PERSONAL PRESS, lazy man's PageMaker?
Author: Kevin Savetz
Date: August, 1993
Keywords: aldus press application software review page layout newsletter pagemaker
Text: Aldus Personal Press is best described as the lazy man's PageMaker. It is a page layout application that helps the user along by allowing you to create layouts from built-in templates. For instance, rather than having to build a newsletter from scratch -- choosing fonts and point sizes, sizing graphics, adding jumps and so on -- Personal Press builds it for you, based on the template of your choice. All you're supposed to do is tell it what text and graphics to use and let Personal Press do all the dirty work. Aldus touts Personal Press as a package to create professional-looking publications quickly and with little expertise -- sort of ''page layout for the rest of us.'' It is not intended to be a high end program, or to compete with of Pagemaker. PP includes templates (used via a function called AutoCreate) to create newsletters, brochures, letterheads, business cards, flyers, greeting cards, facsimile forms, invoices, calendars, labels and certificates. If you want to create another type of document -- or you wish to depart from the constraints of a template -- you can build your document from scratch. For each type of document, there are multiple templates to suit your style -- including ''traditional'' (uncomplicated, formal documents,) ''contemporary'' (more modern than the traditional style, but still formal,) and ''new wave'' (for bold documents, with modern styling and large. graphics.) Some type of documents include modern, elegant, fun, or personal templates as well. With all the types of templates, and erratic naming of the styles (I still don't know the difference between ''contemporary,'' and ''traditonal'' without checking the manual) choosing the right template can be confusing. Personal Press tries to do too many things, and in doing so it doesn't do everything very well. Even though the idea of creating layouts from templates is exciting, Personal Press spreads itself too thin and doesn't deliver. Although it can produce calendars, greetings cards and certificates, for instance, other software exists specifically for doing each of these things -- and those packages can offer more functionality. While it seems like a good idea to have one application for all these things -- as Personal Press tries to do -- in the end, the ''core'' of each feature is there without any of the nicities you might expect.
Case in point: if you want to print a year's worth of calendars, you must AutoCreate each month's calendar individually. It's impossible to automatically create calendars for a range of months. If daily, weekly, or even annual calendars are your thing, you're out of luck because PP's templates only do monthly calendars. If you want graphics in any of your documents, you had better bring your own clip art. Personal Press doesn't claim to be a clip art repository. But if you want to make artful flyers, greeting cards and certificates, you will need to have your own art on hand. There are about 25 samples of clip art in various formats the PP package. Personal Press may be perfect for a user with the occasional need to layout a page, but it lacks the versatility needed for more complex applications. For example, AutoCreate can't help you create a four-column newsletter, although it will produce two- and three-column ones.
Especially annoying problems: 5 megabytes isn't enough memory to print a moderately complex page under system 7. (I needed to enable background printing, select ''print,'' then quickly quit Personal Press to free up enough memory.) Personal Press can be very slow, especially when it is AutoCreating a document. Some bugs are unforgivable -- when I printed the contemporary and new wave greeting cards on my DeskWriter 550C, what should have been snazzy grayscale graphics backgrounds (built into PP's templates) came out as nothing more than solid gray blotches that completely obscured the text behind it. (Perhaps I should feel lucky, because the same cards wouldn't even print on a friend's StyleWriter.) Another bug was revealed when I tried to AutoCreate one style of business card -- Personal Press told me ''that function could not be completed due to an error.'' Other business card templates worked properly, however. Personal Press' product manager couldn't explain my problems with the business cards, but said that the Stylewriter printing problem is a known bug. She said that version 2.0.1 of Personal Press will be shipping shortly to registered users. Personal Press does offer some interesting features -- an automatic timed save reminder (which you can turn off,) thumbnail previews of how your document will look and AutoCreate's ''headline scan'' which tries to pick a newsletter's headline from the beginning of the document. PP also performs copyfitting, adjusting the font size and spacing of your article text to best fill its space. If your article is reasonably within the size of the space for it, copyfitting saves page layout time. PP also includes a built-in word processor with a 100,000-word spelling checker and a thesaurus. If you prefer to work in another word processor, it will import the file. The cost of Personal Press is one of its redeeming values. PP costs as little as $98 via mail-order, compared to PageMaker's $494 for version 4.2. The documentation is very good. The user manual clearly explains the program's functions so even layout novices will understand. A thinner book, the AutoCreate guide, shows examples of layouts using PP's template files. Aldus offers free technical support by telephone (long distance to San Diego,) fax, e-mail and U.S. mail. Personal Press version 2.0 comes on four double-density disks. It will run on any Mac since the Mac Plus running system 6.0.3 or later. (System 6.0.5 or newer is recommended.) It requires 2MB of RAM and a whopping 4.8 megabytes of hard disk space. PP is System 7 savvy, including subscribe (but not publish,) 32-bit addressing, TrueType compatibility, and virtual memory support. PP also offers balloon help, but some functions in the AutoCreate menus lack balloons. Aldus is known for offering high quality software. Given their track record, Personal Press is surprisingly disappointing. Better luck next version. Available from Aldus Corp., 5120 Shoreham Place, San Diego CA 92122 619-558-6000
Copyright © august, 1993 by Kevin Savetz