From the October 1996 issue of Entrepreneur

At some time or another, almost every small-business owner needs to create printed materials for his or her business. It might be a simple flier announcing a big sale, a postcard telling customers of an address change, or perhaps something more complex, like a monthly newsletter for staying in touch with clients.

Though some of these projects might sound like something your word processing software could handle, you'll get better results from a proper desktop publishing program. Computers have made graphic artists out of almost all of us. That's not to say professional graphic artists are no longer needed; it's just that they're only needed for bigger jobs--like four-color ads in national publications and show-stopping brochures.

In this issue, we examine two Macintosh desktop publishing programs that are touted as easy-to-use and affordable: Adobe Home Publisher and Manhattan Graphics Ready, Set, Go. (Windows users should turn to Microsoft Publisher or CompuWorks Publisher for similar functionality.)

The Basics

Ready, Set, Go has the fewest hardware equipment needs--a minimum installation requires just 2MB RAM and 5MB of hard-drive space. This program runs on virtually any Macintosh system and is native on the PowerMac. The entire program came on three 31|2-inch floppy disks.

Home Publisher, on the other hand, comes on a CD-ROM disk and consumes more than 15MB of hard-drive space. It also needs a full 8MB RAM. Home Publisher is also native on PowerMacs but requires a minimum 68030 processor.

Ready, Set, Go is marketed as a high-end desktop publisher for the home office rather than a beginner's tool. This distinction is worth noting if you're a seasoned desktop publisher with aspirations of designing all the artwork yourself. Ready, Set, Go's robust features include plenty of compatibility with higher-end desktop publishing programs and the ability to import numerous graphics and file formats. It also has a greater ability to manipulate images.

Home Publisher, on the other hand, is limited to PICT, TIFF (grayscale only) and EPS images. This program is truly for the novice publishing market, with the features to match. To add value to this program, Adobe has included more than 2,000 clip-art images on the CD-ROM disk as well as two well-known Adobe products: Adobe Type Manager, which improves on-screen font resolution, and Adobe Acrobat Reader, for viewing and printing files created on one type of computer system on other systems.

Start Your Programs

Although these programs claim to make desktop publishing easy and painless, beginners still need some guidance before they'll be able to create interesting documents.

To meet the novice user's needs, Home Publisher includes a function called AutoCreate. With more than 50 AutoCreate templates, Home Publisher gives users easy-to-follow layouts for creating fliers, brochures, labels, business cards, newsletters and more.

Upon opening Home Publisher, you'll be greeted with a window that asks you to choose whether you want to design your own publication or let the program "AutoCreate" one for you. Choose an AutoCreate template, and Home Publisher will prompt you to select from a number of styles, such as Modern, Traditional and New Wave, all of which appear in a small (though somewhat difficult to view) window.

Home Publisher then asks you to help in the publication's creation by adding text and graphics to the template. If you're designing a newsletter, for instance, you may have already written the copy in your word processor. Home Publisher guides you through the steps of retrieving and inserting the text in your new document and also helps you place graphics, such as logos or photos, that have been scanned into your computer. If you're designing, say, letterhead or business cards, Home Publisher lists elements you may want to include, such as your name, company name, address, phone number and fax. This way, you can input the text in an easy-to-use format before it's laid out on the template.

In contrast, Ready, Set, Go opens to a blank page. You can either start a publication from scratch--not an easy task if you've never done desktop publishing before--or open a template file. This makes Ready, Set, Go somewhat less beginner-friendly. Still, the template folder is full of interesting documents to choose from, including an entire catalog design with 11 different ad layouts and a front and back cover. In fact, the templates tend to include more complex designs than Home Publisher's.

Designing Times

Though templates are important to getting started, the true BODY of an easy-to-use desktop publishing program is whether you can create impressive designs quickly and easily.

Once you've chosen the basic look of your document--whether it's a business card or a newsletter--you'll probably want to add your own touches, such as a fancy font, a splash of color or a unique design element. That means your publishing program must be easy to navigate and have straightforward tools for getting you from point A to point B.

To fully BODY both programs' useability, I created a flier, complete with a color background and coupon, from scratch. Here are the results:

Using Home Publisher, I opened a blank page and laid out a headline, an image and a coupon within 15 minutes without ever consulting a manual or using help files. I easily added color to both the fonts and the background using the Spot Colors tool box. Creating the coupon was a cinch, too. I put an element box where I wanted it and added a colored, broken-line border. I could then easily re-size the coupon by using a dragging tool or going into a menu called Object Info and inputting specific measurements for the box.

My biggest complaint about Home Publisher is its lack of a "magnifying glass" tool on the on-screen toolbar. This is a common feature on most desktop publishing programs' screens that lets users hone in on a specific element. For example, if you were creating a disclaimer on a coupon in small type, you might want to see it up close for better viewing. Home Publisher will let you do this only through a pull-down menu.

Next, I tried creating the same flier with Ready, Set, Go. Unfortunately, the results were drastically different. Fifteen minutes later, I was still struggling to figure out how to view background colors. Although the pull-down menu told me I had added color to various text boxes, it didn't look that way on screen. I had similar problems when creating the coupon line. I selected a broken line from the pull-down menu, but nothing happened. After consulting the manual, I still couldn't figure out how to complete this very basic design step.

Bottom Line

Let's face it, I spent minimal time with both these programs. I didn't try to get to know them inside and out. I just went in, opened them and attempted to complete the project at hand. But what I expected from these programs was what any busy entrepreneur would expect: fast, easy solutions to my desktop publishing needs.

Home Publisher helped me accomplish my goals, while Ready, Set, Go took more time to master. This is not to say that Ready, Set, Go isn't as powerful as Home Publisher. In fact, its list of features is more powerful. But power is in the hands of the user and, unless you need to create very sophisticated four-color documents, I recommend the faster and easier Home Publisher.

Cassandra Cavanah is the executive editor of PC Laptop magazine.

Report Card

4: excellent, 3: good, 2: fair, 1: poor

Ready, Set, Go 7.0--Rating: 3.5

Manhattan Graphics

List Price: $395

Pluses: Very robust desktop publishing program with strong business templates

Minuses: Higher learning curve and price

HomePublisher 2.1--Rating: 3

Adobe Systems

List Price: $49

Pluses: Easy to create documents from scratch

Minuses: Lacks tools found in more powerful programs

Hot Disks

New and notable software

Claris OfficeM@il: Macintosh users might want to check out this e-mail solution. Claris OfficeM@il includes e-mail software for five users, server software, Internet e-mail access via ClarisLink, and personalized e-mail addresses for everyone in the office.

OfficeM@il grows with your company and can support up to 100 users. ClarisLink uses the CompuServe network for Internet access. OfficeM@il requires just one modem, 4MB RAM and a 68020 or higher processor. Call (800) 544-8554, or visit http://www.claris.com

Microsoft FrontPage 1.1: The laBODY Web page design software and management tool to hit the streets, Microsoft FrontPage is billed as the fast, easy way to create and manage professional-quality Web sites. If you're a Microsoft Office user, you'll appreciate FrontPage's integration with Office. The program includes lots of Wizards and templates to make it easy for nonprogrammers to find their way through the maze of Web site design. Visit Microsoft's home page at http://www.microsoft.com for more details.

Contact Sources

Adobe Systems Inc., 1585 Charleston Rd., Mountain View, CA 94043, (800) 833-6687;

Manhattan Graphics, (800) 552-9157, http://www.abbottsys.com

Microsoft Corp., (800) 227-4679.