For Adobe PageMaker users, 7 is not a lucky number. Instead, it's a false promise of a major revision to the company's former flagship publishing standard. The new Adobe PageMaker 7.0 is simply the almost five-year-old PageMaker 6.5 with a few file-format updates, as well as a quirky new data-merge plug-in.
Version 7.0's file-format updates are what you'd expect: Microsoft Word 2001, Adobe Illustrator 9, and Adobe Photoshop 6. The ability to import PDF files, on the other hand, is a great addition, and the import filter alerts you to font, color, and separation issues. The inclusion of Distiller 5 for creating PDF files is also welcome, as is tighter integration of the PDF tools with PageMaker's export interface.
But PageMaker's most hyped new feature, the data-merge plug-in, is a huge disappointment. Although it lets you import graphics and text--to create mail-merged letters and simple catalogs from any comma-delimited text file--it's quirky and maddening to use.
Creating a data form is simple: you select the data file from the plug-in's palette, and it reads the first row of data to determine the field names. A field name that begins with the @ character indicates the name of an image file to be imported. Unfortunately, you can't use a dialog box to choose the folder or drive containing the file to be imported; instead, you must type something like Mac Start:Real Estate Project:Photos:123 Broad St.tif. Be careful--one typo, and your file won't import. You also need to be careful when merging records, since PageMaker puts each record on its own page by default.
The actual import works well enough, as long as your PageMaker document has nothing else in it. When I tried to merge data into a PageMaker document containing other text and images, PageMaker 7.0 went haywire and copied the entire document at the beginning of each record. Adobe says the data-merge tool is intended only for mail merges, where an entire letter is duplicated with a unique name and address in each copy.
The Rest of the Story
PageMaker 7.0 is nearly identical to version 6.5 (3.0 mice; http://www.macworld.com/1997/05/reviews/3659.html ), whose big push was online publishing. However, those features were difficult to use and produced mediocre Web pages, and they're no better in version 7.0.
Beyond offering neither substantive new features nor fixes for longtime defects such as its separate, inadequate table editor, PageMaker 7.0 has a few other flaws. For one, it's a memory hog. While version 6.5 needed between 9MB and 20MB of RAM, the default minimum and preferred memory settings for version 7.0 are 15MB and 32MB, respectively. But even with those settings, I got frequent memory errors. And Adobe has no plans to Carbonize PageMaker 7.0 (though I had no trouble using version 7.0 in Mac OS X's Classic mode).
Macworld's Buying Advice
Compared with QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign, PageMaker is labor-intensive, so it's best suited to basic jobs involving simple designs and few pages. If your goal is to produce documents that look as though they were created in something more capable than a word processor but that don't require the high level of design that QuarkXPress and InDesign offer, PageMaker may be all you need--just beware the pitfalls of the new data-merge tool.Basic Database Publishing PageMaker 7.0's new data-merge feature lets you create basic catalogs--but only if the document is otherwise totally empty.