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Microsoft Publisher 98

Weaves Easy Webs, too...

Professional desktop publishers may sneer at Microsoft's easy-to-use Publisher software, but non-professionals continue to lap it up.

The latest version of this easy-to-master application, Publisher 98, like its predecessors, is the Toyota Camry of DTP applications: a solid-yet-unassuming product that's well built and dependable, and offers the "ordinary consumer" an easy way to create brochures, newsletters, etc.

Which is exactly what it's supposed to do.

We've used most major packages and, while our tool of choice for paper-based layout is QuarkXpress, we periodically do smaller projects that don't require its sophistication - and where Publisher fits the bill well. It lets you do a creditable job without even cracking open the manual.

We like that a lot!

MS Publisher assumes you don't know anything about publishing, and treats you accordingly. The opening screen offers choices of new or existing projects and, if you're creating a new masterpiece, displays a wide variety of design choices and templates – including HTML documents or entire sites for the World Wide Web.

Choosing a template brings up a "wizard" that help you design the entire project

Our reviewer created a brochure for a TV program in no time flat, by choosing a template and then customizing the content the Wizard brings onto the screen. The template was for a play program, which shows the breadth of templates Microsoft throws in. In fact, Microsoft says there are more than 1600 templates included - so there's something for just about every task required, from business cards and newsletters to business forms (expense reports, invoices, etc.) and awards or gift certificates.

We also put together the basic design for a small corporate Web site in about ten minutes (actually, Publisher created it – we just walked through the process, choosing colour schemes, deciding what additional pages we wanted in it, the type of navigation bar, etc. Publisher created the generic content while we watched, and all we had to do afterward was go back and replace Publisher's demo content and insert our own graphics.

Ordering Publisher to "Publish to Web" brings up the "Web Publishing Wizard," which FTP's the content to the remote web site location. It's quick and easy, and relatively painless.

Oh sure, you can make more elegant sites (and publications) by hand, but the point of Publisher is to make it easy - and it does just that.

Publisher '98 has better text handling than before, for any type of publication, and you can preview a font before using it just by clicking on the drop down font menu.

If you've used earlier versions of Publisher, you'll feel right at home. You still use text or picture "frames" for your layout, and moving/resizing is drag-and-drop easy, with cursors that change looks depending on what you're doing.

The toolbar isn't customizable, alas, and Publisher's "Help" still muscles its way onscreen with so much assistance it can get on your nerves. Fortunately, you can also tone it down to where it only offers "gentle nudges," and to be fair, since Publisher's designed for non-designers, it's probably not a bad idea to have the help so close at hand.

The CD-ROM includes some 10,000 pieces of clipart, 1000 "Web art" graphics, 1500 photographs, a selection of fonts, animated "gif" files (for Web sites) and some music clips. You don't get the designing primer that was available in the Publisher 97 manual, but if you need it there are lots of design courses you can take...

MS Publisher 98 is the best version yet of this inexpensive and attractive package. Despite the snickers it elicits from the pros, it lets people who don't want to create documents create documents of which they can be proud - and you can output its content to professional print houses as well.

Microsoft Publisher (Windows 95/NT)


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January 31, 2006