NLPES Question of the Month

June-July 2002

BASED ON YOUR AGENCY'S EXPERIENCE, WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF VARIOUS DESKTOP PUBLISHING PROGRAMS (such as Microsoft Publisher, Adobe Pagemaker, Ventura, etc.)?

Rick Riggs, Kansas

In our office, we use Pagemaker 7.0.  We've used Pagemaker for years (except for an unfortunate detour trying to format audit reports in Wordperfect for a year or so--a nightmare).  Pagemaker's flexible, precise, and relatively easy to use.  I've experimented with Publisher and Ventura as well (though not Quark) and I'm happy with it.  Publisher is easy to use, too, but it's targeted at people who do flyers and newsletters.  It's less flexible, has fewer shortcuts, gives you more information than you need ("If you want to save your document, click 'Yes,' otherwise click 'No.'").  A good product, but not as good as Pagemaker.   Ventura is hard to figure out, expensive, and not well supported by Corel.

What I'm not happy with is this:  our reports use a lot of tables, created in Wordperfect (the problem is the same in Word, by the way).  The only way to place a table into Pagemaker is to convert it to PDF first—an extra step, but it works fine.  It seems like it should be possible to suck in a table just like any other text, but apparently not.  When you're done, it's fairly easy to publish the whole report to a PDF document to put up on your website.

If it weren't for the clumsy, labor-intensive table issue, Pagemaker is pretty much perfect for our needs. 


Andy Slain, Nebraska

In Nebraska, we've had the opposite experience and have moved away from PageMaker.  We now use Microsoft Word for everything.  We started using PageMaker years ago when WordPerfect was just a word-processing program and didn't have the formatting options we wanted.  But when we switched to Microsoft Word as our word-processing program (which had richer features at the time---I haven't looked at WordPerfect in a while), we found that the extra step of converting the documents into PageMaker was unnecessary.  For our purposes, Word was and is more than powerful enough for desktop publishing.

We use a simple dual-column format and we've never had any trouble getting tabular or graphic data into our reports.  As with any software, we've developed little tricks and whatnot to make formatting easier. For instance, we put charts and tables in text boxes to make them more manageable, we have boxes float over text rather than anchor to it, and other things like that.  Having the report in the proper format right from the start has been a real time-saver for us.  And, personally, I like to write and format at the same time so I know how the report is going to look---if I'm waffling about whether we really need column X in that table, aesthetics might tip the scale.  And the fact that we use all Microsoft products (Excel, PowerPoint, Access) means that we have no problems getting data, in whatever form it might be in, from one application to another.

To get us to move from Word to a more specialized publishing software, someone would have to provide us with very strong evidence that 1) we would actually use the specialized publishing tools, and 2) that it would be worth the high transaction costs (in terms of training and suffering through a learning curve).  I'm all for change and progress, especially in the world of computers and software, but matters can easily get too complex.  Not once have we been unable to do what we wanted in Word, and until that time comes, I would be very hesitant about changing. 


Nancy Zajano, Ohio

In Ohio, we do as Andy Slain from Nebraska responded - we use Microsoft Word
and find it easy to accommodate all of our formatting needs.  We also easily import tables from Excel and Access, as well as use PowerPoint for presentations.  Using Word also helps the authors get a sense of the formatting as they write, so it's easier to see from the beginning how we are communicating. 


Barb Wing, Minnesota

Fifteen or more years ago, after trying the software packages available at that time, our office decided to use Ventura Desktop Publishing, mostly due to the way it handled text in large documents and the ease of paragraph tagging/formatting.  With Ventura, paragraphs that do not come directly before or after each other can be formatted at the same time--not the case with any other software package we’ve tried.  This is a real time-saver in our report production.

A couple years ago, we tried to steer away from Ventura only to discover that neither Word nor Pagemaker could meet our needs.  We found that Pagemaker did not handle large documents or Excel charts well.  Ventura handles lines and frames with much more ease than Word and does not shift the frames when text is edited (at times, a frame in Word is half off the page due to this type of shifting).  We found Ventura 8 works very well with multiple software packages, including Excel, Word, Photoshop, MapInfo, and more; and we are able to create large chapters that contain many photographs, maps, charts/graphs, and tables (in addition to lengthy text).  Footnotes need to be watched closely (occasionally some shifting), but have improved greatly over earlier versions of Ventura.  (Note:  Footnotes are less troublesome in Ventura than in Word; in Pagemaker the footnotes go to the end of the chapter [Pagemaker staff were was not able to help us get footnotes to appear on the page where they are referenced].)

Spellcheck and edit/search and replace are very easy in Ventura, but “clunky” in Pagemaker.  Formatting tables in Word and Pagemaker is more tedious than with Ventura.  Also, pdf files created in Ventura take up less space than files created in Word or Pagemaker.  The process of creating pdf files with Ventura also works well, making these files readily available electronically for our print vendor’s use in printing report hard copies, and for our website.

Ventura may be more complicated to learn, but Ventura 8 is much more logical/easier to use than earlier versions.  Corel is releasing a new version of Ventura this summer and I am hoping to have a strong look at it.  Though Corel’s manual was more difficult to understand/work through, we were able to get well-written training manuals very reasonably from another source (Anzai), thus, making the learning curve shorter for the last two versions of Ventura.  Ventura also became more stable when Windows 2000 was installed.

I’m hoping the newer version of Ventura will completely eliminate any footnote difficulties and improve the capability to create html documents for the Web. 


David Madrigal, California

We have been using PageMaker for the past 4 years and have recently migrated to Adobe InDesign 2.0.  PageMaker/InDesign are by far the best choice for publishing.  These programs offer greater control over layout and design then popular word processing applications.  Almost all functions are more versatile and powerful in these programs. If you are using Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop for graphics you will find they integrate very well with PageMaker or InDesign.  The learning curve is much sharper, so I would recommend an Adobe Certified course for beginners and even a semester college course as well.  They (along with Quark Xpress) are the industry standard for publishing professionals.  I have not personally used Microsoft publisher, but my understanding is it is appropriate for home/do it yourself use.  If you are interested in viewing examples of reports using PageMaker and InDesign please go to our Web site at www.bsa.ca.gov/bsa.  Reports issued this year were published using InDesign; reports issued 1998-2001 were published using PageMaker; and reports issued prior to 1998 were published using Microsoft Word.