This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 1993-08-16 at 12:00 p.m.
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PageMaker 5.0, Finally

by Thomas A. Overfield

Thankfully for Aldus and the many users of its PageMaker page layout software, one of the most eagerly awaited upgrades of the year is here. PageMaker was once the premiere package for creating publications, but years of stagnation on the feature front and cut-throat competition from arch-rival Quark XPress has steadily eroded Aldus's user base. With Quark providing users with advanced typographic control, built-in color separation, multiple open windows, floating control palettes, and an extensible program architecture through Quark Xtensions, Aldus had a lot of catching up to do. The new version keeps the old PageMaker interface (arguably the best in the business) and adds most of Quark XPress's features plus a few new ones for good measure.

First Impressions -- You won't find any surprises when you first boot PageMaker 5.0. Other than a spiffy new picture of Aldus Manutius on startup, it looks much like the previous incarnation. You may notice that the toolbox has a new tool that looks much like the rotate tool in Quark XPress. In fact, it is a rotate tool and you can now freely rotate text or graphics to any angle with text remaining editable. Previous versions limited you to 90 degree rotational increments and text that you couldn't edit without using the Story Editor.

More surprises await in the menus. Under the Window menu you'll see Tile and Cascade. Yes, after all these years PageMaker can finally open more than one document, supposedly as many as memory allows [although we've heard rumors that PageMaker has some memory leaks as a result of this feature. -Adam]. And just like XPress, you can drag elements from window to window without using copy and paste.

Other menu options include the traditional style, color, and control palettes plus a new one called Library. If you're familiar with XPress then you will have no problem using PageMaker's libraries, because they function identically to XPress's. You can store often-used graphic elements in a library for future use. You can group libraries by subject or job, or call them up and have their contents conveniently available. To use a library object, all you do is drag it onto the page. Yet, unlike XPress, you cannot drag objects into a library, you must use a select and paste method. PageMaker's libraries improve upon XPress's in two important regards: they have a search function and support Fetch, Aldus's multimedia cataloging program.

Palette Changes -- PageMaker's old palettes have improved. Most changed is the Control palette, which in the past did little more than let you move elements around the page. XPress's similar Measurements palette was capable of specifications like font selection, leading, kerning, tracking, justification, skew, and rotational angle in addition to positioning. Now Aldus has one-upped Quark with a superb Control palette that does all of what XPress's does and somehow includes the kitchen sink as well. For textural work the Control palette adds the functions of baseline shift and horizontal scaling to XPress's standards. One click on a button with the pilcrow symbol and the palette changes to one centered on style functions. Here you can choose a text style; first line, left, and right indent, and paragraph spacing. In graphics mode this palette matches XPress with mirroring, cropping, skewing, positioning, and rotating.

The new Color palette works somewhat like its equivalent in FreeHand, allowing you to specify whether to apply the color to line, fill, or both. However, PageMaker lacks the handy menu on FreeHand's palette that allows you to create new colors and modify old ones, although the command-click color editing shortcut still works. Also, PageMaker now supports a multitude of color libraries including Pantone, ToyoPC, Focoltone, DIC, and Trumatch.

Additions -- Aldus is also trying to best Quark XPress in Additions, modules that add functionality to the program. PageMaker's Library function itself is an Addition. Many other Additions ship with PageMaker, including ones that make initial dropped capitals, traverse text blocks, balance columns, get information, and do something unique called "Expert Kerning," which theoretically goes through selected text and kerns character pairs better than the font's built-in kerning tables.

The Additions don't always work well. Expert Kerning takes about as long as flying in an expert to kern your text. A small paragraph took in excess of five minutes. Reserve this feature for an unattended overnight run when working on an entire document. The results of this process are mixed and its methods are a mystery. The automated drop cap feature is also a disappointment. PageMaker creates a drop cap by tabbing in the number of lines equivalent to the drop cap's height and placing it on the line where the letter's baseline rests. This method can cause some sticky situations later with editing or reformatting. Quark does a better automatic drop cap, where the drop cap is considered a character on the first line and doesn't cause future editing problems.

Notably Good -- On a more positive and useful note is PageMaker's support for font matching schemes. PageMaker uses the Panose matching scheme which interactively asks for replacement typefaces if those used by the document don't exist. It keeps a record of these substitutions for future use. Panose also can attempt to duplicate the font metrics of the missing typeface using a default font. This feature makes the best of bad situations, and is worthwhile because it eliminates the possibility of ever seeing courier taking the place of another face. PageMaker also supports Adobe's SuperATM.

I should also mention that PageMaker has an excellent new help and training system.

Of all the new bells and whistles, the most important feature for professionals is built-in color separation for full color printing. In version 4.2 you used a separate application for creating color separations, a tedious and complex procedure. Quark XPress 3.0 and up included excellent separation functionality in the program itself, winning many converts for this reason alone. PageMaker now includes a flexible and comprehensible separation function accessible from its print dialogs.

In addition to the new features, PageMaker still supports the excellent features from past versions that Quark XPress lacks, such as a time-saving indexing feature and table of contents generator. These features alone can save hours of work on long or technical documents. The best feature of PageMaker continues to be the Story Editor, which provides word processor-like editing facilities within PageMaker. The Story Editor seriously eases the process of editing or writing text in a layout. Also handy is PageMaker's ability to open an embedded graphic in its original program for easy editing. And, although XPress has a spelling checker, PageMaker's is more intuitive, allows for dictionary modification, and just plain works better.

Room for Improvement -- Still, even after this major overhaul, PageMaker is not all wine and roses. Several problems still stand out. The program has an overall slow feel to it, even on a Quadra. It doesn't help matters that the new Control palette's three-dimensional buttons seem to respond slower than XPress's traditional ones. Aldus Additions continue to run as slow as molasses and are shamed by XPress's seamless Xtension technology. PageMaker's RAM requirements are quite large at 4 MB and it sucks up nearly 10 MB of disk space.

I'd like to see PageMaker support character styles like most modern word processors. Another pet peeve of mine is PageMaker's lack of arrowheads for lines. But it does, finally, let you specify any line width. And, lastly, PageMaker still lacks tools for aligning text and graphics.

As a user of PageMaker from version 2.0 I've always appreciated its excellent interface and ease of use. As the competition excelled in providing the features users needed I, like many others, moved to another program for the bulk of my work. Now with PageMaker 5.0 users like me can come home again.

Pricing -- The retail package costs $895, but you can upgrade for $75 if you upgraded to version 4.2 from a previous purchase, and all other owners of earlier PageMaker versions can upgrade for $150. The only exception is if you bought a retail copy of version 4.2 after 01-Jan-93, you get a free update. Aldus is also offering a $25 upgrade rebate for all upgrades purchased before 31-Aug-93.

Aldus -- 206/628-2320

[It seems that the 800 number listed on at least one of the upgrade notices sent to registered users is the number for a small electronics firm. As of last Tuesday, they were still confused as to why they were receiving a lot of wrong numbers, so I hope Aldus has addressed the problem for them. -Adam]

-- Information from:
Aldus propaganda