MS Publisher v 2.0: The Empire Strikes Back

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, August 20, 1993

Microsoft Canada
320 Matheson Blvd. W.
Mississauga, Ontario
L5R 3R1

price:   $139 (US list), going up to $199 at the end of the year.

One thing for sure in this computer business... nothing stays the same
for long.

In the July 16th issue, I reviewed several low-cost page layout
programs that had taken on the challenge of out-doing Microsoft
Publisher. At the time, I thought that they had managed to outdo
Microsoft's product in a number of ways.

Could it be that software giant Microsoft wouldn't let me get away
with saying that for long? Did they think that I'd drawn the cliched
line in the sand?

No sooner did my words make into print than they released a new
version of Publisher, to up the ante once again.

To back up, there's a lot of people who aren't full time desktop
publishers, but who find themselves with the job of laying out pages
now and again... maybe a leaflet, or a newsletter, or a brochure.
Something for a school or church event, or a restaurant's menu.

These people don't need all the power of a PageMaker or a Quark
XPress. And they don't want to pay the $695 list for one of these
programs, or take the time needed to learn to master the
eccentricities (or dare I say 'quarks'?)

This is the market served by the under $200 page layout programs.
Last time we looked at Publish It and Express Publisher. Good
programs, both. But they're last year's software.

Microsoft Publisher was originally released in 1991 as part of
Microsoft's 'Productivity Series'... software aimed at home and
small business users. It introduced the concept of Wizards (in this
case, 'Page Wizards')... sort of ready-made super-macros to help the
user walk through common tasks. Microsoft has been busy adding
Wizards to all their 'big-league' applications, ever since.

I liked Publisher version 1.0... it seemed like the first product from
Microsoft to have a sense of humour. It told you it was "Now
printing your masterpiece", and there was a PageWizard to produce
paper airplanes. (If you clicked the 'Radio' option, it responded: "
You can't have a radio in a paper airplane, silly!")

But it was missing a few critical pieces. No templates. No style
sheets. (If you've never used either, trust me... they make your
work much easier). The WordArt module was a nice way to create quick
logos and special effects, but you were stuck with a collection of
somewhat clunky bitmapped fonts.

So far, none of the competition has improved on Publisher's
cuteness, but both Publish It and Express Publisher provided more
power, while still remaining inexpensive and easy to use.


So now it's Microsoft's turn to show what they've learned from the
competition. Publisher 2.0 won't steal the desktop publishing pros
away from XPress or PageMaker, but it's added the features it was
lacking, while still remaining the cutest thing on your desktop.

PageWizards remain the easiest way to produce an instant newletter,
card, banner, or paper airplane. And they've added new ones, from business
forms to origami. Yes... instant cranes.

For more choices, you now get a library of templates... pre-formated
documents, with dummy text that you can replace with your own.
Styles are now supported, so you can more easily make sure that you'
re using the same formatting in Issue #2 as in your Premier Issue.

Lots of borders and clipart... perhaps a little TOO cute for my
taste, but I'm sure SOMEONE has been waiting a long time to produce
a document with a 'People With Hats' border... or Muffins or Ladybugs.

Other good features: instant drop caps (those big first letters you
see in all the trendy magazines). Hyphenation, vastly improving the
look of justified text. Text can be automatically wrapped around an
irregularly-shaped graphic, as well as around a picture's frame.

Cue cards, pioneered in Microsoft's Access database, which pop up
and offer step-by-step help when the program thinks you're doing
something fopr the first time. And then there's Word Art ver 2.0... a giant step
for DTP-kind.

Word Art ver 2.0 has done away with those special fonts that were
previously required. Now it works with any of your TrueType fonts (
and includes a library of 20 TrueType fonts that can be shared by
all your Windows programs). And it now gives dozens of shapes, fill
patterns, and alignments, while adding the power to stretch, rotate,
or skew your text. Sure you get more special effects power in a
dedicated program like Bitstream Makeup or an illustration program
like Corel Draw... but this is quicker, easier, and the price is

As well, as an OLE server, it can be used by any OLE-aware Windows
program. I quickly recorded a macro for Lotus Ami-Pro word
processor, and installed it on that program's ToolBar. I suppose you
could even use it with another DTP program, like PageMaker. (By the
way, like the new version of Corel Draw, Publisher supports OLE ver 2.
0... more on that in another article).

There's other new-technology awareness... Publisher imports Photo-CD
images, and has built-in TWAIN support. That means that if you have
a TWAIN compatible scanner, you can scan a graphic directly into
your document.


Sometimes, I think that Publisher goes a little too far. There
may be merit in replacing traditional publishing jargon, like
kerning, with phrases like "Spacing Between Characters". However,
the continually shifting cursor (a moving truck shape when it passes
over a frame's boundary where you can move the frame, for example)
is disconcerting. Luckily, you can turn off the extra-cute cursors,
for more staid alternatives.

If you really need power features, you'll have to learn to use one
of the high-priced, more powerful-alternatives. Publisher doesn't
really support long documents, for example. No index or table of
contents. No color separations. No rotations by 1/10th of a degree.

But for the user with more casual page layout needs, this one is
worth a look (at least until the competition makes THEIR moves).

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from MS Pub 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 you check 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)


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan