PUBLISHING PARTNER: A REVIEW
THE ST DESKTOP PUBLISHING BOOM BEGINS
BY CHARLES F. JOHNSON
There are some programs that, in themselves, make it worthwhile to purchase the computer they run on. Certainly, many people bought IBM PCs simply to run Lotus 1-2-3 or dBase. Publishing Partner is such a program for the Atari ST; a program whose power and usefulness are limited only by the imagination of the person using it. If you think you sense a "rave review" coming, you're right--but my satisfaction with Publishing Partner is slightly clouded by a few bugs that persist through the latest version of the software.
Desktop publishing is a rapidly growing new genre of software, allowing the design and production of professional-looking documents (with either a dot matrix printer or a laser printer) on a personal computer. Programs such as Print Shop for the 8-bit Atari computer and Print Master for the ST are very simple examples of page design tools. With these programs you can create greeting cards, banners, calendars, and the like. Publishing Partner offers an infinitely more elegant and open approach; with it you really can design almost any type of document you can imagine.
Publishing Partner is a full-featured desktop publishing program written entirely in 68000 assembly language. It's somewhat reminiscent of Aldus's PageMaker for the Macintosh. It works in either monochrome or medium-resolution color on the ST, but monochrome is preferable; in medium-res, text characters and graphic objects may appear somewhat distorted, though they look fine on the printer.
With Publishing Partner, you work on full printer-page sized documents and can only see a portion of the page on screen at once, unless you choose the "View Full Page option." It allows you to create columns and enter text into them, draw graphics, import pictures created with DEGAS or NEOchrome (it even handles the popular public domain TINY picture compression format), and much more. Partner reads picture files saved in any resolution and converts them to the resolution you're using. You can resize and crop any column, graphic object, or picture in any direction. When you enter text into columns, Partner functions as a word processor with justification, word-wrap, block move, delete and other standard features, and your text is constantly reformatted as you type. Resizing a column with text in it will cause all the text to be quickly readjusted to the new column size. One more very nice feature: the program is not copy protected and can be easily backed up and installed on a hard disk or a RAMdisk.
When you load Publishing Partner, you'll see the screen shown in Figure 1. The familiar GEM drop-down menus are there, along with a column of tools and other icons along the right side of the screen. The main screen displays the upper Ieft-hand corner of the document when first booted; there are GEM-like window sliders and scroll bars enabling you to move around in your document and view different sections.
|FIGURE 1. Start-up screen of Publishing Partner.|
There are many ways to view your document: You can view multiple pages (two pages at a time--see Figure 2), show the full page, show actual size, 50% size, or 200% size. If this isn't enough for you, you can set your own scale for viewing the document. An acronym you'll see a lot in articles about desktop publishing is WYSIWYG (enunciated "wizziwig"), which stands for "What You See Is What You Get"--and that describes the Partner approach exactly. At all times, you see a very close approximation of what your eventual printed copy will look like. In some sizes, text may not be readable and pictures may not look quite right (especially in the View Full Page' mode), but they'll look correct when you print them.
Publishing Partner has a dizzying array of type styles (far more than GDOS currently allows) including backslant, bold, double-underline, italics, light, mirror, outline, reverse text, shadow, strike-through, tall, upside-down (?), and wide. Whew! Character size is referenced in terms of points, a typographer's term (a point is about 1/72 of an inch). You can adjust type sizes all the way from 3 to 72 points, and the program supports multiple type faces, but it is being shipped with only two at present (SoftLogik promises more on the way). All these text options are selected from customized, non-GEM dialog boxes, which allow more flexible input than the normal GEM routines. And all the text is fully proportional; the program will even let you adjust the spacing between individual letters in a word, an option called "manual kerning" (another typographic term).
To define a column in which you'll enter text, all you need to do is choose the arrow tool from the toolbox on the right, point at the starting place with the mouse, and drag an expanding box to the desired size. You can arrange columns so text will flow automatically from one column to the next; Partner calls this feature "text routing." By using text routing, its easy to construct multi-page documents. You use the mouse to mark blocks of text and change typestyles, point sizes, justification, centering and other attributes.
Unfortunately, the text routing portions of the program seem to be the most bug-ridden. Occasionally, when resizing text that extends through multiple columns, Publishing Partner will briefly show two or three bombs and then dump you back to a frozen desktop. This problem is most likely to occur if you're changing text to a larger size.
The program lets you draw designs directly on your document free-hand with the mouse, and also gives you a comprehensive set of graphics drawing tools. You can draw lines, connected lines, vertical and horizontal lines, circles, boxes, boxes with rounded corners, and ellipses; and all these graphic objects can be filled with one of a number of patterns. Anything you draw will become a graphic object, and can be resized, cropped, and moved about at will.
In addition to its own graphics features, it's a simple matter to use pictures created with DEGAS or NEOchrome. You simply enter "Picture" mode, and choose the Import option from the File drop-down. Your picture is copied into a workscreen, from which you can cut a block and place it in the "copy buffer." Then you just flip back to your document, and use the "Copy from Buffer" option to place the picture at the desired position. After you've placed the picture, you can manipulate it in the same way as any other graphic object. Resizing pictures may sometimes cause them to appear distorted on screen, but I found that even the most distorted pictures would usually look fine when printed.
You're not limited to an 8 1/2" by 11" page, either. Publishing Partner lets you custom-design any page size your printer can support, with settings measurable down to eighths of an inch. Once you've created a document, you can choose the "Show Rulers" option to display vertical and horizontal rulers for extremely accurate placement of text and graphic objects (see Figure 3). Small indicators on the rulers show the exact position of the mouse pointer on the screen, to make this operation even easier. You can also set the rulers for inches, picas, or centimeters.
|FIGURE 2. The "Show Multiple Pages" option.|
Publishing Partner uses a proprietary method of handling text output to screen and printer. It does not use Atari's GDOS, contrary to early reports. The Partner method is actually much more flexible than GDOS, giving you many more text styles and font point sizes. The program comes with drivers for many popular brands of printers, including a Postscript driver for the Apple Laserwriter or any printer capable of using the Postscript page description language. It also has drivers for most Epson-compatible 9-pin dot matrix printers, and drivers for the new 24-pin printers like the NEC P6.
If you're using a 9-pin dot matrix printer, be prepared to wait a long time for your hardcopy to be finished. Partner uses the quadruple-density graphics mode of these printers, and does four passes of the printhead to print each line. This results in unbelievably clear print quality, with none of the dots and jagged lines you may be used to seeing on your printer; but a typical time to print a one-page 8 1/2" by 11" document is 20-30 minutes. The most recent version of the program has improved the print speed somewhat by buffering the picture data and tabbing past blank space, but this is more a limitation of dot matrix printers than of Publishing Partner's.
By now you might be thinking you should go buy this program right away. I'm sorry to have to report that some bugs still remain in the program (as of version 1.01). I've managed to make the program crash all the way back to the desktop (a non-functioning desktop, at that) quite a few times--and not always in repeatable ways, either. On the most recent occasion, all I was doing was typing text into a column. Another time I was resizing text in linked columns; the program worked fine for a few operations, then suddenly, bombs away! A rude interruption, to say the least. Another problem: sometimes deleting a column of text does not release the memory it used, and you end up with an "Out of Memory" error. At least this problem is non-fatal; you can just save the document, quit and restart the program, and the memory is back.
I've learned to save documents very often when working with Publishing Partner, because I just don't trust the program to run very long without crashing. This casts a definite pall over my enjoyment of Partner-- it's just about the only negative aspect of the program, but it's a large one! However, SoftLogik is aware the bugs exist and is regularly releasing updates with fixes for the problems.
|FIGURE 3. "Show Rulers" with "Show Full Width".|
I have a few minor quibbles with Publishing Partners user interface. Those custom dialog boxes that let you adjust character and line spacing and manual kerning are very nice, but the response time is so fast that I found it almost impossible to change spacing by increments of one point. The value would always jump two or more, no matter how quickly I pressed and released the mouse button. The way Partner handles the GEM file selector is also rather awkward--the box comes up without a drive specifier on the directory line, making it difficult (but certainly not impossible) to change disk drives. And there's no provision for grouping objects together: For example, say you create a column of text and then decide that a line would serve nicely to separate one section from another. There's no trouble with drawing the line where you want it, but if you decide later to move that text column, the line doesn't move with the rest of the column. You have to reposition it manually.
Publishing Partner is one of the most impressive programs to appear for the Atari ST; indeed, it's one of the most impressive programs I've seen for any computer. (What makes it even more incredible in these days of programming teams is that the program is the work of one man, Deron Kazmaier.) SoftLogik is very committed to supporting their product. They've released public domain screen font editors and printer fonts, which are available on many online services, such as CompuServe or Delphi. SoftLogik has shipped the first update (with some bug fixes) to registered owners, and Kazmaier is constantly updating Publishing Partner's printer drivers and adding new printers to his "supported" list. So, in spite of its current bugs, I highly recommend this program.
4129 Old Baumgartner
St. Louis, MO 63129
520ST with TOS in ROM.
Monochrome monitor preferred.