Taking the Plunge With InDesign

I’ve been using Adobe PageMaker for creating documents since before the debut of ESC! Magazine in 1992. With this upcoming issue of ESC! Magazine, however, I will dive eyes closed and headfirst into the shallow end of the pool and produce the entire issue of ESC! in Adobe InDesign CS.

A Little History (whether you like it or not)

Hailed as the revolutionary product that brought pro-level publishing abilities to the masses when introduced as Aldus PageMaker in the mid-80’s on the Macintosh platform, PageMaker has endured as the “industry standard” application for professionals for two decades.

Unfortunately for Adobe (who purchased the Aldus line in the 90’s), a newcomer on the scene showed up in their rear view mirror in the guise of Quark desktop publisher. Without getting into Quark’s rapid ascension in the publishing industry due to its advanced typographical and layout features, suffice it to say that Adobe had its work cut out for it to convince its customers from jumping ship to this seemingly more capable and extensible layout application.

A funny thing happened to PageMaker on the way to the ball, however. Upon adding all the new features and capabilities that would make it the reigning champ once again, Adobe figured enough had been changed in the application to rename it and release it as the new “Quark killer.” So what was to become PageMaker version 8, became known as InDesign.

As a user of PageMaker I was quite upset at the notion of being being forced to “crossgrade” to a new product simply because Adobe’s marketing department felt that it would be easier to promote a “totally new” product in lieu of shoring up and promoting a well-known and loved application. To their credit, however, Adobe made it cost effective for its client base to accomplish this — the notion being, of course, that once you’ve tried it, you wouldn’t go back. And to drive the nail into the coffin, Adobe decided to take its former flagship layout proggie and christen it a “business application.” Ouch!

Unfortunately for Adobe and my wallet, I tried InDesign and … didn’t like it.

For one, InDesign insisted on using frames to hold the content I wanted to layout. This is a very Quark-like feature and a feature that caused me to abandon Ventura Publisher many years ago in deference to PageMaker.

Second, while I could see InDesign’s origins in PageMaker, things … just … worked … differently. I can’t explain it other than to say I found it difficult to pick up the program and continue where PageMaker left off. So more often than not my forays into InDesign ended more abruptly than intended with long gaps between my efforts.

This inconsistency to the way I wanted to work (as opposed to the way Adobe wanted me to work) remained … umm … consistent throughout the second revision of InDesign. And so while the software may have been installed, it remained unused in the bit bucket of my hard drive.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one having these difficulties because, no matter what they tried, Adobe was having a difficult time getting its user base to fall in line. I was relieved, then, to see Adobe create a series of plug-ins for its CS version of InDesign named, appropriately, the “PageMaker Plug-in Pack.”

With the release of the Plug-in Pack, Adobe made it easier for us loyal users to transition over to their new program while at the same time getting us introduced to all the “wow” features InDesign had to offer.

So how is it? Well, for the most part I like it quite a lot with these new extensions enabled. Some things I can do without — and those are the same things I could do without in PageMaker such as the Template Browser, but overall it’s a nice addition to InDesign.

What I’d really like to see in Adobe’s InDesign (and I’ve heard agreement from other users) is a PageMaker-like text layout functionality. Sure, frames have their purpose, but those of us raised on the PageMaker method of doing things find it extremely frustrating and time consuming to mess around with frames which fail to work according to our long ingrained ways of doing things.

With the option of using frames, laying text out on a path or using a PageMaker text layout tool, InDesign could truly become the Quark killer Adobe intended it to be from the start.

Here’s hoping for version 4!

Oh, and should my declared march to InDesigndom end in unmitigated disaster, I still have PageMaker to fall back on.

And so the cycle continues….

(Republished from ESC!Webs Blogitorials, February 2005)