Alot of people blame Caxton. And a lot of people are wrong. Caxton, it is widely believed, invented printing and therefore publishing, and is therefore to blame for PC Dealer. But this is a misconception. The Chinese were printing back in the year 200, and the printing press with metal type ? more or less the same system that is used now ? was invented in Europe in the mid 15th century.
William Caxton came back to London from Cologne in 1476, bringing with him knowledge gleaned from Europe, and set up shop in the precincts of Westminster Abbey. In 1477 he published the first book to be printed in England The Dictes or Sayengis of the Phylosopher (it?s probably out of print now, but it may be worth trying for a copy at your local library).
Now, 500 years later, things haven?t changed that much; printing businesses still work on much the same principles as Caxton did, and you still need a good eye for design and for spotting typographical errors.
But, undoubtedly, the major changing force in publishing in since 1477 has been the computer. Not only has it changed some of the processes, but like so many other things, it has effectively made the page layout part of publishing its own.
While computer layout systems were being used in newspaper offices as early as the 70s, the desktop boom didn?t start until the mid 80s ? and you don?t get any prizes for guessing on which platform: the Apple Macintosh.
In 1985 the first page layout programs made their debut and set the scene on the DTP market: Aldus? Page Maker, Boston Software Publishing?s Mac Publisher and Manhattan Graphics? Ready Set Go.
Although Ready Set Go was the first package to reach customers, it was Page Maker, which shipped in July 1985, that became synonymous with desktop publishing, a term, by the way, coined by Aldus founder Paul Brainerd in 1984.
One of the reasons Page Maker won widespread acceptance was because of its pasteboard metaphor ? that is, it worked the way the designers worked. When users moved a block of type in Page Maker, they saw the type move, not just a black block representing the type. It was what the Macintosh was all about ? Wysiwyg in action.
But this was only half the story, the other side of the DTP revolution lay in output ? if you couldn?t connect the DT to the P then you were stuck. Apple went a long way to solving this with its Laser Writer, although the magic was actually inside the printer: Adobe?s Post Script page description language.
It was a simple idea, in as much as it defined the page in words and numbers that allowed perfect scaling of the items rendered, which meant images could always be output to the device?s maximum quality. The Laser Writer?s 300dpi Canon print engine brought ?near-typeset quality?, fancy fonts and complex graphics to the desktop, and freed users from crude dot-matrix output and the text-only constraints of daisywheel printers. Whatever users drew on the screen ? text or graphics ? would be translated to the printed page.
Unfortunately, this didn?t exorcise many of the heavy duty publishing brigade, but it did bring a smile to lots of people who produced short-run newsletters on dot-matrix printers or hand-cranked copiers.
In fact, what it did for the publishing brigade arrived in September 1985. Linotype announced it was supporting Post Script with its Linotronic 100, a 1,270dpi imagesetter, and then ? the icing on the cake ? a couple of months later the firm came out with the 2,540dpi Linotronic 300.
These high-resolution imagesetters showcased Post Script?s resolution and, more importantly, device independence. This became fundamental to the future DTP industry, allowing users to print the same page on several devices, meaning proof pages could be printed on a Laser Writer without losing formatting or placement and then output on the Linotronic for printing.
At this point, Apple suggested in a roundabout way that you didn?t actually need to know anything special to ?do? DTP. The professionals were insulted and started looking seriously at this new-fangled desktop publishing, the result of which was a service bureau on every corner. Users would knock up something in their back room, take it to a shop and then get it refined and printed on Linotype or Varityper devices costing tens of thousands of dollars. Things went fine for a couple of years, and the general momentum of DTP grew. Aldus spotted there was a need for fonts and released its first batch in 1986.
But in March 1987, the Next Big Thing happened ? Quark launched its Quark XPress.
Quark was set up in 1981 to develop wordprocessing software, and bumbled along while the rest of the world was getting interested in Page Maker. The people at Quark realised there was an opening for a program that gave the layout artist improved typographic control. Apple became involved and worked a method of fractional width spacing and provision for kerning pairs into its operating system. Quark XPress was then able to give its users a typographic flexibility and precision that put it well ahead of Page Maker. And so the battle between them commenced.
But this wasn?t the only game in town. A little-known company called Ventura was breaking ground in the DTP market. Its program didn?t run under Windows, and didn?t have quite the control that Page Maker or QuarkXPress did, but all the same Ventura Publisher was doing very well for itself.
Introduced in 1986, Ventura Publisher used Digital Research?s graphical interface, Gem (graphics environment manager) which, for those of you that weren?t about at the time, was once a serious contender for the GUI crown on the PC. Suffice to say it never made it.
In the early 90s Ventura was bought by Xerox, which then didn?t seem to know quite what to do with it, or at least seemed not to understand what either DTP or the term ?product strategy? meant. Xerox was around for the disastrous move to Windows and the even more disastrous attempt at the Macintosh market. Then, in 1993, Corel bought Ventura ? and proceeded to forget about it. But now at last it has been brought back to life and we are seeing version 7.
In the meantime things were changing over at Apple. At first, like a lot of Mac users, they would giggle and point at anyone trying to ?do? DTP on a PC. Then when Ventura hit the PC, they would guffaw quietly and strut back to their computers to ?show them how to do it?. But then Windows 3 arrived and all sorts of things happened ? not least of which was the decision by both Quark and Aldus that a Windows version of their product wouldn?t be such a bad idea after all.
There followed a reasonably embarrassing period where two companies that were used to letting software out to the Mac market, which was always more forgiving in the buggy software stakes, tried it on in the PC market. It didn?t quite work as smoothly as expected, and in the early days Quark faced the rather awkward position of having a program for both Macintosh and PC platforms, but not having full file compatibility between them. Now we are waiting for the latest version of Quark XPress, which will finally bring the application into the realms of 32-bit programs.
Of course, during this time the wordprocessors of the day grew in power and facility, giving people that really shouldn?t have been allowed a chance to try their hand at low-end DTP. Before long the small DTP programs began to thrive.
One of those programs, launched in 1991, was from a small but up and coming firm called Microsoft. Microsoft?s Publisher sort of hung around on the periphery, slowly evolving and not making any sudden movements to upset the market, and eventually got some users. Now, of course, in the guise of Publisher 97 it is the number one low-end to mid-range DTP package.
Microsoft is now bundling Publisher 97 with the small business edition of Office 97 ? and there don?t seem to be too many emerging firms about to snatch the market away.
Similarly, Microsoft seems quite content to let Adobe (after the ?merger? between it and Aldus) and Quark have the high end while it mops up in the middle end and consumer markets. ?We will never produce a high-end DTP program,? says Gillian Kent, consumer product manager at Microsoft.
Microsoft likes to promote the usability of Publisher 97, and Kent is quick to point out that it was the first to use Wizards to help users along. She says the next version will have even more business-oriented templates and Wizards to help develop them.
But isn?t she concerned that as it develops, Publisher will just become Page Maker by another name?
?Publisher doesn?t have exactly the same power as, say, Quark XPress or Page Maker because it isn?t used in the same manner,? says Kent. ?It isn?t designed to produce magazines, but if you look at how small businesses use it ? to produce quick and easy designs ? then it really is an affordable way of publishing.?
She makes an interesting point about the marketing budget of these companies. ?A lot of small firms spend a maximum of #500 a year on marketing, which doesn?t buy an awful lot. But with Publisher we think they can do a lot cost effectively.?
Perhaps this is one reason why so many people are currently using Publisher.
Another issue is how these packages are pitched. When Publisher first hit the market it contained alot of home user features, but that has changed. Microsoft is now reinforcing Publisher?s position as a business tool by adding a stream of consumer-based products to its line that include DTP technology, but remain aimed at vertical home markets. Examples are the Greetings Workshop (a greetings card program) and Picture It (a home photograph manipulation program).
?Publisher was beginning to include a lot of stuff which the home user would never ever use, and we no longer covered the needs of either market,? says Kent. ?We have evolved Publisher to be for predominantly small business and departmental groups, and for people who want to provide a newsletter ? we really see it as a business tool.?
This surprisingly intelligent move from Microsoft doesn?t seem to be reflected in the top-end developers. In fact, with the exception of Adobe (which has a full marketing and PR operation in this country), the other major top-end DTP program developers have a rather low profile here in the UK.
Corel is currently without representation here and in Europe since finishing with its UK PR company earlier this year, and Quark currently doesn?t believe in having either a marketing or PR arm in the UK ? indeed, it also boasts that it doesn?t have a PR setup in the US either.
Generally speaking, these companies grow a little defensive when it is put to them that this attitude is historically the one that big companies have just before their market is stolen from them by smaller, better marketed, companies ? or Microsoft.
Lori Mercier, product manager for Quark XPress 4, explains: ?If you ask me what the shipping date of the new Quark XPress is, I?ll tell you I honestly don?t know. The reason we don?t know is that it is more important to us to fix every bug there is and get a strong product out there.?
Noble indeed, although not entirely in tune with how the rest of the industry works. Can Quark afford to take that attitude in the face of a market that is always product hungry, and seems quite comfortable with companies launching unfinished products?
?I really think we would be smart enough to change,? says Mercier. ?The one thing about Quark is that we can move on a dime ? and we do.?
Which seems odd coming from a company that can?t supply the launch date of the first 32-bit version of its software.
There can be little doubt, though, that Quark is having a go at doing this big time; not only is it releasing version 4 as a joint release for the Macintosh and PC, but also around the world in 11 languages.
Then there are the platform wars. The Macintosh might own the DTP market, but the PC owns the computer market. As a result there is some surprising information from Adobe about the move from the PC to the Mac ? it isn?t so much that the market is swapping between the two, but from the Macintosh to another platform.
Adobe, currently the only supplier to have Power PC and Windows 95/NT products, is seeing Mac houses buying in Windows NT ? not Windows 95 machines ? to run alongside their current hardware.
This almost certainly reflects the price of hardware and the seemingly inexorable move of the market to Windows NT, and makes Quark?s laissez faire attitude to the release of its new version even more surprising.
But the big new market for DTP systems is the internet. Web publishing is just like the halcyon days of DTP, when anyone and their guide dog could have a go at producing unreadable pages. And that is exactly what they are doing on the Web today, with the software companies trying to keep up by building HTML and other technology support systems into their products.
All the players seem to be jumping on this bandwagon, and all get a bit evasive when asked what comes first: spending time developing straight forward DTP features or whizzy internet/intranet features. The consensus seems to be ?we won?t forget our traditional users, but the internet is an important area for all of us?, which could be translated as ?we have built HTML into the product, what else do you want??
Like a lot of markets, DTP hasn?t finished developing yet. The traditional leaders, certainly Quark, seem very focused on a specific part of the market ? their own. In the past this was fine, but those times are long gone, and now the market likes firms that can sell to anyone, and make software good looking and easy to use by anyone.
DTP has been a haven for experts since its inception, and it is unlikely to ever stop being one. But the new experts may not be quite so reverential to the feature-heavy leviathans that sit at the top of the tree. The game is changing along with the users and if you don?t follow the game you are out.
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