Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 159 / DECEMBER 1993 / PAGE 98

PagePlus 2.0. (desktop publishing software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by William Harrel

If you're looking for an inexpensive page-layout program that outshines even the high-end DTP packages, this program is for you.

Serif's PagePlus consistently leads the other economy desktop publishing packages in useful features. Version 1.0 provided spot color separations when none of the developers of other under-$200 packages thought users needed them (but soon found out that users demanded them), and it supported full incremental text rotation at a time when you couldn't find it anywhere else, even in the high-end heavyweights, Ventura Publisher and PageMaker.

Version 2.0 again pushes PagePlus ahead of the competition with process color seperations, a PANTONE color palette, drag-and-drop text, incremental graphics rotation, OLE support, and a nifty table editor.

This suprisingly powerful program makes page layout remarkable easy. An example is its versatile style sheets. Similar to the same feature in a wrod processor, style sheets let you format paragraphs or selected blocks of text by simply assigning a predefined style tag to them.

Some other low-end page-layout packages don't support style sheets, and creating long documents with their many different text formats is entirely too much work. Some High-end DTP programs, such as Ventura Publisher and Frame Maker, have style sheets, but you need a lot of perserverance and tenacity to define and use their style sheets. PagePlus 2.0 simplifies the process by doing away with a zillion options most people don't use.

Also impressive is the text frames feature. It makes it a snap to jump text to different sections of a document, such as different pages in a newsletter. You can also export the document elements you create in PagePlus as a graphics file and import them into other applications, a feature not found in other layour packages. You could, for example, create an ad or a graphic in pagePlus and include it in a WordPerfect document, such as a business proposal.

ChangeBar is another winning feature. It lets you easily assign colors, borders, and other attributes by clicking on icons. ChangeBar is context-sensitive, meaning that it changes to accommodate the currently selected tool. When you select the Text tool, for example, icons and text boxes for changing fonts, point size, and alignment are displayed. You can't beat PagePlus's ChangeBar for convenience.

The rulers are now movable. You can drag them like a T square anywhere in the document window to measure and resize elements. If you want to draw a six-inch line, for example, you can pull down the rulers to measure it. The ability to pull the rulers into your layout greatly enhances your ability to achieve precession. High-end DTP and draw programs have supported this option for a while; it's nice to find it in an economy package.

OLE support lets you keep your documents current by upgrading imported elements as they change in teh source applications, and the Table Editor (a slick little program that puts PageMaker's utility of the same name to shame) is OLE-aware; you can edit your tables from inside PagePlus by simply double-clicking on them. You can also keep objects pasted from other programs, such as a Lotus spreadsheet chart, current automatically. With OLE, each time the chart changes, it's updated in your layout.

While this program is loaded with high-end features, the ability to create process color separations is one of the more significant. With this option, you can import color graphics and photographs into your layouts and separate them on a high-resolution imagesetter. You can then use the resulting cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) plates on a four-color printing press to producm full-color documents. You can also create spot color separations, which consist of color elements strategically placed throughout a document, such as a company logo in a newsletter.

Few programs--especially applications in this price range--offer this level of power. Some high-end products, such as FrameMaker and the top Windows word processors (all of which claim DTP prowess) sill do not support color separations. And the few that do, such as Ventura Publisher, are not as good at it as PagePlus. Ventura, for example, doesn't separate CMYK TIFFs (TIFF 6.0), which are quickly becoming the industry standard. Not only does PagePlus make color separations easy (just select Process Separations in the Print dialog box), but the entire procedure, including creating PostScript print files for printing at the neighborhood service bureau, is exlained in PagePlus's Help files.

Still not convinced? For another $40 you can buy the PagePlus BumperPack, which includes TypePlus, ArtPack, and FontPack, along with the basic PagePack, along with the basic PagePlus program. TypePlus is a font-effects package similar to Adobe TypeAgain and Power Up Software's TextAppeal. It lets you fit and type text on paths, such as curves, arcs, and circles, as wella s accomplish several other special effects. ArtPack is a collection of over 500 full-color clip art images, and FontPack provides 120 TrueType fonts. You can also purchase each utility separately for about $20 each.

One of the weaknesses of the original PagePlus is its poorly written manual. The manual for version 2.0 has been completely revamped. The Getting Started tutorial is very well done. By the time I finished it, I had almost mastered the program. This si a night-and-day improvement over the documentation included with the previous version. The reference manual is also thorough and helpful. Not only does it cover PagePlus's powerful features, but it also offers many useful DTP and layout tips.

Serif's technical support team has always been great. The folks on the team are usually quick to answer the phone, knowledgeable about the program, and eager to please. The populatiry of PagePlus 2.0 is so great, though, that the support lines now are sometimes clogged. However, a few times I've called about 8:00 of 9:00 in the evening, and my calls have almost alwasy been answered quickly.

All this praise is not meant to imply that PagePlus 2.0 is the ultimate DTP solution. But then, no product (not even a $500 + package) is perfect. Where PagePlus falls short is in its long-document handling. It doesn't support automatic page numbering; you must manually number each page. You cannot combine several chapters to build a book, catalog, or directory. Nor can you generate tables of contents or indices automatically, as you can in several other programs, including economy packages such as Symantec's Easy Working Desktop Publisher. The program also lacks a spelling checker and a search-and-replace feature. Granted, you're supposed to take care of most editing before you import a file into your DTP package. However, it seldom works out that way--especially if more than one person works on or contributes to your documents. Not having a spelling checker and search-and-replace means that your text-intensive documents must be proofed thoroughly--which those of us spoiled by computers resist.

What PagePlus 2.0 does, it does extremely well, and to a greater degree of proficiency and with more ease than its competitors. It provides almost all the power of PageMaker at a fraction of the cost, and it's far easier to use and learn. With all its features and its low price, this package will be hard to beat.