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Microsoft Publisher 98

by James Fridrich

Congratulations! You've done it! Like a growing number of Canadians, you finally made the leap from the corporate world and started your own business. It's a big step and it's exciting, although the startup costs seem overwhelming. You decide to do most of the marketing yourself since a one-person business can't afford a marketing department. Besides, the wonderful world of computerization has enabled the novice entrepreneur, like yourself, to enter the professional desktop publishing industry. The pricing on page layout software makes you sweat a little. Microsoft Publisher 98 is a fraction of the price of Quark Xpress, Adobe Pagemill and Corel Ventura. You decide that financially it is the best alternative, but is this the right software for your specific needs? 

What comes in the box?

For $99 plus tax you get: one CD-ROM containing Publisher 98 program files, 179 fonts, 210 backgrounds, 13,080 clipart images, 15 borders, 150 GIF images, 1600 ready made design templates, a trial version of Microsoft's "Picture It" image editing program, and of course Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0. 

There is also a 100-page soft cover book entitled Microsoft Publisher 98 Companion. I expected it to be a user's manual; instead, the Companion is an introduction to basic graphic and web design concepts, as well as an Internet primer. For example, it contains general information on designing with colour, and the value of establishing a colour scheme. One third of the 100 pages of the Publisher 98 Companion are hardcopy previews of fonts, clipart, and styles for easy browsing. There are no installation instructions; the focus is to introduce and educate novice users about desktop publishing and web design. 

Using Publisher 98

When the program is first run you choose one of the 1600 themes for: templates, brochures, catalogues, newsletters or business cards. These design sets help to ensure that projects have a consistent design. I found several which looked interesting but if you're concerned about originality you can modify the elements to create your own templates. If you do like the ready-made designs, using them can save a lot of time since the wizard would set up the entire template and colour scheme based on a few keystrokes. The template wizard can make global template design changes. If you suddenly change your mind about some earlier editing, the Undo feature works for up to 20 actions. 

The user interface

Users can create text styles and apply them to the entire document. Modification tools for each picture or text frame are accessible with a right-click menu option. There are few toolbars to clutter up the desktop. This simplicity is nice; it is less complex and easier to learn than some of the high-end desktop publishing programs. Two things bothered me: page-up and page-down keys scroll the current page instead of changing to the next page and the distracting animated paperclip, called the Microsoft Office Assistant, remained on the desktop after help files were summoned. 

Web publishing

One excellent feature is the web conversion wizard: a time- saver for converting your publication into web pages. I found the web pages looked very crisp; however, while examining the construction of the first page in a WYSIWYG HTML editor I found that the wizard converted the page elements into a series of embedded tables. Avoid editing the tables; instead, make changes directly in Publisher 98 and then convert them again to HTML. The site preview mode loads your native browser and displays your newly designed webpage. The wizard works only with HTML (not java or javascript); a search for "java" in the Help index was not successful. 

Automated checking tools

Automatic spell checking is appreciated. The Web Site Wizard checks download time, guides the inexperienced user through errors in web design and explains how to fix them. It even lets you fix the problems on-the-fly. If it encounters a problem, it gives a brief explanation; a detailed explanation is optional. The design checker helps to teach the user the basics of good design by correcting errors: for example, misaligned objects and overlapping frames. I found the learn-as-you-use features excellent. Of course, Microsoft provides extensive help files to educate novice users who take the time to read them. 

Ask the expert

Should you require the services of a professional printer you will need to make an imagesetter print file. I tested the Microsoft Publisher 98 Imagesetter Printer driver included with the application. I generated a print file (PRN), then checked its integrity by distilling it into a portable document file (PDF) and opening it in Adobe Acrobat. Although the PDF was successful it is ultimately the PRN file which guarantees imagesetter success. Previous versions of this driver caused problems at government in-house printing departments. A local pre-press expert stated that Publisher PRN files work but the colour separations are too simplistic for complex jobs. I believe that Publisher 98 was intended for use with standard inkjet or laser printers. 

In a nutshell

Experienced desktop publishers - particularly those dealing with a commercial printer - may want to dig deeper into their pockets to invest in a high-end application with advanced features. Desktop publishing and web design neophytes, on the other hand, should find this package is an excellent primer and user-friendly tool for internal publishing needs. It is probably the best choice for many one-person businesses.

Bottom Line:

Microsoft Publisher 98 (Proprietary, $99)
Microsoft Corporation

Originally published: September, 1998

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