New Microsoft Publisher powerful and easy to use


April 25, 1994|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

The best way to review a program is to put it to work on a real-world project. Unfortunately, this isn't always possible, because the project and product rarely show up at the same time.

As luck would have it, I agreed to help create a 25th reunion yearbook for my college class about the same time that a copy of Microsoft Publisher arrived.

Microsoft's desktop publishing program is aimed squarely at the home and small-business market, and I don't know if its authors had a 250-page book in mind when they designed it. But to my great delight (and relief), Publisher handled the project with aplomb.

If you're looking at something more modest, such as creating a flier for your yard sale, business forms for your company or a newsletter for your clients, you'll have an even easier time of it.

For those new to the game, desktop publishing programs differ from word processors in that they're designed from the ground up to combine text and images in creative ways.

It's true that the best word processors have many desktop publishing features, including drawing and charting tools.

But they all lack one important feature common to desktop publishing programs, the ability to flow text from one part of a document to another in linked frames. This allows you to start an article on Page 1 of a newsletter and continue it on Page 3. If you change the size of the text frame on Page 1 or add text to it, a desktop publishing program automatically adjusts everything on Page 3.

At $150 list (less on the street), Microsoft Publisher lacks many of the sophisticated text controls and high-resolution color image handling features found in expensive desktop publishers such as PageMaker and Quark Express.

But it's surprisingly powerful and, more importantly for average users, easy to put to work. Publisher has all of the basic desktop publishing tools.

You can create master pages with "background" objects, such as headers, footers and graphics that repeat on every page, as well as mirrored backgrounds for right and left-hand pages. You can set up text and graphics frames on every page, flow text between frames and wrap text around other objects. .

The program's typographic controls over font, point size, line spacing and character spacing are adequate.

You can also provide fine adjustments to the spacing between individual characters, a process known as "kerning," which gives headlines a compact, professional appearance.

The program comes with a set of elementary drawing tools to create lines, circles, boxes and polygons, and you can use graphics from Publisher's clip art collection or import images in a wide variety of formats.

Publisher also provides a tool for creating tables from scratch or by using a wide variety of preset formats. You also import data from other programs, such as a spreadsheet, and by using OLE (object linking and embedding) technology, make sure the data in your document is updated if you change the original spreadsheet.

Publisher can do most of the grunt work for you through its "Wizards." These aren't guys in pointy hats who do magic, but they might as well be. They're miniprograms that ask you basic questions about the document you want to create and then create it for you.

Let's say you want to create a newsletter. You can call up a Wizard that shows you five different basic styles, ranging from classic to Art Deco.

Once you've made your choice, the Wizard asks how many text columns you want -- one through four (advising you that three columns is the most common). The Wizard gives you a choice of layouts, prompts you to enter the name of your newsletter and and asks for other pertinent information, such as whether you want to include space for a mailing label and return address. When it's through, the Wizard creates a sample document to your specs.

You'll undoubtedly want to adjust the layout, create or import your own text and or graphics and change the typography to suit your tastes. But the basic design work, which can take hours by hand -- particularly if you're not experienced -- gets done in a few seconds.

There are Wizards for newslet ters, fliers, calendars, envelopes, invitations, greeting cards, brochures, letterhead, business cards, invoices, and other documents. There's even a Wizard that will create a spiffy company logo if you don't have one already.

Publisher is full of other usability touches. It makes good use of style sheets, which allow you to apply a variety of typesetting effects to a paragraph (font, point size, line spacing, indents, etc.) with a single mouse click.

When you select a text frame or graphic with your mouse pointer, a little icon pops up to tell you whether you're moving or resizing it. This feature alone can save you from making dozens of mistakes.

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