Desktop software returns power of press to little guy


September 19, 1990|By PETER MCWILLIAMS | PETER MCWILLIAMS,1990 Universal Press Syndicate

For the last six years I've used the original Hewlett-Packard Laserjet as my printer. While it's been quite dependable, it missed the revolution in desktop publishing because it could print very few graphics and fonts.

As I noted last week, I'm trying out a Canon LBP-8 Mark III laser printer that has 10 resident fonts and a megabyte and a half of memory. I can now more deeply explore desktop publishing.

Desktop publishing allows control of type placement, typefaces (also known as fonts) and drawings (also known as graphics), so that output looks as good as that in a book or a magazine.

A friend of mine once said that he felt behind the times for not knowing desktop publishing. Fret not. Computer magazine covers may be touting desktop publishing as the new frontier, but if you don't have the time, patience or material to make it worthwhile, move on without guilt.

To me, the main point of the so-called desktop publishing revolution is that it opens a world to budding Ben Franklins (he wrote and printed his own material). The power of the press comes back to the people.

In fact, people have been interviewing me on television, radio and newspapers about the fact that a book I published myself is a rarity -- a "small press" best seller on the New York Times hardcover list.

My book, co-written with John-Roger, is called "Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life in School -- But Didn't," and it was created with Ventura Publisher, a desktop publishing program for personal computers that is state of the art.

Ventura creates documents in units called Chapters. A chapter contains your text, graphics (if any) and what is called a Style Sheet, which holds all of your typographical attributes, such as margin widths and font sizes.

You first write your text with your word processor, then import the text into Ventura, where you can manipulate it to your liking, then lay it out on the page.

Visual design can be as simple or as complex as you need. Ventura Publisher uses a mouse, and you activate the features with either control-key commands or pull-down menus using the mouse.

A great feature of Ventura Publisher is online help. Every screen has a little box with a question mark in it. If you click on that box, a help screen will appear. The help in Ventura is thorough.

The manufacturer, Ventura Software (a Xerox company), has unveiled two new releases of Ventura Publisher, both called version 3.0. One edition uses GEM, as previous versions have, and the other release uses Microsoft Windows, which is new.

The biggest difference, up front, is that the GEM version requires a minimum of 640K of random access memory, while the Windows version needs 2 megabytes or more of RAM. I have only 1MB of RAM on my computer, so I have tried out only the GEM version so far. I'm told by those in the know that the GEM version works a little faster than the Windows version.

Why go Windows at all? Those who want to "multitask," to run Ventura Publisher and another Windows program such as Correl Draw at the same time can do so.

Because there are not many Windows programs yet, multitasking may not be so appealing now as it might be in the future.

Version 3.0 does not appear to be vastly different from 2.0. In fact, the additions to the program are minimal. What's here are a number of bug fixes, revised or added filters, and the inclusion of what used to be called Professional Extension (which sold for an additional $595).

Professional Extension lets you use expanded memory to create quite large documents.

Ventura Publisher lists for $895. Registered owners of previous versions can upgrade for $100. Ventura Publisher will soon be available for the Macintosh and eventually for OS/2 and UNIX.

(Ventura Software, P.O. Box 660512, Dallas, Texas 75266-0512; (800) 822-8221.)

By the way, fonts can be confusing, especially when you get 10 of them as with a Canon laser printer. What do you use when, and what can you use with what? Daniel Will-Harris' new book, "Typestyle: Choosing and Using Type on a Personal Computer" (Peachpit Press, $24.95), which will be published soon, makes a complex topic interesting, using clear and humorous examples.

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