Adobe PageMaker 7.0 review: Adobe PageMaker 7.0

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Cranks out PDF files for a variety of hardware; intuitive point-and-click interface; creates catalogs by merging data from spreadsheets and databases.

The Bad Four times as expensive as Microsoft Publisher; HTML conversion generates poor-looking pages.

The Bottom Line Businesses that publish plenty and want a quick way to turn paper docs into PDF files or assemble catalogs from databases should turn to PageMaker.

7.0 Overall

PageMaker may have started the whole desktop publishing deal 16 years ago, but it has long played second banana to high-end QuarkXPress. It has also been thumped in the price wars by low-end competitors such as Microsoft Publisher. At $499, version 7.0 is still a tweener: too expensive for budget-conscious, home-based and small-business users and not powerful enough for professional designers. PageMaker 7.0, with new tools for turning documents into PDF files and churning out catalogs from data in spreadsheets and databases, is best suited for small to midsized businesses that want to distribute Acrobat Reader-formatted files, produce sophisticated catalogs, and work on the Mac as well as the PC. But businesses on a budget (and all home users) should still steer toward Microsoft Publisher 2002. PageMaker may have started the whole desktop publishing deal 16 years ago, but it has long played second banana to high-end QuarkXPress. It has also been thumped in the price wars by low-end competitors such as Microsoft Publisher. At $499, version 7.0 is still a tweener: too expensive for budget-conscious, home-based and small-business users and not powerful enough for professional designers. PageMaker 7.0, with new tools for turning documents into PDF files and churning out catalogs from data in spreadsheets and databases, is best suited for small to midsized businesses that want to distribute Acrobat Reader-formatted files, produce sophisticated catalogs, and work on the Mac as well as the PC. But businesses on a budget (and all home users) should still steer toward Microsoft Publisher 2002.

Warning: Learning curve ahead
Compared to lower-priced SOHO (small office/home office) desktop publishers, particularly Microsoft Publisher 2002, PageMaker is a challenge for novices. PageMaker lacks the slick wizards and step-by-step templates of Publisher. (Although PageMaker's newsletter templates are superior.) You need to dedicate training time to get the most out of this program.

PageMaker made desktop publishing accessible early on, and that hasn't changed. You can still point and click and drag and drop to rearrange elements or insert new ones or to launch one of the nearly 300 business templates to jump-start your page design. Power users can still work QuarkXPress-style by beginning with blank pages, then creating and placing boxes for text, images, or other elements. Frankly, we prefer the easier point-and-click approach.

Publish once
PageMaker 7.0 may look like its predecessor, but there's new gear under the hood. One welcome change is the ability to output PageMaker publications in a special tagged PDF file that displays text and graphics in similar fashion on all sorts of hardware: PCs, Macs, PDAs, and even cell phones. You can also access sophisticated Adobe Distiller functions and security features from within PageMaker. And, as in version 6.5, you can easily output standard PDF files of any PageMaker documents. We turned a PageMaker newsletter into a PDF file with just one click.

Like version 6.5, PageMaker 7.0 can export documents in HTML format for Web publishing, but the results fall short of the much more affordable Microsoft Publisher. PageMaker's Web pages are only approximations of the originals; the formatting is off and columns are misplaced, while PageMaker-created shapes such as ovals and boxes are never translated. If you want one program to produce both paper and HTML versions of documents, Publisher 2002 is a better bet.

Color coordinated
There's no doubt that PageMaker has it all over Publisher when it comes to advanced publishing jobs. PageMaker supports high-resolution printing and color management, which ensures that color is always consistent, from proofs to final output. And PageMaker has none of the weird limits of Publisher; you can insert as many spot color elements in a document as you want. (Publisher maxes out at 12.)

PageMaker 7.0's new Data Merge feature lets you import data and images from spreadsheets and databases (but only as comma-delimited or TXT files, which you create using the export function of your spreadsheet or database) and merge them into a publication. The most obvious and useful application is for catalogs. Unlike Publisher, which can perform only simple mail merges for mass mailings, PageMaker can drop data into fields you've defined anywhere in the target publication. You can, with some sweat (since PageMaker doesn't include templates for catalogs), insert fields into a product listing that will pull in item numbers, prices, descriptions, and even images from your database or spreadsheet. Since PageMaker can't import native Excel or Access files--a surprising omission--any formatting applied to the source worksheet or database is lost.

The Data Merge feature is also far from automatic. If you change the original worksheet or database, you must reexport it as a comma-separated file. And since PageMaker's HTML export is so imprecise, you'd use Data Merge only for print catalogs. The whole process is crude: you can't skip a record on the fly but must instead specify records to include in a dialog just before you run the merge. Data Merge is better than creating a catalog from scratch when some of the data is already in digital format--we built a small parts catalog using Excel data without problems--but it's no panacea.

Tweener publisher
Adobe is trying to make PageMaker play better with other applications. Version 7.0 imports Microsoft Word documents (including those in Word 2000/2002 for Windows and 2001 for Mac) directly into publications, converts QuarkXPress 4.1 (Windows) and 4.0 (Mac) files, and translates Microsoft Publisher 97/98/2000 (but not Publisher 2002) files into PageMaker format. Our Publisher 2000 test newsletter made it to PageMaker in nearly pristine condition; all we had to do was reformat some text to make it fit. One downside: PageMaker can't export files in any of the above formats.

If you work on a Mac or in a mixed-platform setting with both PCs and Macs, PageMaker is really your only affordable choice. One gripe about the Mac version: it hasn't been rewritten to run in OS X's much faster native mode, and it works only in the slower Classic environment.

PageMaker 7.0 doesn't give professional designers a reason to turn in their copies of QuarkXPress, nor can it compete with Publisher's price. But small and midsized businesses that need to crank out publications, especially catalogs and PDF documents, or that require high-quality printing and color control should invest in PageMaker. It's the best desktop publishing tweener there is.

PageMaker 7.0's export-to-PDF feature now lets you set up security for publications and documents you transform into electronic formats. You can, for instance, require users to supply a password to view the document and limit printing and other activities to make sure secrets don't fall into the wrong hands.

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