Serif PagePlus 10

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New long document features, improved data merging and layer handling see PagePlus push upmarket – but professionals will still look elsewhere..

Back in 1990 Serif PagePlus was the first application to offer Windows-based desktop publishing for less than £100, a role it has continued to fill ever since. In the early days the program’s emphasis was very much on usability and fun - at one time it even included a space invaders game! - but over the years the power on offer has become just as striking.

To help users get off to a flying start PagePlus offers a range of over a 1000 page wizards for everything from business and greetings cards to newsletters and posters. Once the preset publication appears, you can quickly update contact details and explore colour variations with the always-onscreen Studio panel’s Wizard and Schemes tabs. It’s a useful way to begin exploring ideas but the choice of publications on offer and the automatic reformatting power are still limited compared to main rival Microsoft Publisher.

Where PagePlus begins to outscore Publisher is with its hands-on design power. Features such as commands for intelligently resizing entire sections of text to automatically fill their frame make complex, but common, layout tasks simple. At the same time the impressive in-built drawing tools and advanced features such as interactive transparency, filter effects and some particularly impressive 3D handling, all help make your work stand out. In fact at times PagePlus feels more like a drawing program than a DTP application.

PagePlus offers good text and graphics handling.

Crucially though, this design edge doesn’t come at the expense of output options. With the Switch to Web Publishing command you can quickly repurpose your print layout for Web export (though if you’re designing a site from scratch you’re better off taking advantage of the bundled Web Plus 8). More importantly, Serif has always recognized the importance of reliably outputting commercial colour-separated print and that this depends on good PostScript support. Best of all, since version 8, PagePlus has offered the ability to output publications as PostScript-based Acrobat PDF files. This is a useful publishing medium in its own right but PDF also acts as the ideal “digital master” for producing commercial print, a fact that seems to have passed Microsoft by.

PagePlus’ long history immediately means that new users get a lot for their money, but what additional power does this latest version offer? Text and image handling lies at the core of all DTP operations and both have been enhanced. PagePlus now supports Unicode which opens up a huge array of foreign language and special characters. The WritePlus text editor also now offers drag-and-drop editing and a greatly enhanced Find and Replace complete with support for formatting, special characters and regular expressions. You can also now remove all text formatting with a single command. Improvements to image handling mean that you can automatically import bitmaps intended for web use at 96dpi while the new Picture toolbar makes it simple to quickly change brightness and contrast, to apply recolour effects and to control size and resolution.

In terms of new layout power, options to set up picture frames as re-usable image containers and to automatically fill text frames with “dummy” text are both helpful for sorting out designs in advance. And when you’re working on a frame with overflow text the new AutoFlow command is very handy for automatically adding new similarly sized frames and pages as necessary. You can now split each page into layers and temporarily hide and lock these as required with the new floating Layer Manager (I’m not sure why this hasn’t been incorporated into the Studio). You can also optionally associate each layer with its own master page. Further boosts to efficiency come from three new clipboard controls: Paste in Place which makes it easier to align objects; Paste Format which lets you quickly copy existing formatting; and Paste Format Plus which lets you select exactly which copied attributes to apply.

The feature that Serif is making most of in this latest release is PagePlus 10’s new support for multi-chapter books. This is managed through the new BookPlus utility which lets you load and reorder multiple existing publications to create a single project. You can then “synchronize” the resulting book to apply the formatting of one chapter throughout, renumber its pages, add a table of contents and index, and output the whole publication to paper or PDF. Alongside the addition of footnote and end note capabilities, it’s clear that Serif is now targeting the creation of longer documents as well as its current design-intensive publications. It’s impressive power and a useful option, but regular technical authors will stick with truly dedicated solutions such as Corel Ventura and Adobe FrameMaker.

The BookPlus utility takes PagePlus into long document territory.

Another area of surprising power in PagePlus is its mail merge capability which has been given a major overhaul.   You can now read, filter and sort data from a whole host of sources such as HTML tables, most database formats including Serif’s own, and even live ODBC servers. And because fields are no longer limited to text and you can now set elements to repeat on the page, you can merge images and text to produce graphical catalogue-style publications (though this led to a crash when I attempted it). More simply, you can convert a folder of photos to a data source and use this to quickly produce photo albums.

When it comes to final output PagePlus 10 sees some further tweaks. For web publishing there is new support for separate backgrounds for individual pages and the ability to use QuickButton shapes as graphical links. For PDF output you can now set up hyperlinks directly, automatically generate bookmark lists and optimize your files for faster web downloading.

Overall, PagePlus is easy to use, surprisingly powerful and excellent value - but this needs to be kept in perspective. For professional publishers the cost of their DTP application is relatively small compared to their time costs and especially the costs involved if things go wrong. PagePlus is a great option if your budget is tight and you’re producing the vast majority of your work in-house with just the occasional foray into commercial print and now long document and catalogue-based publishing. If you might want to go beyond that, my best advice is not to skimp on your software.

 

Ease of Use
5
Features
4
Value for Money
5
Overall
5

ratings out of 6

requirements Pentium, 64/128MB of RAM , 240MB of hard disk space, Windows 98, SE, Me, 2000 or XP, SVGA display, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

December 2004


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