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The Professional DTP Competition

The Professional DTP Competition

In the master class I’ve concentrated on using PageMaker because it’s pretty dominant on the PC, but it’s by no means the only option. The program’s main strength is the simplicity of its working method. Essentially this is a computerised version of the old manual process where typeset text and screened images were pasted onto a pre-designed grid. Its other main strength is that, as the original and current market leader, it is well supported by outputting bureaux and commercial printers. This reliability is helped further by the fact that PageMaker’s developer, Adobe, is the company behind the industry-standard Postscript publishing language.

PageMaker used to face severe competition in the early days from the PC-based Ventura. Rather than offering freeform placement of text and images this took a much more structured frame-based approach. Combined with a strong emphasis on styles rather than local formatting this gave Ventura a huge advantage in terms of the automation of document layout. Over the years both programs have copied features from the other, but the hands-on versus hands-off approach still separates the two.

Sadly Ventura has had a hard time of it over recent years with unhappy moves first to the Windows environment and then between various developers. The result has been a lack of direction, a lot of uncertainty and a haemorrhaging of its previously loyal supporters. Those users looking for a reliable platform for the production of long structured documents have tended to turn to FrameMaker. This is also now developed by Adobe and, with features like conditional printing and in-built drawing tools, it is particularly well suited to the production of technical work.

Other users, looking for a combination of design-intensive features with strong frame-based control have turned to Quark XPress. On the Mac, where Ventura never really found a home, XPress is far and away the professionals’ choice. However it was generally felt that the first PC implementation – version 3.1 – needed to bed down in its new environment before it was completely reliable. This was especially unfortunate as no major new release has appeared on either platform for the last three years. All that is about to change, however, with the imminent and eagerly awaited release of version 4.0.

Overall, it’s a simplification but still generally true to say that, while PageMaker is ideal for publications made up of a few design-intensive pages, for longer work such as books, manuals and magazines it’s better to turn to the likes of Ventura, FrameMaker and XPress.