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ISSUE 510: The high tech office- Aug 3 1999


Adobe moves to 'reposition'
its PageMaker software
for nonprofessional users

The high tech folks are not the only ones to twist our vocabulary to their own purposes. Business types can do it just as well, thanks.

Look at the new-to-the-'90s word "repositioning." In the swinging '70s, that would have carried sexual overtones. Not now. Take a product, re-
package it, aim it at a different market. It's been repositioned. This, of course, is not a bad thing -- if the product fills a valid market niche in the new way, more power to it.

Consider Adobe Software's venerable PageMaker desktop publisher. A dozen years or so ago, the first version of PageMaker, together with the original Apple Laserwriter printer, showed how the Macintosh could be a useful office tool, permitting businesses to layout documents that they previously had to send out. A little later, the PC version was one of the pioneering Windows applications.

But while PageMaker evolved and improved over the years, it lost its hold on the professional page design market to Quark XPress, a product that permits control over all the elements on a page to a seemingly microscopic level. After 1997's version 6.5 failed to make much of a dent in Quark's hold on the pro-
fessional market, Adobe seemed to give up on the product, announcing a new, built-from-scratch program, InDesign, due later this year.

But if PageMaker is no longer the darling of the page layout pros, how about aiming it at another market?

And that's what Adobe is trying, with its recent release of PageMaker 6.5 Plus, for Windows and Mac users. And that market is most of you, dear readers -- business computer users who may need, from time to time, to layout professional-looking documents yourselves. And there are far more of you than there are graphics and page design professionals.

The new version is built on top of version 6.5. That version of PageMaker has some nice features -- it allows users to work with text and graphics in the old free-form PageMaker style, or by working with frames, as in Quark XPress. Documents can be exported as Adobe Acrobat files or Web HTML files for electronic publishing.

Taking a cue from Corel, which has always thrown lots of freebies in with their graphics products, Adobe includes more than 100 high-quality fonts, and a second CD full of clip art and photos.

But the real repositioning for the business market comes from the templates. More than 300 editable starting points for a wide range of projects -- from business cards to advertisements. It's easy to add your own graphics and text, and simple to customize the colour choices. And Adobe has dropped the price to broaden the market to about $600 or so.

Here, they're competing with Microsoft Publisher, the $200 desktop publishing bestseller. Publisher includes Wizards which, with their fill-in-the-blank style, are even easier to use than PageMaker's templates. PageMaker, however, offers much more powerful customization than Publisher. And Publisher is available to Windows users only, while Adobe's product reaches Mac users as well.

But Mac users will be less happy than their Windows equivalents. The core program is identical on both platforms. And both boxes include the same fonts, clip art and templates and a marvelous Getting Started manual by Robin Williams (no, not that Robin Williams -- she's the author of tomes such as The Non-Designer's Design Book).

Windows users get a few things that Adobe left out of the Mac package, however. They get an Office-style toolbar, for easy access to menu commands (very handy, as PageMaker has always insisted on doing menus its own way).

Even more importantly, Mac users don't get the template and picture viewer included in the Windows package.

Instead, Mac users looking for a design have to blunder through the set of templates, one at a time, to find one they want to work with. Windows users can quickly find the right one visually.

It's too bad, really. PageMaker remains a powerful program and the set of templates, along with the bundled fonts and graphics, are all well designed and offer a way for many nonprofessionals to produce attractive documents, both for print output or for electronic publishing.

Windows users who are currently working with Microsoft Publisher should check it out if they are willing to trade user-friendly Wizards for more power (and spend a lot more).

But Mac users really need an easier way to access all that valuable added-in content. *

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