- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I'm a publisher. As well as being a graphic artist and typographer, not to mention designer and print specialist.
OK that's rather grandiose, and the real publishers, graphic artists, typographers and designers among us may be grinding their molars right about now. But the fact remains that, as a solo entrepreneur, I often have to try to fill those roles, principally because I lack either the time or money to have someone else do it for me.
Towards that end, I've worked with two programs lately, and had some interesting results.
Making music with RagTime: From Germany comes RagTime, a rather powerful desktop publishing program that also works well with spreadsheets and databases. It's on a par, in many respects, with Adobe's PageMaker, but there's a crucial difference that might perhaps appeal to those who want a high-quality program but are on a limited budget because they are a nonprofit group or hobbyist: the software is free for such purposes. Details can be found at www.besoftware.com, the Web site of the program's creators. It's free for individual, not-for-profit use; if you want to use it in business, copies sell for $500 from www.comgrafix.com, Web site of the program's U.S. distributor.
RagTIme offers the professional look and feel of other desktop publishing programs, and is fairly easy to learn. In fact, a tutorial is included with the program and it launches each time the software starts, although you can learn to turn it off if desired.
I thought I'd try to take an unpublished article of mine and create a magazine-style layout. This I could do, and more easily than I did with Microsoft Publisher, for some odd reason. The finished RagTime document could be exported from the program into several formats, including Adobe Acrobat PDF and an HTML file (for use on the Web) with navigational buttons, because the layout spanned several pages.
While RagTime is easy to learn, make no mistake: there is a learning curve, and you will want to spend a fair amount of time with the software before attempting things that will go out to the world at large. But if you are on a limited budget, or if you're planning publications with a number of tables and other features, RagTime may be right for you.
PageMaker a better bet overall: The retail price of the latest version of PageMaker 7.0, the latest version of the Adobe product, is $519, if you shop at amazon.com. Yet, despite the fact that it is a bit more expensive than the full RagTime product, I'd have to say it represents a great value overall.
There are two reasons for my assessment. One is that PageMaker is one of two de facto standards in desktop publishing, the other being QuarkXPress, a program whose cost is about 50 percent higher than PageMaker and which is truly geared for die-hard publishing professionals. Yet PageMaker could be used to put out a newsletter, or even a magazine, without too much hassle.
My test document, that unpublished article, flowed into PageMaker quite nicely and I was able to touch it up and adjust the layout very well, including the use of some tools from PageMaker that made formatting easier.
PageMaker is also quite useful for a range of other business printing needs, and the files can be sent digitally to a printer for output easily. And as far as creating Acrobat files is concerned, this, too, is something PageMaker handles quite well, which should be no surprise given its provenance.
Perhaps the greatest argument in favor of PageMaker over RagTime is that the former is so widely used that there are dozens of books and heaven only knows how many templates, layouts and add-ins available that can be used to augment the basic package. Comparing the two, I find that while RagTime is worthy of some consideration, PageMaker remains at the top of the heap.
Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com.
Talk back live to Mark on www.adrenalineradio.com every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m. EST.

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