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A Sad Ventura User Finds Joy with Serif's PagePlus X5

~ a software review of desktop publishing software ~

Apr 3, 2011
Peter Falkenberg Brown

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 documents.

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.

PagePlusThen I found PagePlus X5, from Serif, at http://www.serif.com/pageplus/.

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 its paces. 

Test One: Inline Style Import

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 arranged perfectly.

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 character.

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 document.

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 http://significatojournal.com/columns/culture-of-heart/what-would-i-have-done. 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 minor issue.

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 restored.

Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”

~ Deus est auctor amoris et decoris. ~

Follow Peter on Twitter or Facebook:
@falkenbrown - https://twitter.com/falkenbrown
https://www.facebook.com/peterfalkenbergbrown

For news about his books:
http://peterfalkenbergbrown.com or: http://worldcommunitypress.com

Visit Peter's LinkedIn Profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/peterfalkenbergbrown

View Peter Falkenberg Brown's profile on LinkedIn

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