Scribus isn\’t a bad open-source DTP program

A Slashdot mention of a MadPenguin review of Scribus brought up a very insightful lament: No reviews of Scribus appear online from someone very familiar with the competition, namely Adobe PageMaker and InDesign, and QuarkXPress.

As a University of Missouri journalism graduate, I’m going to tell you what I think of Scribus and simultaneously try to amuse you.Let me first get something out of the way: Microsoft Publisher is a toy. And I mean “toy” in the most condescending manner possible. I’m not talking a charming vintage toy that brings good feelings of quality and nostalgia. No sir, I’m bringing to mind cheap, mass-produced junk from a factory that makes its workers pay to work there, sold in vending machines in seedy-looking stores in seedy neighborhoods.

And I’m not talking the nice vending machines that take two quarters either.

I’ve been forced to do production work in Microsoft Publisher. I wish they’d just gone all the way and handed me a copy of Print Shop and told me to use that. At least Print Shop doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur.

I didn’t go to the best journalism school in the country and endure classes taught by professors with nicknames like “The Nazi”–I took a class from the instructor who inspired Brad Pitt to drop out of journalism school and run away to Hollywood when he was a mere three hours from a journalism degree, and I endured her class and I passed it, but I do have to say I don’t blame him–I’m sure I lost your train of thought there, but I didn’t endure all of that to have my hand held by a misguided wizard that looks like a #^%@$ paperclip.

There. I feel a lot better now.

Wait. Let me say one more thing. Microsoft Publisher isn’t the competition for this program, nor should it be.

The proper introduction to desktop publishing is Adobe PageMaker. It’s the easiest to learn of the “serious” DTP tools, and while it’s not well suited to particularly complex designs, and quite possibly the buggiest piece of software not manufactured by Microsoft that I’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with, it does the best job of teaching people how to throw a bunch of text into columns onto a piece of paper without overwhelming them with too many tools.

But QuarkXPress is king. At Mizzou, once we’d learned QuarkXPress, we j-students were known to ditch word processors entirely and just use XPress for everything because of its enormous text-handling capabilities. And in spite of its features, it’s a much leaner, meaner program than any word processor on the market, taking up less memory, loading faster, and generally doing everything else faster. I even used it to write term papers for my history classes. I hate Quark the company, but I’ll tell you how I feel about its product.

Rolls-Royce tries to be the QuarkXPress of cars.

(I couldn’t tell you if Rolls-Royce ever succeeded or not, having never ridden in one of its cars.)

OK, so what about Scribus?

Well, you already know my bias. From an ease of use standpoint, I found it somewhere between PageMaker and QuarkXPress. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Ease of use has never been the goal of this type of software. Frankly I don’t know how you make a program of this type any easier to use without dumbing it down to Publisher’s level, and by the time you do that, you might as well just go all the way and create a Print Shop clone. That way you’ve actually created something useful.

Concentrating too much on making DTP software easy to use is like trying to make a chainsaw that’s incapable of injuring the operator. The end result isn’t going to be very useful.

But I’ve digressed again.

Feature-wise, I’ve found it to be at least the equal of PageMaker. Whether it lacks some of the features of QuarkXPress or I wasn’t able to quickly find them, I’m not sure. So while I wasn’t able to quickly figure out how to make it bend and distort text, it took me about 30 seconds to figure out how to do the really important things like scaling text and changing tracking and leading.

I wasn’t able to work as quickly in Scribus as I could in QXP, but that’s not a fair comparison. For a semester I spent more time in QXP than I spent in Word, if that tells you anything.

I also spent more time in QXP than I spent in Civilization and Railroad Tycoon combined. (Not by choice though. Yes I’m crazy, but not that crazy.)

I guess I should come to a conclusion here.

I’m really glad to see Scribus. I think it’s pretty good stuff. I think it’s really incredibly good stuff for the price. You see, QuarkXPress is priced like a Rolls-Royce. Scribus is free.

Better than Publisher? Of course. Then again, so is a trip to the dentist.

Better than PageMaker? I’m inclined to say yes. Better enough that if both programs cost the same amount of money, I’d buy Scribus.

Will I use Scribus again? You bet.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with for version 2.0.

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