A Closer Look at Publisher 2003

By Patricia Fusco | Posted August 28, 2003

Microsoft Publisher is the Rodney Dangerfield of design software — it doesn't get any respect. That's about to change with the release of the 2003 edition of Publisher. Earlier versions of the software more or less focused on home use — designing cards, calendars, invitations and the like. This time around, Publisher 2003 provides just the type of tools small businesses need to produce professional marketing materials — be it e-mail, print or Web publishing.

Microsoft Office Publisher 2003, part of the Small Business Edition, offers an expanded selection of publication designs and publication types to help small businesses create polished, professional-looking publications for print, Web, and e-mail distribution. And it's easier than ever to use — almost Word-like in appearance — but Publisher 2003 is far more powerful than a word processing application.

With the addition of 10 new Master Design Sets, users can select from a total of 45 professionally designed templates when creating print or online publications. Master Design Sets enable users to apply a consistent design theme to a variety of business publications, which has also been expanded beyond greeting cards and invitations, to include labels and inserts for CDs and DVDs, as well as personal stationery sets for address labels, letterhead, envelopes, and business cards.

Online Magic
Publisher 2003 also makes it easier than ever before to create professional looking websites that can be customized so suit specific small business needs. Publisher 2003 provides new and enhanced features for creating, editing, publishing, and updating websites. This is particularly important for those that opt to pick up the Small Business Edition of the Microsoft Office System because FrontPage — Microsoft's other Web publishing tool — is not included in the bundle. Microsoft is marketing FrontPage as an e-commerce Web editor, something that might not appeal to the average small business designing a website for the first time. Of course, if e-business is your bag, FrontPage can be purchased as a stand-alone application.

Because Publisher 2003 is designed specifically for novices it utilizes more wizards than ever before to help users build small websites. New Web Site Wizards include guides for building a 3-page website, a product and sales-oriented website, or a professional service-based site (shown below).

Users can also build a customized site from scratch. The Easy Web Site Builder tool offers a series of goal-based website design options. For example, the user could tell Publisher's Easy Web Site Builder that the goal for the website is to sell products. Publisher 2003 automatically goes about putting together a sales-centric website. The results are quite different if the goal is to display a list of projects or activities.

Publisher 2003 also offers an expanded selection of individual Web page types that users can select from to build a site one page at a time. These topical Web pages include About Us, Calendar, Contact Us, Forms, General Information, Home and Job List, among others. Naturally all of these Web pages need to be organized, too. Publisher 2003 features editable navigational bars that users can add or remove and change links throughout the entire site. It also allows users to add secondary navigation bars to a website to create a navigational structure within portions of a site.

Control Freak
Publisher now provides two distinct environments for creating Web and print publications. When creating or editing Web publications, users work in Web mode. The options available in Web mode are tailored specifically to Web publications and optimized for viewing with a Web browser, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer.

With the upgrade in Web publishing comes new and improved e-mail capabilities. Users can create professional e-mail messages that have the same high quality look and feel as print publications. With Publisher 2003 users can create and send high-impact e-mail messages by choosing among the E-mail Wizard options, such as events, activities, speakers, featured products, general newsletters or product lists.

Publisher 2003 also has enhanced layout and graphics features designed to give users better control over the design of a print publication. Improved control of layout guides means that dialog boxes are easier to manipulate. For example, margin guides — design references on the top, bottom, left, and right sides of a page that are used to define available space — can be manipulated to position graphics or images outside of text margins. Column guides — vertical guides that are used to divide a publication page into two or more columns — and row guides — horizontal guides that are used to divide a page into two or more sections to help structure the layout of the page — have also been fine-tuned to make graphic or image placement more flexible.

New options for paragraph formatting allow users to precisely define the relationship between one paragraph and the paragraphs that precede or follow it. With the new Line and Paragraph Breaks tab, users can keep paragraphs or lines of text together wherever words flows across text boxes in a publication. This eliminates the problem of widowed or orphaned paragraph fragments and creates paragraph breaks that start in the next connected text box. The result it that it's a lot easier to line up text exactly where it should be — finally!

Merging Wizards
Two of the laborsaving new functions built into Publisher 2003 are the catalog and e-mail merge wizards. Publisher's new Merge Wizards allow users to transfer information that is stored in a data source — such as a spreadsheet, table or database — and unite it with a print or Web publication. For example, a spread sheet of titles, item numbers, links and pictures can be merged into an e-mail newsletter, website or print brochure.

Users can merge pictures into publications using either e-mail merge or catalog merge. Mail merge allows users to create individually customized publications, while catalog merge allows users to create illustrated product publications or photo albums.

Publisher 2003 comes with new designs for publications that users can send as e-mail messages. This means small businesses can easily create and send a wide variety of high-impact publications via e-mail. There are six e-mail publication layout options and 45 master design sets in Publisher 2003. New e-mail layout options include newsletters, letters, event notices, and product lists.

Users can send publications as e-mail messages using Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 or Outlook Express. Publisher e-mail publications now have enhanced compatibility, allowing recipients to read them in HTML-enabled mail clients such as Hotmail, AOL and Yahoo.

Users can also preview a publication before it is sent as an e-mail message. The E-Mail Preview function allows users to view the publication through a Web browser. This means there are no surprises — users can see exactly what the e-mail recipient will see.

Printer's Delight
The commercial printing features in Publisher 2003 have been significantly improved to make it easier to produce professional output of print publications. CMYK is the color model for commercial printing that produces a wide range of tones by mixing varying percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks. Publisher 2003 will print composite CMYK PostScript — a page description language used by printers and image setters. This makes it easier for a commercial printer to create and print color separations.

New advanced print settings let users create separations directly from the Print dialog box. Plates can be printed for single process-color or spot-color ink. Additionally, Publisher 2003 allows for custom line screen frequencies and line screen angles. A line screen frequency is the fineness or coarseness of a halftone screen represented by lines per inch (LPI). The higher the LPI, the finer the dots used in a halftone screen. A finer halftone screen shows greater picture detail.

The Bottom Line
The additions of merge-tools, templates and wizards to help walk users through the process of creating professional sales and marketing publications are nice enhancements to Publisher 2003. But the greatest benefit is the measure of control the new and improved design tool provides for small businesses. More than anything else, Publisher 2003 makes it easier for small business to take control of print and Web-based sales and marketing materials — no more outsourcing this business imperative to a third-party service in the hopes that they know your business and your clients as well as you do.

Microsoft Office 2003 Small Business Edition will be available through retail, OEMs and Open Volume License, and it will feature Word 2003, Excel 2003, Outlook 2003, PowerPoint 2003, Publisher 2003, and Business Contact Manager 2003. The Small Business Edition is set to retail for $449, while upgrades from XP or 2000 will run $279. Publisher 2003, the standalone application, is set to retail for $229.

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