Desktop Publishing – open source Scribus and The PDF Chef

Scribus– open sourced desktop publishing

Adobe InDesign upgrade from PageMaker
Adobe InDesign upgrade from PageMaker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first thing you might ask is “what is Scribus”? Wiki defines it at Wiki on Scribus as, “a desktop publishing (DTP) application, released under the GNU General Public License as free software.”  So why would you consider using Scribus over Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Publisher?

Before we answer this question, let me share why I even thought about Scribus.  A former Motorola coworker developed a testing approach for smartphone testing.  I had the good fortune to work with him on a Motorola Mobility project or two.  We have been brainstorming on other technology endeavors since leaving Motorola Mobility. Now the idea of a white paper occurred to me.  I suggested we create one for his testing method.  This would give us opportunity to share it with a larger audience.

Creating the copy deck is relatively straightforward.    But doing the page and overall design, look and feel is something entirely different.

Prices of Abode In-design and Microsoft Publisher

You need desktop publishing software.  Now the problem is price.  If you go to Amazon, here are the current prices:

Adobe InDesign CS6 at InDesign on Amazon – $659
Microsoft Publisher 2010 at Microsoft Publisher on Amazon – $107.66

I know what you are probably thinking.  The Microsoft Publisher is a better bargain price wise.  I couldn’t agree with you more.

Comparison of desktop publishing software
Comparison of desktop publishing software (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An article at Choosing Design Software entitled Choosing Design Software compares Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Publisher.  It’s also interesting they compare Adobe Photoshop with the Gimp and Microsoft Word with Google Docs.  I’m surprised they didn’t include Open Office and Libre Office in the mix.

Another article at InDesign vs Microsoft Publisher is entitled Why Adobe InDesign is better than Microsoft Publisher.  It’s written by a PR firm.  While they do prefer the Adobe product, they say this: “At the end of the day both programs do more or less the same thing. But the journey certainly is nicer with InDesign.”

Sure, I might add.  But if I divide the price of InDesign over Microsoft Publisher, I get a price that’s a little over a sixfold price increase.

Back to free Scribus

So being a big fan of free and open source, Scribus was a good way to go.   The key to deciding on Scribus is when was it started.  According to the Wiki article, it has been around since its first release on  26 June 2003.  It puts it in the group of deciding to use the Apache web server, MySQL database, or the scripting languages PERL or PHP.

Comparison of desktop publishing software
Comparison of desktop publishing software (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other selling point was an online community.  This was something I used a bit, as I struggled with the Scribus learning curb.  Luckily, since I used to work in software support and development, I’m able to get details where I’m stuck.  Stuff like uploading my Scribus template, sharing what version I’m using (i.e. the latest production version), etc.

White paper completed with Scribus

We did get the white paper completed.  It’s called Simplify Mobile Phone Testing and you can find it at White paper on Scribd.  A Squidoo lens on the topic is found at White paper on Squidoo.  Not bad for my first usage of desktop publishing software.  Perhaps Scribus can’t do everything the commercial tools can.  I did find some limitation in their current table implementation.  But forum respondents did assure me it would be addressed in near future production releases.  Scribus is based upon the scripting language Python. Active State has a good rendition of Python and Perl, but I think the language is embedded in Scribus.  You do need to install Ghostscript in order to create PDF documents.

PDF Chef – new kid on the block

Microsoft TechFest
Microsoft TechFest (Photo credit: bre pettis)

On Friday, October 26, 2012, I got a new Twitter follower called the PDF Chef (The PDF Chief).  They gave me a promo code good for 3 months.  Personally, I feel I can probably easily master tools like Scribus, PDF Chef and Microsoft Publisher.  And I can swing back and forth between these tools, for a fraction of the Adobe in-design tool.

Here’s what I can do.  Microsoft Publisher 2010 gets four out of five starts on Amazon at Microsoft Publisher at Amazon.  I can look at Microsoft Publisher sometime in the future.  For now, I can attempt to recreate the white paper with PDF chef.    Can I create the same document I did in Scribus, with a similar look and feel? This is definitely a future post!

Word from PDF Chef support staff

I have also asked the support team if they could provide a comparison chart, comparing their product to the other ones this post mentioned.  Here’s part of a recent email I received from their support staff:

  1. “To use the promo code take a look at the following document for an explanation – PDF Chef promo code”
  2. “Your account does become payable after 3 months, but if you are happy to give us feedback as an early adopter I can keep the offer open for you but you will need to contact me when you wish to upgrade – which will enable you to output your documents, buy images and use the hi-res options etc.”
  3.  “As a SaaS-only tool we are trying not to position ourselves against the main installed DTP apps as we tend to do things a little differently – having automated a lot of the back end processes for which the desktop applications require manual intervention – such as bleed and color conversion etc. Rather than pre-empt your views, and assuming you are a user of the tools, I would be interested in your comments.”

    Comparison of desktop publishing software
    Comparison of desktop publishing software (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“We have intentionally scaled down our feature set as we wanted to empower business owners to experiment with the message and design of their documentation – normally a cost prohibitive exercise for SMBs etc as I am sure you know. We actually have users who create rough ideas in The PDF Chef and then give the resulting PDFs to their designers – who then import these into their DTP software to use as a foundation.”

“We also wanted to provide a tool set that could make a competent designer out of most people – giving them the opportunity to maybe save costs, produce more collateral, ditch Microsoft Word as their document creation tool and move up a step and so on.”

“As a heads up, we will shortly be announcing the next step of our product path which is The PDF Chef Community. This is a global database of copy writers, journalists, artists, designers, editors and so on that will be wrapped around and integrated into The PDF Chef document design process. This will enable users to advertise and pay for copy and artwork etc to help them complete say, a newsletter. Also community members will be able to offer editorial, users will be able to sell templates and so on. We will also change the user engagement model with the provision of a range of designed documents and templates accessible from the front web site. Obviously, all our templates can be edited and saved.”

My response

The support person does like Scribus.  I have suggested adding a user forum, like you find in the Scribus community.  My philosophy is  to utilize Scribus and the PDF Chef still sounds like a sound supplemental approach.  I’m not really a Microsoft software fan.  I do use their operating system.  Yet I use Open Office, Libre Office  and Google Docs over Microsoft Office.  And I use Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.  And Adobe InDesign?  Too pricey for me!

What about the PDF Chef price?  For one thing, they have a free plan.  But if you follow them on Twitter, they should give you the promo code for 3  months.  They told me if I gave them feedback, it could be renewed for 3 months.  If I continued, it’s around the same price per year  as Microsoft Publisher.  That’s just for being an early adopter and  providing them with feedback – easy for a former software engineer.

Academic and business blog posts

Here are some blog posts I recommend from academic and business acquaintances of mine

  • How to Prepare for International Travel with Kids Blog post
  • 10 Ways to Stop a Child from Cursing Blog post
  • Tips For Teaching Kids About Compassion Blog post
  • How to Decorate a Pumpkin without Carving Blog post
  • 10 iPhone Apps for Preschoolers That Reinforce Letter Recognition Blog post
  • Trick Question: Can you co-sleep with your baby without co-sleeping? Blog post
  • How Parents Can Write an Effective Online Profile Blog post
  • 10 iPhone Apps That Make Organizing Photos Easier Blog post
  • The Things Kids Say About Gifts Blog post
  • How to Tell if a Teenager is Mature Enough to Babysit Blog post
  • 10 Things to Keep in Mind When Teaching Your Kids about Stranger Danger Blog post
  • 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Make Your Nanny Your Personal Confidante Blog post
  • 4 Types of Nannies Revealed and Discussed Blog post
  • The Things Kids Say About Stepparents Blog post
  • Helping Your Child Choose a Musical Instrument Blog post
  • Pop Quiz: How do you get a toddler to have a tantrum free day? Blog post
  • 30 Blogs on Healthy Eating for Moms Blog post
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