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Aspiring Desktop Publishers Have Lots of Help

Lawrence J. Magid is chairman of Know How, a San Francisco-based microcomputer education company

Several months ago I wrote about a fledgling magazine called “Desktop Publishing.” The first few issues of that magazine served as an early attempt to chronicle the emerging technology that makes it possible to use microcomputers and laser printers to produce finished publications at a fraction of the cost of traditional typesetting and layout. Because they used computers in virtually all aspects of production, it was possible for the magazine’s owners, Tony Bove and Cheryl Rhodes, to produce the magazine on a shoestring budget.

Typesetting and page layout are only part of the process. While the articles were well written, the magazine lacked the graphic design needed to make it stand out in a crowded market. The publishers also lacked the funds to promote the publication. As a result, Bove and Rhodes sold the magazine to PC World Communications, the company which publishes PC World and MacWorld, two leading computer magazines.

Under the direction of PC World’s publisher, David Bunnell, the San Francisco-based publishing company has relaunched Desktop Publishing with a new name, a new look and a new staff. The result is “Publish!: The Magazine of Desktop and Personal Computer Publishing.” Bove and Rhodes remain as contributing editors.

The magazine’s first issue appears as a 50-page insert in the July issues of both PC World and MacWorld. The entire July issue of PC World focuses on desktop publishing for PC users.

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Beginning in September, Publish! will stand on its own as a bimonthly magazine.

Desktop publishing is 1986’s computer buzzword. For many in the computer industry, it represents a breath of fresh air. I call it the “Visicalc of the ‘80s.” It does, for professional communicators, what that early electronic spreadsheet did for financial analysts. For many, it makes it possible to produce quality publications without the expense and extra time required to bring in outside experts.

Like most important new developments in the computer industry, desktop publishing has spawned a plethora of books. Most books on the subject are just coming out.

“Desktop Publishing From A to Z,” by Bill Grout, Irene Athanasopoulos and Rebecca Kutlin (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, $17.95), is an excellent primer for those who are novices in both computers and publishing. The book combines easy-to-understand technical information about computers, software and printers with basic business and editorial advice for someone who wants to start his or her own small publishing operation.

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For a more sophisticated introduction, see “The Art of Desktop Publishing,” by Tony Bove, Cheryl Rhodes, and Wes Thomas (Bantam Computer Books, $18.95). The 296-page book contains chapters on desktop publishing tools, creating and organizing text, printers and typesetters, graphic images, page make-up, design and production, and professional typography.

While making references to other systems, the book focuses mainly on the PC and Macintosh. A useful appendix lists more than 130 products with prices and the names and addresses of their manufacturers.

A lot of people think that desktop publishing is strictly for Mac users. Not true. Both books address themselves to both Mac and PC users. Currently, the Mac is the only machine to play host to PageMaker, the leading text and graphic integration program. However, PageMaker’s publisher, Seattle-based Aldus Corp., has announced a fall release of a version for IBM PC and compatible machines.

Ventura Software, of Morgan Hill, Calif., has developed what promises to be a very powerful PC-based system. Ventura Publisher, which will be marketed by Xerox, will feature a built-in word processor and will also accept text from ASCII files, WordStar, Word and other word processing programs, according to Ventura President John Meyer. Graphics can be imported from PC Paint Brush, Lotus 1-2-3, Autocad and other graphic and design programs. The software, which is expected to have a retail price of $695, will be available by early fall, Meyer said.

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Currently available desktop publishing programs for the PC include ClickArt Personal Publisher from T/Maker Graphics of Mountain View, Calif., and Do-It from Irvine-based Studio Software. Advertisements and articles in the July issue of PC World cover a wide variety of other programs that, to one degree or another, fit into the category of desktop publishing.

If you are a PC user and have a laser printer, chances are excellent that you’re using the LaserJet or LaserJet Plus from Hewlett-Packard. Hewlett Packard markets that printer as a desktop publishing device, but like many other users, I’ve had trouble taking advantage of the machine’s full potential.

The problem stems from the fact that desktop publishing on the PC, at least at the present time, requires a multi-vendor solution. The computer is an IBM or IBM clone, the printer (in this case) comes from Hewlett Packard, the word processing program can be one of many, and the type faces (fonts) are either on HP plug-in cartridges or from one of several vendors who offer “downloadable” type fonts that are provided on a disk and must be transferred to the printer’s built-in memory each time the system is used.

My solution has been to use the machine in its simplest configuration, using one of Hewlett Packard’s standard font cartridges. While that allows me to produce some pretty good looking text, I’m very limited in terms of the number of type styles and type sizes and have no access to graphics.

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Now that I’ve read “LaserJet Unlimited,” by Ted Nace and Michael Gardner (Peachpit Press, $24.95), I have a much better understanding of how the machine works and how to take advantage of its potential as a publishing tool. The book demystifies the popular printer and explains how to take advantage of a wide variety of commercially available type fonts, how to mix text and graphics and how to use the printer with a variety of word processing, data base and spreadsheet programs.

The book itself was “typeset” by its authors using an IBM PC, Microsoft Word and the HP printer. It’s one of the best looking “home-made” books I’ve seen. It can be ordered by phone or mail for $30 (including tax and postage) from Peachpit Press, 2110 Marin Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707. Peachpit’s telephone number is (415) 843-6614.

Now you don’t have to be a graphics professional to produce attractive newsletters, brochures, advertisements and other publications. But the same technology makes it possible to produce ugly publications as well. That’s why these and other books and magazines provide a service to us all. If you’re going to become a desktop publisher, please, for the sake of all our eyes, be an informed one.


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