Computers: Getting a handle on desktop publishing: Power that adds a little bit extra

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Page make-up is not an easy skill to master, so it is hardly surprising that untrained users can find even the most basic desktop publishing programs a bit baffling at first. There is a trade-off between programs like Microsoft Publisher, which are limited in scope but simple to use, and those that are more powerful but take longer to master, writes Cliff Joseph.

Pageplus falls into the latter category - in fact it is one of the most powerful programs in the under- pounds 100 price range. It includes many features, such as a pasteboard - an empty area all around your screen that you can use as a temporary storage area - and a wordprocessing module, that are found in few of its rivals.

But it is weak on text editing, despite the wordprocessing tools, so you are better off preparing your text in a word processor and then importing it into Pageplus. The program is able to accept text files from a wide variety of other programs.

Like most DTP programs it works by putting each piece of text and graphics within a separate 'frame' - a box enclosing a piece of text or a graphic. To move frames around you simply point at one with the mouse and click the mouse button to select that frame. Then you use the mouse to move the frame around or to change its size to fit the layout you choose.

The newcomer to using Windows, the PC's mouse-driven operating system, might find all these different frames a bit confusing, but it is really just an extension of the way most word processors work, so anyone used to a Windows word processor should get the hang of things quickly.

One of Pageplus's best features is its Change Bar, a set of tools that automatically change to reflect the item you are working with. If you use the mouse to select a text frame, the Change Bar offers tools for changing the typeface, its size, adding italics and so on. If you select a graphic frame, the Change Bar changes to provide drawing tools. This means the tools you need are always immediately at hand.

The only drawback with Pageplus is that it is a bit slow at times, but its well-designed sets of tools make up for that by giving newcomers all the help they need to get started quickly.

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