Gary Levy is Editor of the Canadian
The essence of desktop publishing
is the merger of form and content -- giving the persons responsible for
producing the material complete control over what is said, how it looks and
when it will be produced. To some extent it would be much better if the term
"desktop publishing" did not exist. People unfamiliar with technology
assume it must cost a fortune or involve expensive operating costs. Others
conclude it just means giving their material to a desktop publishing company
instead of a traditional typesetter. A few simply buy a laser printer to go
along with their word processor and proclaim themselves on the desktop
publishing bandwagon. Newspapers, corporations and large magazines have used
computers, laser printers and page-makeup software for years but until recently
the price of such equipment was beyond the reach of little publications or
Private Members of Parliament are
sometimes compared to managers of small businesses. They have an office budget,
three or more staff and produce a great deal of information including four
householders every year. They require a maximum degree of freedom and
flexibility to run their own parliamentary lives. For this reason the
transformation of the Review into a desktop operation may be of interest to
individual members of legislative assemblies in Canada.
Control, Quality, Cost
The major considerations for anyone
thinking about desktop publishing are control, quality and cost. The relative
importance given to each will determine the kind of desktop solution. For those
already using typesetting, cost is the least important factor. Whatever desktop
approach is used the savings will be considerable. In most cases the cost of
equipment will be fully paid for in approximately one year by savings from the
typesetting budget. For persons moving up from a typewriter or word processor
cost will be a more important factor.
The question of quality is critical
for persons already using typesetting. The same material published in a
significantly less attractive format by desktop means is not likely to be of
much interest no matter how great the savings. This is not a concern to
individuals moving up since anything they produce is going to be significantly
For those whose lives are built
around deadlines, including parliamentarians, the real advantage of desktop
publishing is neither quality nor cost but in the increased control it offers.
No longer must text be sent to some remote location for typesetting. No more
sitting around waiting for it to come back. No more frantic last minute phone
calls caused by proofs delayed or lost somewhere.
A Few Technical Points
This article can hardly cover all
the technical aspects of desktop publishing but a few general principles are
important. First one has to decide to go with Mackintosh equipment by Apple or
IBM-compatible hardware. Two or three years ago no page layout programs existed
for the IBM-compatible world. A breakthrough occurred about a year ago and the
market is now full of desktop packages for the IBM. This has spawned great
debates between supporters of IBM and those who love their Macs. In the final
analysis, however, this is a bit like a backyard argument between neighbours.
One always buys General Motors and the other swears by Ford products. Nothing
is likely to change the other person's mind. In any event the two systems are
coming closer and closer together.
The choice of laser printers is
much more complicated but essentially it comes down to a choice between those
which use postscript language (and are more expensive) and others. Postscript
printers support more typesizes and produce better quality typefaces. The
characters printed by both postscript and non postscript printers are only
about 300 dots per inch compared to 1200 dots per inch for typesetting. The
average reader cannot tell the difference, at least for ordinary text, but for headlines
the difference can be noticeable. There are several ways to bypass this problem
and obtain 1200 dots per inch for a surprisingly low price.
The Human Factor
Adoption of any new technology can alter
traditional working patterns and relationships. This aspect deserves as much or
more thought as any of the above-mentioned technical considerations. Innovation
must also be defended against those who trot out old arguments about the
dehumanising or alienating effects of technology. Ironically the self
sufficiency which is at the core of true desktop publishing may actually
rekindle interest in some traditional skills and attitudes such as pride in
workmanship and individual responsibilities - qualities often mourned as
victims of the modern age.
Similarly desktop publishing may
well force a rethinking of the way large enterprises, including legislatures,
organise their human resources. One option has always been centralised control
over technology offering the same services to every member of the organisation.
This has advantages from the management point of view. But for the users
overcentralization encourages uniformity which taken to the extreme can lead to
a situation where users are forced to adapt their needs to meet the technology
rather than vice versa.
No one embarks upon a new
technology without a nagging fear that once the equipment is purchased some new
model will come out rendering the old one obsolete. There is no escape from
this problem. The same situation will exist in five or ten years but the risk
of obsolescence can be reduced by refusing to become tied to a single supplier
and by using off-the-shelf hardware and software as much as possible.
Any savings in time and money
gained by waiting for more sophisticated or cheaper equipment must be offset by
the longer time it will take to learn that equipment compared to starting
immediately with existing technology and upgrading every few years.