Is 7 PageMaker's Lucky Number?

Many products claim to be revolutionary, but the first version of PageMaker truly was. When PageMaker 1.0 was released in July 1985 -- a year after the Mac's debut -- it ushered in the era of desktop publishing.

With Adobe PageMaker 7.0 due to ship this summer, Adobe hopes to bring some of that revolutionary edge back to the oldest desktop publishing program on the market, tying the latest version of the application to the company's network-publishing strategy.

For many years, PageMaker was desktop publishing's killer app. But as parent company Aldus languished, so too did the program. By the 1990s, QuarkXPress had assumed PageMaker's role as the desktop publishing program of choice. By the time Adobe swallowed up Aldus in 1994, PageMaker had become something of an also-ran in the professional market, although the application remained a favorite among small business and home users. In today's desktop publishing market, PageMaker remains a minor professional-level player.

For that reason, PageMaker has not seen a substantial update in years. The last one came in 1999 and was considered by most industry watchers to be a minor revision, not a substantive improvement. The 1997 upgrade from version 6 to 6.5 was described by a Macworld reviewer as "the plodding PageMaker" that "may set the children's [tortoise and hare] parable on its ear by losing the race to the leaps-and-bounds approach of QuarkXPress." Thus, version 7.0 is a big deal for the maturing program, if for no other reason than it marks the first dramatic revision to PageMaker since the mid-1990s.

PageMaker 7.0 will allow users to perform several functions that previous versions did not. One is the ability to create tagged Adobe PDF files. When users export a PageMaker document to PDF that is going to be seen in print, on the Web, or in eBook form, they only have to lay it out once rather than optimizing it for each place it will be seen. Essentially, the feature lets users separate the design of a document from its content.

PageMaker 7 also allows users to create highly customized documents via a new data-merge feature. With this tool, users can drop custom fields into a standard template -- a tremendous boon to anyone looking to create small-run printed documents that each need unique fields, such as in a targeted advertisement mailer.

But the Mac version of PageMaker will be missing some features that Windows users will enjoy. PageMaker 7 for Windows has a Picture palette for browsing and managing stock illustrations, clip art, and photographs in a wide variety of industry-standard formats. It also has a Template Browser for searching and managing PageMaker templates, as well as a Microsoft Office-like tool bar. In addition to missing those features, the Mac version also lacks the Microsoft Publisher 97, 98, and 2000 conversion kit.

Adobe has a history of giving Windows users more features in its Acrobat software. However, in the professional line -- InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator -- it has been good at achieving Windows and Macintosh parity. One possible reason for this is that graphics professionals tend to be Mac users, thus Adobe offers parity for those products. However, Acrobat and PageMaker are aimed at business users, who overwhelmingly are on the Windows platform.

Adobe's additions to PageMaker fit in with the company's network-publishing initiative -- a plan that aims to help users move custom content in multiple formats across multiple platforms. Adobe hails network publishing as the "third wave" of publishing technology, following desktop and Web publishing. In essence, Adobe contends that network publishing will allow designers to produce content that looks as good on the Web as it does on a PDA or on a printed page.

Since Adobe already targets InDesign toward the professional desktop publishing user, the company hopes PageMaker will fill in the gap for small business and home users who need to use more page-design tools than Microsoft Word can offer, but don't need InDesign's full power -- or its $699 price tag. The $499 PageMaker 7 will ship later this summer. Owners of previous versions of PageMaker can upgrade for $79. It runs in Mac OS 8.6 and higher but not in the native layer of OS X.

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