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Publishing With Meager Resources

RICHARD O'REILLY is director of computer analysis for The Times

Desktop publishing is a notorious resource hog. The leading programs for IBM PC compatibles and Macintoshes need fast computers, lots of memory and disk storage and top-end laser printers to produce superb documents.

A new entrant in the field, Avagio Publishing System, $300, from Unison World of Alameda, Calif., distinguishes itself by generating remarkably high quality with modest--even meager--resources.

It runs fine on IBM compatibles as old-fashioned as an XT equipped with a small hard disk and low-resolution CGA graphics. It prints beautifully on a Hewlett-Packard LaserJet and even acceptably on a nine-pin dot matrix printer.

It comes with its own set of fonts, which can be scaled to any size between six and 500 points. That’s a range from 1/12th inch to nearly 7 inches high, two to four times what you get from programs costing twice as much or more, such as PageMaker and Xerox Ventura Publisher.

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In addition to producing smooth-edged characters, the scalable fonts take little storage room on your hard disk. Contrast that with the “downloadable” fonts that are typical of other programs. They must be created and stored as font libraries, gobbling up many megabytes of disk space if you want a full selection.

Avagio also comes with a library of 150 graphic images with which to dress up publications. (They do take up a lot of space, about 2.2 megabytes of storage.)

The heart of a document usually is the text. With Avagio there are two ways to enter text. You can type it in, as you would with a word processing program. Or you can import it.

It is handy to be able to type in the words, but it isn’t much fun. There is a noticeable lag between the time you hit the keys and when your words appear on screen. (It might be better on a fast machine; I used Avagio on a mediocre 8-megahertz AT clone with an 80286 microprocessor.) Importing text is the best way to go and easy to do. If you use WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, MultiMate or WordStar, Avagio will maintain most of your formatting choices when it flows the text onto the page. Of course, any standard text file, which virtually every word processing program can create, can be imported. But you’ll have to do all of the formatting in Avagio when you do so.

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Text flows into “frames” that you place on the page when you do the layout. You have complete control over the number of columns on the page--they can be of unequal widths--as well as how text will flow from one column to another.

You can set up frames that size themselves automatically to fit the amount of text. Automatic flow of text from one page to another is an option.

Hyphenation can be applied to columns of text in two ways. One does it automatically, based on an algorithm rather than a dictionary. I found a flaw that the publisher said will be corrected in the next version. It was easy to fix the improperly broken text that resulted, however. Manual hyphenation is also available, but tedious. As long as the columns aren’t too narrow, pages are fine without hyphens.

A set of graphics tools allows you to draw boxes, circles and horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. It is possible to create a range of interesting designs. Add some type and you’ve got a logo.

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The program includes only four typefaces, imitations of the classic Times Roman, Helvetica, Century and Bodoni. But considering the huge range over which they can be sized and the ability to set bold face, italics, oblique, condensed and expanded type, you have everything you need to make elegant layouts. In fact, the absence of additional typefaces will keep pages from becoming garish. However, a utility program allows soft fonts for Hewlett-Packard laser printers to be converted for use with Avagio.

To make it easy to repeat document designs, Avagio uses master pages and style sheets. Master pages can contain repeating elements, such as page numbers in a header or footer or a company logo. Style sheets store specifications for the layout and typography of each kind of text element that you will use, such as for headlines and subheads.

A powerful graphics feature is called “mingle.” It allows you to place one image on top of another (text too) and determine which dominates. You do it by defining whether the black or white portions of the image will be black, white, clear or reversed when mingled with another image.

All in all, Avagio is a remarkably complete desktop publishing package that comes ready to run on nearly any PC.

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AVAGIO PUBLISHING SYSTEM

A $300 desktop publishing package that produces fine documents on modest equipment.

Features: Scalable fonts in any size from 6 to 500 points, clip art collection of 150 images, high-quality printing on dot matrix and laser printers and style sheets and master pages to automate document design.

Requirements: IBM PC or compatible with 640 kilobytes of memory, a hard disk and a graphics monitor.

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Publisher: Unison World, Kyocera Unison Inc., 1321 Harbor Bay Parkway, Alameda, Calif. 94501. Phone: (800) 444-7553.


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