Hot Software for Layout, Retouching, and Illustration

New programs race to set standards

By Dan Ruby

The centerpiece of any publishing project is bringing all of the elements of a design together in a page layout on the screen. Along with the development of PostScript, It was the arrival of page-layout programs like Aldus PageMaker, QuarkXPress, and Ventura Publisher that defined the computer application called desktop publishing.

None of these programs is available for NeXT, and until recently there has been no good substitute for them. Now, four page-layout programs have either shipped or are in beta testing. Together with several existing document-editing programs, they make NeXT a viable publishing platform for the first time.

The first of the new NeXT page layout programs to reach market is PasteUp from RightBrain Software. It is positioned as a general-purpose layout package, suited equally for graphics-rich professional design, corporate publishing, or general productivity.

RightBrain says that PasteUp can do anything PageMaker or Xpress can do, though it may do it differently. Thus, its kerning, tracking, and type handling in general is as precise as Quark's. It treats text like any other object, to be scaled, rotated, or skewed.

The program has won kudos for its implementation of NeXT programming principles, including direct manipulation and drag and drop techniques. Not only can you drag graphics and text, but colors, attributes, and styles can be simply dropped on a page element. Selecting objects is as easy as clicking on any portion of it, regardless of its layer on the page. Moving around within a document is painless using PasteUp's Page Navigator feature.

Among PasteUp's other strengths are its ability to search and replace attributes, infinite undo, and multiple views of the same document at up to 1600 percent magnification.

In fact, PasteUp's free-form approach is flexible enough to produce virtually any page design. The flip side of that carte-blanche style is that it offers no guidance on how to produce effective designs, however.

Coming from an opposite philosophical orientation is a page-layout program from Pages, which after several years in the making is close to release under the name Pages by Pages. It guides users to produce well-designed business documents by limiting their choices to a preset range provided in a companion "design model."

Pages by Pages will ship with seven design models, most aimed at corporate design (other models will be available separately from Pages and third parties). A separate product, the Pages Designer Edition, is used to create design models.

Each model contains rules for the typefaces, column layout, headline styles, and other elements that make up a page design.The idea is that an organization will use the product to standardize on a common look for all its documents. The constrained approach also allows users to create attractive designs easily, with little learning curve.

The Pages user interface groups 26 page elements under six basic palettes. All elements are dragged and dropped on the page, and they interact appropriately. For example, a subhead knows that it lives in column, so it scales to the column size.

Once users are comfortable with a design model, they have several ways to expand and change it. Every element has an inspector with controls to adjust the behavior of the element. Users may also alter a design model by overriding one or more rules, which are then saved as a style sheet. They can also create a design model from scratch with the Designer Edition.

Pages believes it has hit on a fundamentally new approach to page design. It is aimed squarely at business publishing, leaving the graphic design market to other products. The third contestant among the new page-layout systems for NeXT has the most interesting approach of all. The Archetype Document Engine is the basis for a proposed document-object standard that NeXT has tentatively endorsed as an publishing extension to its custom application strategy. Archetype sees the engine as the basis for an explosion of modular, third-party and custom apps for presentations, drawing, math, database publishing, report generation, abstracting and page layout.

Archetype itself will publish the first program built on the Document Engine, a page-layout program it plans to market as Archetype Page. At this writing, few details are available about the program, which will be shown for the first time at the Seybold Conference in September.

Archetype has developed numerous page-layout programs that have appeared under various names from publishers on other platforms. The company says that it has collected, polished, and documented its objects and is making them available for others to use. To date, beta versions of the engine have been distributed to more than TK NeXT developers, but none has yet announced support for it.

Archetype's document-centric approach has great promise for workgroup publishing. Documents can be easily moved between applications and platforms, or be simultaneously shared by different users on a network.

The surprise entry in the page-layout category is Altsys Virtuoso. This offspring of Aldus FreeHand on the Macintosh had always been expected to be a heavyweight in the NeXT illustration category, but earlier this year Altsys delayed its introduction and pursued what it called a "strategic text initiative" to add traditional page-layout typographic capabilities to its repertoire.

Thus, it features wraparound text, multiple columns and rows, automatic hyphenation, copyfit, linking of text blocks, and full typographic controls. Many of its illustration strengths, such as allowing text on paths and color separation tools, are boons in the page design field.

In combining layout capability with its core illustration tools, Virtuoso is attempting to redefine the market. While layouts are confined to a single-page, it excels at graphic design for advertisements, packaging and brochures. For many users, it may be the only graphics program they need.

Finally, let's not forget the standard-bearers. As newer programs have garnered the headlines, Frame Corporation's FrameMaker 3.0 has been quietly cranking out mountains of reports and technical documentation for early NeXT users.

Shipping since 1988, Frame's NeXT implementation is equivalent (except in user interface) to its products on 28 other platforms, according to the company. It has considerable strengths as a long-document publishing package. It also has some more prosaic shortcomings, such as not supporting wraparound text.

FrameMaker is a comprehensive long-document processor, combining tools for word processing, table editing, page layout, graphics, and more. It is designed for corporate publishing applications, including reports, books, and technical documentation. Until now, Frame has had the NeXT layout market to itself. It will likely continue as a strong contender for the long-document segment of the market.

If FrameMaker is a layout program with extensive word processing capability, then Word Perfect for NeXT is a word processor with modest designs on the page-layout market. WordPerfect provides a basic set of page-layout tools, including flexible column layouts, ability to wrap text around graphics, cropping, scaling, rotating, and zooming. As the standard for corporate word processing, it also provides a strong list of features for long document publishing. Business documents are going to remain its strengths, but it is more than equal to the occasional simple newsletter.

Now that a wide range of software tools is available for page layout on the NeXT, it appears that the distinct categories of word processing, page layout, and illustration software that we are familiar with from other platforms is blurring. Instead, developers are providing a mixed bag of functionality that match their views of the emerging NeXT publishing market. For users, that means at long last a bountiful selection of page-layout tools.