Adobe puts a twist on new PageMaker version

in bid to win back desktop publishing market Apr 15 1997

Ten years or so ago, a particular combination of hardware and software saved the Macintosh (shades of 1997!) and created an industry.

The hardware was the Macintosh computer and the Apple LaserWriter laser printer, and the software was Aldus (now Adobe) PageMaker. Together, they made desktop publishing possible, creating a business use for those cute little monochrome Macs. Here was something of obvious practical use, that couldn't be easily done on the standard office computers -- DOS machines running Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3.

A couple of years later, Aldus tried to do it again, releasing PageMaker for the then-new Windows environment. While it became a popular desktop publishing program for those machines, Macintosh computers have remained the machines of choice for graphics, design and page layout.

But somewhere along the line, PageMaker seemed to lose its way. Professional, mostly Mac-based, page layout users switched allegiance to QuarkXPress, while nonprofessional users, looking for software that was easier to use, tended to purchase products like Microsoft Publisher if they were Windows users, or Aldus Home Publisher if they favoured Macs.

Quark offered features that weren't available in PageMaker, such as multiple master pages, precise placement and rotation of text and graphics, and frames that offered the ability to build a design around empty rectangles, later filling them with the actual text and graphics.

The last couple of releases of PageMaker have added features, to catch up with Quark. Graphics and text can now be rotated to any angle, not just 90 degrees. And like Quark, there's an optional on-screen control palette, for easy access to the most often used commands. But while PageMaker kept the biggest chunk of the Windows market, Quark has remained the program that defined the product category.

With its new version 6.5, now out for both the Mac and Windows, PageMaker is fully back in the fight. It has (finally) added support for frames. Users can now create frames in rectangular, elliptical, or polygon shapes. This feature even outdoes Quark, as frames can hold either text or graphics, so designers can concentrate on their design without needing to know what's going to appear in the final product. Designers who are used to working with PageMaker's traditional, more free-flowing options will be happy to know they don't have to use frames, as the new version also supports the text-boxes with "window shades," as in earlier incarnations.

As well, like some high-end graphics products, the new version supports layers. That means you can add text and graphics to a layer that can be shown or hidden depending on the purpose of the document. This becomes especially useful as PageMaker now can export pages in Web-oriented HTML format. The same basic document can be produced for print or Web usage, with Web-specific elements like navigation buttons appearing on a separate layer. (You can't do that with Quark!)

You can also export your designs in Adobe Acrobat electronic publication format. This makes it possible to create fully graphic catalogues or other publications that can be distributed across a network, or on disk or CD, and easily readable with the free Acrobat Reader software by Mac, Windows and even Unix computer users.

Since the product is now owned by Adobe, it's been made more compatible with that company's PhotoShop software. The interface is fairly consistent between the two products, with common keyboard shortcuts, palettes, and more. The result is a program that's easier to use than ever, especially for artists familiar with industry-standard PhotoShop.

Colour-handling has also been improved, with support for Kodak's Precision Color Management System making it more compatible with graphics applications. Publications aimed at the Internet can now be easily set to use colours optimized for Web browsing.

With a few exceptions -- when will they make it easy to create and edit those large first letters in a paragraph known as drop caps? -- PageMaker has finally equalled QuarkXPress, and with this version, it's offering more flexible frames, and layer and colour management features that are unavailable in its competitor. The Acrobat and HTML support make it a good choice for users who need to create publications that will appear both in print and electronically.

Despite all these positives, I don't envy Adobe's job marketing this one. PageMaker gets some recognition as the product that started the desktop publishing revolution, but it no longer has control of that market. Even with the better product, it will be difficult to dislodge Quark's hold on the mind-share of professional page designers, while PageMaker lacks the automation and goodies (tons of fonts and clipart) needed to appeal to the mass market of casual users.*

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