Microsoft Publisher. (Column) (Evaluation)
by Tony Roberts
Microsoft Publisher is a break-through desktop publishing program that will help anyone prepare brochures, newsletters, cards, and other printed materials. And you don't need a degree in picas and points to get results that will please you for most of your personal desktop publishing chores.
The package has many of the amenities of high-end desktop publishing software, but it overflows with features that make it simple to use for those not schooled in the graphic arts. With Microsoft Publisher, you'll be able to create birthday cards, party invitations, and newsletters for the canoe club quickly, efficiently, and in a manner that's pleasing to the eye.
Page Wizards are the genius behind this ease of use. Microsoft has bundled a handful of Wizards with the program to help you make quick work of setting up brochures, newsletters, greeting cards, calendars, and business forms. There's a Page Wizard for just about everything--there's even a paper-airplane-making Wizard to help you through those slow Friday afternoons.
The Page Wizard feature asks you a series of questions about the selected project: Do you want a classic or a modern brochure? Do you want a picture on the front page? Large or small?
Once you've completed the questionnaire, Microsoft Publisher goes to work and assembles the elements needed for your publication and places them on the page while you watch. An information box keeps you posted on what the program is doing and why. If you will pay close attention, you'll learn how to build your own similar publications.
But if you're interested only in the final results, that's fine. Go warm up your coffee or put out the trash while the Page Wizard does it work. When you return, you simply replace the Wizard's sample copy and graphics blocks with your information and artwork--that's it. Send your pages to the printer and get on with your life.
Using Page Wizards, I created a birthday card for my brother in about five minutes. Calendars for the whole family took slightly longer only because my daughter wanted to see every possibility for the piece of art that was to adorn the calendar for her room.
Microsoft Publisher is a frame-based program. This means that you create boxes called frames on your pages and then fill the frames with various elements. You can select text frames, word-art frames, and picture frames.
Frames are easy to move and resize, and the program helps you get the job done correctly by including icons that tell you what function is being performed. Click on a frame handle, and a moving truck icon reading move appears, reassuring you that you are about to move the frame. Similarly, if you click on a frame handle to resize the frame, a double-headed arrow reading resize lights up.
Another winner in the ease-of-use competition in a Microsoft Publisher feature called Word Art. This ingenious concept allows you to create headlines or word illustrations that are curved around a circle, slanted, rotated, shaded, or stretched. Microsoft Publisher also provides a battery of specialty fonts for this purpose, so you can make a statement that really fits the tone of your project.
It takes under a minute to make a place a Word Art creation. Developing the same effect with a traditional font-manipulation tool would take much longer. Although its Word Art effects are clearly less sophisticated than what could be produced with dedicated software, Microsoft Publisher almost guarantees that anyone, even a complete novice, will get speedy and satisfactory results.
Border art is another fascinating feature that will captivate Microsoft Publisher users. You can place a traditional box around one of your frames, or you can spice things up by selecting one of the dozens of border art possibilities provided with program.
Microsoft Publisher makes it easy to locate and select just the right border art. Simply click on a border art filename in the selection box, and a preview of the art appears onscreen. If you like it, click on OK, and the border will be applied. If the selection isn't what you had in mind, continue browsing until you find the perfect border. The same process also makes selection and placement of clip art quick and easy.
Clip art of various forms can be imported into your publications. If your clip art library is small or nonexistent, you'll find more than 100 black-and-white and color clip art examples packed with the program to get you started.
Microsoft Publisher has the look you'd expect to a Windows application, and anyone familiar with that format can press forward with little or no help from the manual. Program options are selected via standard menu options or through a toolbar that provides quick access to the most commonly used options.
This toolbar changes its appearance, too, depending on which type of frame is currently selected. If a text frame is selected, options for changing type sizes, fonts, justification, and line spacing are available. When a picture frame is selected, the options presented include border weight, shading, and shadows.
Microsoft Publisher is a perfect program for someone who doesn't plan to do desktop publishing every day. You don't have to study it, practice it, or learn it--you just use it whenever you need it.
Help and guidance are built into every aspect of the program. A status bar at the bottom of the screen helps keep you on track. Place the mouse pointer over a tool on the toolbar, and the status bar identifies the tool and explains how to use it. The program includes a standard Windows help program and offers a brief tutorial to show you how Microsoft Publisher pages are assembled.
Microsoft Publisher includes a built-in word processor with a spelling checker, so you can create and design your documents without leaving the program. Alternatively, you can create your text outside Microsoft Publisher and import it through one of the many text filters provided.
In addition to the clip art and border art that come bundled with Microsoft Publisher, the package includes several template files to help you get started with such things as resumes, business cards, labels, or price sheets.
Although not as sophisticated as the top-of-the-line professional desktop publishing packages, Microsoft Publisher deserves credit for being an inventive piece of software. Its print routine, for example, automatically rotates the panels of a greeting card so the card folds correctly. Also, you can create a publication in book format. For example, to create an eight-page booklet, Microsoft Publisher prints pages 8 and 1 on the first sheet of paper, 2 and 7 on the second sheet, 6 and 3 on the third sheet, and 4 and 5 on the final sheet. Fold the sheets together, and you have a nice, neat booklet. This type of pagination, or imposition, is something users of high-end desktop publishing software have requested for many years.
Professional desktop publishers may become frustrated by the lack of detailed controls in Microsoft Publisher. One example concerns type size: It can only be selected in half-point increments instead of tenth-point increments. Another Microsoft Publisher short-coming that might annoy professionals is that it doesn't use style sheets to facilitate copy formatting.
But if you don't know a thing about desktop publishing, Microsoft Publisher will make you happier than any other software package I can imagine. I won't make you an automatic desktop artist, but it will let you quickly and easily turn out clean, crisp desktop published documents.