Microsoft Publisher 2.0. (desktop publishing software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Phillip Morgan
A blank page can be an intimidating thing; it can stymie even an experienced designer. To reduce such design stress, Microsoft has introduced its second version of Publisher with a host of helpful features for the growing number of page-layout laypeople.
Publisher 2.0 includes 35 new standard templates and 17 new PageWizard smart templates that automatically make everything from business reports to paper airplanes. The program abounds in automation, with features such as automatic text-wrapping around pictures and shaded objects. The Table tool gives you a choice of 21 formats with which to create tables, and the Shape tool lets you draw 36 different shapes, which you can manipulate in size and proportion to exactly fit your designs.
Even some of Publisher's help features are automatic. First-time help prompts you with help screens when you first use tools or features, and Print Troubleshooter tracks each print job and suggests problem remedies. Publisher is by far the most "helpful" program I've seen, offering eight variations of online assistance.
The program comes with 20 TrueType display fonts and more clip art and decorative borders than I care to count. All of this convenience is nice, but it promotes an if-l-can-do-it-I-should-use-it mentality. Microsoft realizes the potential for clutter and advocates restraint in the user's guide.
If the PageWizard templates could eliminate excessive design, they would be truly magical. But Publisher does the next best thing by starting you off with professional designs, including instructions and tips for tailoring the publication to your needs. Normally, design should follow content (form follows function), but you can get good results with these templates as long as you realize that you can't simply dump your text and pictures in and get automatic quality.
Much of the power of Publisher is hidden behind its easy-to-use interface. The program offers many features that high-end applications such as PageMaker have only recently included, such as drag-and-drop text editing, object embedding and linking, grouping and ungrouping capability, and incremental nudging of elements. Irregular-shape text-wrapping and the Shape tool are features PageMaker 5.0 doesn't even offer.
Yet, Publisher does have its limitations. It can't open more than one document at a time, which seems odd for such an otherwise powerful Windows program. You can run multiple copies of Publisher, however, which is almost as good.
Lining up objects accurately in Publisher can be difficult because you see only their outlines when you pick them up. This is fine for simple shapes, but text and pictures often need to be aligned by details within their frames. Judging alignment by their outlines is difficult guesswork.
You can rotate text in WordArt 2.0, an OLE program that's included with Publisher. Pictures must be rotated in other applications, such as Microsoft Draw, another OLE program. Publisher itself can only rotate line objects made with its drawing tools. WordArt can handle most of your text rotation, since it now supports TrueType fonts. But the smallest text that it can use is 12 points, so you can't place photo credits or other small text vertically.
Although Publisher can display and print 24-bit images (with proper hardware), its palette for line and fill characteristics is limited to 16 uneditable colors. High-quality color output is possible in spite of Publisher's limited color, but if you need specific spot colors or do four-color publishing on a regular basis, you might be better served by a high-end program with full-color capability. If you don't need color or if your final output will come from a color ink-jet or laser printer, the program's range of hues may be adequate. How often you use color, to what degree, and who does your printing should all be criteria in considering Publisher versus other programs.
Publisher works well as a design-for-dummies publishing program, but it would be a mistake to discount it as strictly an amateur's application. It's quite capable of producing professional results, with or without using autopilot. Just be sure that when you switch to manual, you don't overdo it.
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