All-rounder it may be, but Adobe is now pitching PageMaker 7 firmly at the business market. This is to make way for the company’s new flagship design program, InDesign. This means that PageMaker is no longer fighting head-to-head with QuarkXPress – once its greatest rival.
PageMaker now comes with a wide range of design templates and a decent clip-art collection. It’s intended to be the ideal program for business users who want professional design-tools, but who aren’t professional designers themselves. PageMaker does this pretty well. It uses the standard Adobe-interface, with the majority of tools displayed on palettes that can be aligned with each other, and combined as tabbed palettes.
It’s also a pretty simple program to grasp. The layout area is clean and gadget-free, and the layout concepts are pretty simple. PageMaker’s still a little confusing in the way it handles text, though. You can flow text into documents automatically – where it’s added as linked blocks created on-the-fly between your document’s column guides – or you can create stand-alone text frames.
The frames can include more than one column, and you can link them together. They’re a fairly recent addition to PageMaker, and they’re designed to mimic the way QuarkXPress handles text. That’s all very well, but the way they co-exist with the older blocks-based system is pretty confusing – especially since the two types of text container behave in different ways. You do have to be careful how you delete linked text blocks. And while you can flow text around a text frame, it can’t be flowed round a block. Otherwise, PageMaker is very good. You place graphics directly on the page instead of having to create a box first.
This, and its easy text-wrapping options, make it great for instinctive on-the-page design. Add to this PageMaker’s long-document tools, which include automatic index and table of contents generation, and you’ve got a program that’s as effective at long, structured documents as it is magazine layouts and brochures. What’s more, PageMaker can export straight to PDF format, and version 7 comes with Acrobat Distiller 5, offering more compact files and the ability to create tagged PDF documents.
Tagged content – text and graphics – can now reflow depending on the size of the display the document’s being read on. Elsewhere, the business angle is reinforced by the introduction of DataMerge tools, which let you treat PageMaker publications as form letters for automated mail-outs. Your data source can be any comma-delimited text file – which can becreated in any word processor, or exported from PageMaker itself. You insert the data fields using the new Data Merge palette.
You can even merge images, though you’ll need to specify pathnames for each one. You can now place Photoshop and Illustrator files in layouts directly, without having to use intermediate file formats. Multi-layer Photoshop files no longer have to be flattened into a single layer first, and you can modify the original in Photoshop, which updates the versions placed in documents.
The Illustrator support is less impressive, though. PageMaker won’t support any transparency effects used, so you may well have to resort to exporting artwork as an .eps file first. PageMaker lets you place PDF files directly, though. This improved support for other file formats extends to an updated converter for QuarkXPress, plus the ability to import files created in the latest versions of Word.
The lack of any real innovation in PageMaker 7 doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a very competent page-layout tool. Until Adobe decided to reposition it for the business market, it competed head-to-head with QuarkXPress, and pretty effectively too. Even now, it’s much cheaper, just as effective for many types of work, and widely accepted at output bureaus. Its approach to design is much more intuitive and less cluttered than XPress’s. PageMaker 7 feels more like a maintenance release than an upgrade. The new DataMerge feature, enhanced PDF support and direct Illustrator/ Photoshop compatibility may or may not tempt existing users, but for those who want a versatile, powerful and uncluttered DTP application, PageMaker 7 is a terrific first-time purchase – business user or otherwise.