So sad, so sad. I loved Ventura Publisher and have used it
since its early days. I was delighted to see Ventura 8 arrive, and cranked out
workbooks, white papers, brochures, flyers and a variety of other items, with
no desire to move to other software.
Then Windows 7 arrived, and I was sad, so sad indeed to
see that Ventura 8 would not
install on my nice new 64-bit ThinkPad T510 laptop. I got it running in a
virtual box, via Windows XP Mode, but that’s an awfully clunky solution when
one has a nice new shiny Win7 laptop.
I called Corel Software and talked to them about the
product’s future, and was told that it was an “end-of-life” product. Hearing
that, I saw no reason to shell out the bucks to upgrade to Ventura
10, which did run in Windows 7.
It seemed obvious to me that it was time to move on to
another desktop publishing product. But which one? There weren’t that many to choose
from. For a nanosecond, I toyed with the thought of purchasing Adobe InDesign,
which seems to be living at the top of the heap these days. Then I thought
about all the other places I could spend $700, and decided against it.
Yes, I know, if one is a serious and professional
desktop publisher, one must have the best. That’s what they say, anyway. If I
was making my living from desktop publishing I might spring for InDesign. That’s
why I got Ventura in the first
place; to make sure I had the software power that I needed. Back then, it was Ventura,
PageMaker or FrameMaker. I chose Ventura
because I liked its use of frames. My needs have been what one might describe
as semiprofessional, only because I didn’t use Ventura
all the time. I used Ventura to design
a twenty-four page tabloid newspaper, a book, and a variety of medium sized
I still felt reluctant to dig deep into my pockets, so I
continued looking. I installed Scribus, and was initially very hopeful. I’m a
programmer, so I don’t generally feel intimidated by new software. Yet, to me,
Scribus felt unfriendly and bit cranky. It didn’t ring my bell.
Then I found PagePlus X5, from Serif, at
I immediately liked the program’s look and feel. I
designed a new business card while I was still using the X4 free demo version,
and hardly had to crack the manual.
After installing the full version of X5, I decided to dig
in and write a review. Learning a desktop publishing program isn’t necessarily
casual, so this review doesn’t include a run down of all of its features. I
chose to use two real world projects that I needed to convert from Ventura
Publisher. I had an immediate need to make some edits in these particular
documents, and thought it would be a good opportunity to put PagePlus through
Test One: Inline
The first document was a one page “poster” (for lack of a
better word), called “A Declaration of Peace”, which interested readers can
peruse at http://significatojournal.com/peace/.
My first task was to get it from Ventura
to PagePlus, and it was then that I felt my first thrill of desktop publishing
joy with PagePlus. I had published the document as a PDF, and was very, very
pleased to see how elegantly PagePlus imported the PDF into the PagePlus
format. The PDF import offers options to substitute fonts, as well as the
choice of using a “Tight” option, to position text to match the PDF more
exactly. That was very important for this particular document, so I chose that,
and voilà, I was looking at my document in PagePlus, with all the formatting
PagePlus has a Resource Manager, which includes a tab to
display the fonts that are used in a
publication. When I opened my newly imported document, I was alerted that the document
had unsupported fonts. My first question was, “Well, that’s nice, but where are
they? Which letters or words are using them?”
“Aha,” answered PagePlus. “Just go to the font tab in the
Resource Manager and click the unsupported font item and select ‘Locate.’” I
did so, and there I was, with my cursor sitting on the first offending
I’m not sure why, but PagePlus didn’t like five or six
instances of the typographic quotes in the document, as well as an em dash. It
may have been because the fonts had been exported to the PDF as curves. In any
case, I swapped them out with the handy Locate button, and then made a few
other edits, and clicked “Publish as PDF”. I then had a new PDF, based on a new
PagePlus document. It worked like a charm.
This first document was an example of how one can import a
PDF produced by a legacy program like Ventura, and have PagePlus replicate its
design by using what one might call “Inline Character Styles” (because the
different definitions don’t show up in the style manager). PagePlus analyzes
the design of each element and creates on-the-fly character styles to match the
original design. It’s a fast and accurate method to import and replicate a
Test Two: Style
Definitions and Frames
For my second document, I decided to import another one
page “poster”, called “What Would ‘I’ Have Done?”, at
This was also a PDF file, produced by Ventura.
I imported the PDF file and got a number of error messages
about missing fonts, and a suggestion to use a more compatible PDF version. So,
I fired up Ventura in Windows XP
Mode (what a pain!) and re-exported the document, after installing a new “print
to PDF” driver. The new PDF imported perfectly – in fact, there were no missing
fonts or invalid characters at all.
My next step was to go beyond the simple conversion to
inline character styles that I had been content with in my first document. For
this second document, I wanted to explore PagePlus’s use of styles and frames.
Prior to that, I decided to skim the 304 page PagePlus manual.
It’s a very well laid out manual, and quite comprehensive.
I was impressed with the large variety of functions that PagePlus contains,
including a strong suite of graphic manipulation tools. My basic feeling was
that PagePlus will suite my needs perfectly. One of my initial concerns was
whether PagePlus would handle books of any substantial length, like two hundred
pages or more. From the manual, as well as information from their forum and
feedback from their tech support department, it looks like books are no problem
for PagePlus. The program has a “BookPlus” utility, which can stitch chapters
together. A number of PagePlus users have successfully designed books. Just to
see how PagePlus treated a thirty-five page RTF document (a novella), I
imported it and selected “AutoFlow” for the frame method.
PagePlus creates a frame for each page, but gives one the
option of automatically flowing text to the next page and frame. It’s a little
different from Ventura, which uses
a base page to simply continue the page flow, which also allows one to format
one master frame for the whole document. I think I prefer Ventura’s
method, but I can see why PagePlus uses one frame per page. In any case, it’s a
After perusing the manual, I dug into the modification of
my second document.
One item on my wish list for PagePlus is a “join lines”
function, where one can select a group of lines that have hard returns and automatically
convert them into one long line, replacing the hard returns with spaces. It
would have come in handy for my one page document, and would in fact be
essential for a very long PDF import (if one chooses the “tight format”
option). Even though my document looked like it was composed of paragraphs,
each paragraph had line breaks at the end of each line. I thus had to add a
space and delete the hard return manually, for all the paragraphs. I didn’t
test the “non-tight” import, which might have resolved that issue. A programmer’s
editor I use, called Vedit, has a join-lines function that allows one to click
a key combo in the middle of a group of contiguous lines and reformat the group
as one paragraph. It would be a nice function to have in PagePlus.
Once I cleaned up the line breaks, I then moved on to
style creation. It was then that I had my second moment of PagePlus joy. With
my cursor in each of the distinct paragraph types (i.e. headline, subhead, body
text, footer, etc), I clicked on the Create Style button in the Style drop down
and watched a dialogue box pop up with all of the definitions for that
respective paragraph. All I had to do was type in a style name, and I had a
style that perfectly matched my format.
That’s a really cool function! I didn’t have to manually
redefine each style. What a time saver.
After that, I modified the frame margins a bit, and
connected the two body text frames and then tweaked the style definitions, to
make sure everything lined up correctly. The styles allow for all the standard
items like leading and spacing and fonts. The only style glitch I ran into was
that the drop cap definition didn’t allow negative spacing. I had to move the
second letter of the word closer to the first letter, which was a drop cap, and
didn’t see where I could do that. So, as a work around, I removed the drop cap,
and selected the first letter, and created a character style which allowed me
to obtain the fine-grained control I needed, in terms of spacing.
Another thing that jumped out at me was the lack of column
gutter lines. I wanted to convert the two column layout from two side-by-side
frames to one frame with two columns. In many programs, one can define a
vertical line to appear in the column gutter, which is often a helpful visual effect.
PagePlus doesn’t seem to have that, so I left the two imported frames where
they were, with a manual vertical line laid between the two frames.
I was then ready to publish the document as a PDF. When I
did so, I was dismayed to see that the jpeg image that was imported from the
original PDF exported very badly. Luckily, I had an original image that I was
able to reimport into PagePlus. After doing so, all was well, and I had a new
PDF, based on a new PagePlus document, with fully defined styles and frames.
The gold color in my document seemed slightly off in the PDF, compared to the
PagePlus doc, but that may have been my export settings.
My two documents were no longer hostages to the “end-of-life”
Ventura program to which I had to
sadly bid farewell. Ventura really
was a good program.
But... this is the 21st century, and life goes on, and we
need to keep cranking out flyers and brochures and posters and booklets and
books and newspapers. At least I need to.
Now, with PagePlus, I have a software program that will
support my desktop publishing needs. I’m a writer and a publisher, and one can’t
publish very well without good software.
Thanks to PagePlus X5, my publishing joy has been