Publisher's cuteness-- its
PageWizards and tongue in cheek messages ("Printing your masterpiece"),
but through its paragraph styles and templates, and through PowerText's
use of your system fonts, it has it beat in functionality. Choose
between this and the DOS version according to your taste for DOS speed
vs. Windows system integration.
Express Publisher v.2.0 for DOS
Power Up offered to let us test a beta copy of version
3.0 for DOS, but we opted for the shipping version-- the version of the
program that you can actually go out and buy today.
This program sports a lot of power and features, but
is among the slowest of DOS programs. (One user said it made him feel
like he was running Windows). It doesn't, however, make the memory
demands of the new Publish It DOS version. While Publish It has a new
'90's look, Express Publisher has a crude resolution screen, resembling
a program from the bad-old pre-VGA days. As well, mouse use seems slow
Like Publish It, it is frame based; a frame has to be
created before any text or graphics can be imported, or even any words
typed. Frames can be linked before text is imported, so that overflow
will move into the selected frames.
Express Publisher has a big bonus... its special
effects module, TextEffects. Accessed from EP's main menu, TextEffects
opens up, and creates and saves its own file. When you exit
you are returned to your publication, with your special effects file
linked into your document. Unfortunately, resizing a TextEffects
graphic can result in banding, similar to changing the size of other
bit-mapped graphics. Another problem is that this module can be quite
While this program makes it easy to position and
re-size graphics, (you can even flip or rotate graphics by 90 degrees),
it has severe limitations in its graphics handling. It only imports
black and white graphics, and it forces you to convert CGM vector files
(from Harvard Graphics, for example) to TIF. Printouts tend to look
The program does a good job of supporting style
sheets, for consistent publications, and includes automatic kerning and
hypenation. These last features, however, help slow the program down.
They can be, however, turned off until just prior to printing.
Eight scalable fonts are included, in Intellifont
format. These can be used in sizes ranging from 6 to 144 points. These
print out with very good quality, even on a dot matrix printer. 100 TIF
clipart images are included. Additional font and clipart packages are
available. A selection of templates are also included.
A nice feature, unique to the two Express Publisher
programs is Automatic Alignment. Here, after selecting two frames, you
get a choice of 15 ways to align them. I've wished for a feature like
that using other programs, including high-priced PageMaker. Another
touch is the Object Specifications. You can view and change a frame's
position, and can choose to lock it in place. (This precision is in
contrast to the program's clumsy mouse support of object placement).
Text wrap around graphics is also nicely handled.
Despite these strengths, this program is slow, and
suffers from a clumsy-looking interface. Its poor graphics handling
it come in second to DOS Publish It. Even on a 640k machine, it would
be a toss-up whether to go for Express Publisher's scalable fonts and
TextEffects or Publish It ver 2 (the old version) with its more usable
interface. Better off waiting to see what the upcoming upgrade will
Express Publisher 1.0 for Windows
This Windows version has been out for several months,
and has been aiming at MS-Publisher in their ads. These ads show the
first page of a newsletter, and point out the features that you
do with the Microsoft package.
And they're right. Like the more recent Publish It for
Windows, Express Publisher for Windows include more power features than
the Microsoft sales leader. Many of these features are carried over
the DOS version, but with the advantage of an interface that lets
Windows manage fonts and graphics.
The real winner with this program is TextAppeal.
Unlike the special effects module included with the DOS version, this
a separate program. Like Publish It's PowerText module (and unlike
Microsoft's), it uses all your Windows fonts. Unlike either of its
competitors, it can integrate graphics and text together, to create
very sophisticated effects or logos. It lacks some of the power
of a dedicated program like Bitstream's MakeUp (such as gradient
fills), but is about equal to Adobe's Type Align, marketed as a
stand-alone program. Like Publish It's PowerText, it lacks OLE support,
and must be used with the clipboard. Unlike PowerText, you even have to
use the clipboard to bring your logo back into the parent program.
The program builds on the strengths of the DOS
version. Like its predecessor, it lets you link frames for text flow,
and lets you numerically adjust placement of a frame. It duplicates the
excellent alignment features of the DOS version. It supports spell
checking, and a hypenation dictionary. Like the DOS version, it ships
with 100 pieces of clipart, and 15 templates. Files created in the DOS
version can be used here, though not the other way around.
As well as supporting text in frames, there is a 'free
text' option. Text can be added directly to the page, and then
manipulated. Graphics are handled much better than in the DOS version,
or than in Microsoft Publisher. For example, a graphic can be rotated
any angle (accurate to 0.01 degree), as long as this feature is
supported by your printer. Text can be wrapped around any shape
graphics. There are reported problems with importing EPS graphics,
PowerUp attributes to the Microsoft Windows postscript driver.
The program adds a polygon tool to the collection of
drawing tools already available in the DOS version. For me, though, I
found the 16 icons in the ToolBox a little confusing. I would have been
just as happy to leave half of these options buried in the menus, in
exchange for a simpler screen.
There is a nice Shrink to Fit option for
printing large pages on smaller paper. Alternately, you can choose to
tile a large page onto several smaller pages. These are useful, as the
program lets you create a document up to 5 feet to a side. On the other
hand, you are limited to a maximum of 48 letter-sized pages per
publication; the larger you page size, the fewer pages you can include.
Like Publish It, this program ships with Adobe Type
Manager. Thirteen fonts are included. It supports the right mouse
button-- right clicking on text shows the font information; right
clicking on a frame shows its size and position, and whether it holds
imported object. Full installation takes almost 10 megs, plsu an
additional meg or so for Text Appeal.
While this program doesn't support the range of page
views common to many Windows programs, it has an unusual thumbnail
This allows you to view all your pages, then move in on a particular
selection. As well, the Free Zoom feature lets you focus on specific
portion of a page.
The program is slow, due to frequent screen redraws.
Adding the directory to your Autoexec.bat PATH statement (as
installation suggests) produces some improvement.
Express Publisher for Windows uses the Windows
environment to clean up most of the complaints I had with the DOS
version. As well, it adds some nice enhancements. I particularly like
the Text Appeal module.
Envision Publisher-- the shareware alternative
Whenever I think I've finished one of these reviews, I
get something that just has to be added. In this case, it's Envision
Publisher. This is a new, shareware program, that's trying to compete
with the others in this category.
As shareware, it's available on many local BBS's (look
for EVP101A.ZIP and EVP101B.ZIP), and can be tried freely for 30 days.
After that, if you want to keep using it, you should register it. If
you're not sure whether you really need DTP at all, this is one way to
The shareware version takes 1.7 megs of drive space,
and features a slick, DOS-based WYSIWYG page layout screen-- clearly
better looking than Express Publisher v.2.0 for DOS, for instance. It
supports scalable fonts, but only includes three (when you register,
get 40 fonts, along with your printed manual). Where it falls down is
in its text and graphics import capabilities. It looks like it supports
a number of text formats, until you look closely. They turn out to be
ASCII text, WordStar(!), and several shareware word processors
(PC-Write, Galaxy, etc.) Admirable as shareware solidarity, but less
useful for most of us trying to get work done.
Even worse is the graphics importing. You can bring in
pretty well any picture you want... as long as its black and white and
in PCX format.
It comes with a 30-page tutorial, and a 110-page
manual, as well as a nice help system, all included in the two
Despite its limitations, it's worth taking a look at
this shareware program... looking's free, and you may find that it
your needs. It is a major piece of work, that took a few people a
reported 5 years to create (they've proudly put their picture in the
startup screen). Registration is $69 for the basic version, and $169
the Pro version (80 fonts, more templates and clipart, etc). For more
Software Vision Corp., at POBox 1734, Pinellas Park, FL, 34664-1734
USA, tel: 1-800-388-8474 or 1-813-545-4354.
The Envelope, Please...
Comparing these programs, along with Microsoft
Publisher, doesn't produce a clear outcome. MS-Publisher wins
on cute. It's the only program that will automatically make paper
airplanes for you, or walk you through designing a card or a calendar.
On that level, it's the PrintShop of dtp programs. It's the clear
loser, however, in terms of features, including some basic dtp features
like style sheets, or irregular text wrap. Microsoft's WordArt is also
less useful than the similar modules included with all of the other
If you're limited to a DOS program (or if you just
don't want to work in Windows), get Publish It 3.0 unless you've got an
XT-level machine. Alternately, wait and see how much Express Publisher
3.0 ups the ante on these programs.
If you want a Windows program (if only for the wide
range of fonts available), it's more of a toss-up. I generally
working with Publish It, but Express Publisher's TextAppeal may make
Express Publisher the best value if you want to integrate logos or text
special effects in your publications.
(Note from the year 2003): The above
article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and
later, I've gotten a series of emails from DTP fans hoping that I could
sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is
still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a
vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of
older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If
on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly
freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements
for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)