A few years ago, low-cost desktop publishing programs weren't good for much but creating flyers and greeting cards; now they're hard on the heels of programs costing three to four times as much.
Two new page layout programs that are designed to run under Windows and that list for $150 each have as much or more power than PageMaker or Ventura Publisher did a while back.
PFS:Publisher from Spinnaker is exceptional for the price.
Express Publisher for Windows from Power Up! is a friendly, fairly simple layout program that gives more control over your work than its clunky appearance would indicate.
Both programs use those hyperactive cursers that flicker from an arrow pointer to a pointing hand to a double-ended arrow as you move around a selected object. It's distracting at first, but once you're used to it, the cursor is useful and accurate.
PFS:Publisher uses a mode analogy; you switch between object mode, in which you manipulate the layout, and text mode, in which you deal with text. Most unusual, it has a table of contents and an indexing feature.
It also allows the user to fit text closely around the shape of a picture by manipulating points along the picture's border -- the -- same method used in PageMaker. Frames must be used for everything; text or pictures.
Express Publisher is pretty loose about frames.
You can create text frames, but you also can put down "free text" just by typing it in anywhere on the page.
Art can be dropped in anywhere; no frame is needed. Text can be fitted around an object as long as that object is created with the program's drawing tools; you can fiddle around with this to get a fair semblance of text wrapped around the shape of a piece of art, but it's pretty laborious.
Both offer a spelling checker; PFS:Publisher has a thesaurus.
The manuals for both programs leave something to be desired. Express Publisher's only tutorial has new users rework an existing two-page newsletter, which wouldn't be useful for someone learning the program. Most users are going to want to create pages from scratch.
It also repeats instructions for the most basic maneuvers, long after most users will have mastered them.
PFS:Publisher's manual has an extensive but spotty tutorial. I couldn't, for instance, figure how to gain access to the left master page. I called Spinnaker tech support to learn you scroll down from the right master to find the left master, a peculiar method.
Both programs come with font managers; Express Publisher includes Adobe Type Manager and PFS:Publisher has Publisher's Power Pak.
Express Publisher comes with a separate program, Text Appeal, which allows you to create a range of special effects with text. These are mainly perspective effects and binding words to any sort of curved line.
Text Appeal is fairly simple to use and quite effective.
Express Publisher for Windows, bundled with the Text Appeal program, was priced at $250 when it first came out.
The emergence of PFS:Publisher prompted Power Up! to cut the price of its Windows bundle to $150. That's good, but it's still going to have to grow some new features before it can top PFS:Publisher.