Commercial Desktop publishing programs are expensive. But don't despair, there are two excellent desktop publishing programs that are totally free. One is ideal for small business and an excellent alternative to Microsoft Publisher; the other is a serious competitor to the high-end, feature rich commercial programs.
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The first, more advanced, program is Scribus, a free open source program that was originally written for Linux but is now available for Mac OS X, OS2 and Windows.
Scribus is the real thing; a professional quality page layout program capable of producing "press-ready" output. The feature list is impressive, basically everything you want is there including: CMYK color, separations, ICC color management and versatile PDF creation. Graphics manipulation is handled via an interface to the Gimp, another open source program. Scribus can also import from and export to programs in the Open Office suite.
The user interface though highly functional, is not quite as slick as its commercial cousins but it can be skinned to fit in with the look of whatever operating system you are using. The documentation is excellent and there is lots of support from Scribus's enthusiastic user community.
The second is PagePlus Starter Edition from Serif Software, makers of the well known free digital editor PhotoPlus. It's an earlier version 8 of Serif's current PagePlus product that is now at version X5. The SE version is lacking a lot of features available in the current product but has more than enough to produce the relatively simple brochures, flyers, ads, and newsletters used by small businesses and charitable organizations. In fact its lack of complex features makes it a much more user friendly and easier to learn program for beginners with only basic publishing needs.
The program comes with a good set of templates to help get the creatively challenged started and more templates can be downloaded from the web. Text creation and manipulation works well while images can be cut and pasted, re-sized and moved around the templates with ease. There is also a basic set of shapes available. The color palette available is limited but adequate for most needs. File formats available to save your work are also somewhat limited and do not include the ability to save your work in PDF format. However, for $9.95 you can upgrade to version 9 that handles PDF as well as adding a lot of other features such as Pantone colors, freehand tools, mail merge and web publishing.
If there is one thing that really stands out about PagePlus SE, it is the ease of use. In fact if you can use Microsoft Word you can use PagePlus SE to accomplish far more with your layout than is possible with Word. Serif is also noted for offering previous customers great deals on even their latest versions, so, for some, it might be worthwhile to become a customer and watch for deals. As of July 2010, a new and greatly improved version, compatible with Windows 7 is now available.
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PagePlus Starter Edition
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