Can RISC OS still hold its ground for professional publishing?
David Bradforth posed this question on the comp.sys.acorn.apps group as a way of finding out what people produce with their machine.
The idea proposed for this article was simple. Let's find out how many people make use of their RISC OS computer in a professional publishing field; and secondly how many of them read either this magazine or the comp.sys.acorn newsgroups.
It was with this in mind that, on Wednesday 13th October, I sent a posting headed Help needed with an article for RISCWorld to the comp.sys.acorn.apps group, little expecting the reply that followed.
The reply proved so strong that we've decided to start a new series of case studies on the professional publishing projects people use RISC OS computers for; and businesses that make use of RISC OS; but to start off with we've got three DTP focused articles in this issue.
The first is this, giving the replies provided by contributors to comp.sys.acorn.apps along with our own comments and observations along the way. The aim of this article is simply to show what other people are using their RISC OS computers for.
Secondly, we've got a case study on the Rural Life Centre and how Chris Shepheard makes use of RISC OS to produce a newsletter plus various aspects of museum literature.
Our final DTP article for this issue focuses on the software available for design on a RISC OS system. This article aims purely to identify what's available at the time of writing, and if anything should change in future months we'll certainly update the article and include it in later issues.
So what do people use RISC OS for?
To start the ball rolling, let's include the posting I made to the comp.sys.acorn.apps newsgroup. It went as follows:
Subject: Help needed with an article for RISC World...
From:firstname.lastname@example.org (David Bradforth)
Date: Wed, Oct 13, 2004 1:15 pm
The title -
"Can RISC OS still stand its ground for professional publishing?"
It's an investigative article, looking to bring together views from printers; experiences, tips and techniques as well as examples of what people have produced using RISC OS in a professional sense.
- used RISC OS for producing any professional publication (leaflets, brochures, magazines, etc)
- passed RISC OS-originated files to a non-RISC OS printer
- got a favourite DTP application
Let me know! I've got a little time, but would like to get the article put together!
If the truth be told, I had no idea what the response would be. When we've previously tried to get RISC OS users involved with the magazine on a specific subject, it's been a case of praying very hard to get any response; often because the subject in hand isn't necessarily that of interest to many.
The first response came from Charles Hope, and goes as follows:
For three years, I produced a quarterly magazine "Camelids Chronicle". It ended up with a fair bit of colour content.
I used Ovation Pro, and I got a write up in Acorn Publisher. I still have record copies as well as the computer files.
Were it not for the fact I can't find my magazines at the moment, I'd hunt down and scan the article from Acorn Publisher; but if Charles can provide us with the necessary files we'll do a profile of the Camelids Chronicle in the next issue as an example of a good project using both colour and mono work from RISC OS.
Simon Smith replied next, talking of notation work:
I work for one of the biggest music publishers (Boosey and Hawkes), did my first project for them using Sibelius on RISC OS, but now use SCORE (which frankly is miles superior and which they prefer anyway - being a DOS program, I can run it on the PC card without even having to use Windows), which generates EPS files. I then put it together using Ovation Pro, using RiScript to read the EPS files and to generate the final PDFs.
From their side of things, naturally enough, it's all Windows. If that's of any interest.
Indeed it is Simon; and it illustrates a very good point about RISC OS software. Where we do have access to foreign file formats, it's very easy to make use of them in virtually any desktop program. Ovation Pro was designed for just such purposes, and when used in conjunction with RiScript, ArtWorks, ImageFS 2 and other similar applications it immediately matches the import capability of some of the more mainstream PC and Macintosh applications.
The newsgroup discussion then wandered off to a discussion of appropriate web page designs, but by then a number of emails had started arriving.
Email brings more specific examples
John Ward emailed, with some helpful advice on producing advertisements for use in a Macintosh-produced magazine or via a printshop. The email begins:
My method of overcoming stipulations imposed by print shops (e.g. "must be Apple Mac fonts") is to produce a 95% quality JPEG at a high enough resolution to map one pixel to each printed dot at the publisher's stated resolution, so yes we can compete in this market!
I have attached a much scaled-down version of an advert I produced earlier this year, and it was easily the highest-quality and most striking advert in the (admittedly rather specialist) magazines in which it - and other related adverts - appeared.
I downloaded the email attachment, and would have to say I was impressed.
Within its target audience, this advertisement makes good use of colour and contrast to highlight the importance of the brand and link this to the colouring of the object itself within a photograph. While we would question the use of green text on a blue background; the advertisement certainly sticks out - and in a market where you may have competition that's always important.
Keith from the City Desk at Waikato University, New Zealand, emailed next:
I used to edit/produce a 32-page monthly using Ovation Pro for a local CD retailer and produced separations as postscript which were turned into film by a local pre-press shop, and printed in glorious duo-tone (my CD shop couldn't afford full colour so we used Pantone Red and Black!).
Images were scanned using DpingScan (or ImageMaster as it was then), and processed in Photodesk; logos/borders, etc were produced using Vector.
The only problems I ran into where when I had to remember not to knockout for black text over the red/pink, otherwise just take a portable SCSI drive with up to 100Mbytes of data on it every month. Everything went swimmingly.
While the PostScript generated by Ovation Pro in conjunction with the RISC OS printer drivers has improved, it used to be much of a different story. If you produced a professional separation from RISC OS computers running Impression 2, you'd occasionally find banding across any images in the printed files; and if you're a professional publisher that would cost you money to replace.
It's pleasing to know the situation has changed so drastically - my own DTP Principles guide (well I say my own; I was the publisher - not the author/designer) was produced using Ovation Pro and the only time a Mac came in to help was to produce the PDF files required by the printer.
Chris Shepheard, from the Rural Life Centre, emailed next. He wrote:
We publish a thrice-yearly (every four-months) newsletter, called Rustic. This is originated in Impression Publisher and sent to a non-RISC OS aware printer as PDFs. Over about 20 issues we have only had one problem where ligatures were followed by a space (fortunately this was spotted before the plate stage).
All of our monochrome leaflets are printed via the same route, though many are originated in EasiWriter.
The email ended with an invitation for more information, which we took - hence the case study elsewhere in this issue. Hopefully some sample files will be featured on the RISCWorld CD to play with (Indeed - ED), together with the appropriate trial versions of Ovation Pro particularly as this will open both Ovation Pro and Impression Publisher files.
With professional printing forming part of my question, it was pleasing to get responses from two professional printers recounting their stories. The first, from Jeremy Roberts of PressXPress in Braintree, makes a number of interesting points.
I've been a self-employed printer for the past 11 years. I've never used PCs for any of the work until very recently, and only then for customers who insist on giving me artwork in PC format.
Unfortunately, that's a necessity of business. As Jeremy is in the printing trade, there are a lot of people fussy with how their files are produced, and if you can't read the original file to produce it exactly how they request you may not get the job.
My RiscPC, which is about 12 years old now, has been the workhorse for all this time - and continues to be so, although I'm slowly going over to my Iyonix.
Despite its age, the Risc PC is still ideal for many things, and with the updated version of Impression X still unavailable to members of the public your only way to run classic applications is through Aemulor, which isn't an ideal solution in itself.
I normally produce film myself, using an HP2100 laser printer, and producing 'laser film'. This is perfect, and cheap, for mono and spot colour work, and I produce metal printing plates here from these films, for use on my small offset press. I have had some problems in sending files to the HP2100 printer - particularly if they involve pages printed sideways (for example, two-up A5's on an A4 sheet). I am now sure this is because of the poor implementation of PostScript on the HP2100, as my colour HP2500L can accept exactly the same files without problem, so replacing my HP2100 with a newer HP mono laser might be the answer.
For full colour work, where the registration is much more critical, I produce PostScript output from RISCOS to file, and send that to my imagesetting bureau, who produce films without any problem whatsoever. There's been a lot of talk about colour interpretation problems when producing CMYK separations from what is, inherently, a RGB computer, but in all the years I've been producing colour work, there's never been any job that's not been easily corrected on the press.
The production of film has always been possible on a RISC OS computer - Calligraph used to produce direct-drive laser printers, one of which was capable of producing paper plates for print production. You still can produce film through RISC OS, but with many printers moving across to electronic publishing instead of film-based you'll find it increasingly difficult to get film-based jobs printed.
I use Ovation Pro for the majority of the work, with drawings etc. generated in Artworks. Photos are fine left in their native JPEG format, although often need some manipulation to get the contrast and brightness looking good. I've traditionally used Ovation Pro's picture editing procedures for this, but that has the disadvantage of turning the images into sprites, which then take up considerably more memory (often too much for the HP2100), so I now use 'Variations' to change the contrast/brightness of JPEG pictures where I can, as this keeps them as JPEGs.
The nicer side of RISC OS lies in the availability of free software to meet a purpose. As far as we know there is no free desktop publishing package (errr. Impression Junior - ED), but there are a lot of fonts (fonts.iconbar.com being one source), clipart (simply search for WMF or EPS images on the web) and other utilities designed to help you get more from the desktop.
The only problems that occasionally arise are when customers send me artwork in proprietary PC software formats - the worst offender being 'Word'. My fellow printers, who are PC-based, in the town actually refuse to accept jobs that have been originated in Word, as the typesetter's version of Word often changes the customer's original!
Word is also absolutely inappropriate for pre-print design, as it doesn't allow any of the functions vital for printers - you can't print out in a 'pamphlet' format and you can't reflect the output. Where customers insist on writing their work in Word, I always ensure they allow me to re-format it in Ovation - firstly to ensure I can manipulate the work as I need, and secondly to get rid of that obvious 'PC-oriented' tell-tale style that Word always seems to give - you can tell a Word document from 100 paces!
We agree entirely. As the editor of MovieDomain and Movie Insider magazines, I have to edit copy produced by a variety of writers. While the copy is normally of a very high standard, some of them provide suggested layouts which are nice enough but not easily prepared for pre-press printing. The solution lies in PDF format, or reproducing the article in an in-house template (production of both these titles being on an Apple Macintosh).
PDFs are another source of problems. The two readers available for RISCOS are of little use for the professional - one (!RiScript) is useless because of it's inability to cope with clipped images, and !PDF is no good as it changes the fonts to RISCOS ones, rather than using the fonts embedded in the file. I've only tried to use GhostScript once, but couldn't really get to grips with it, and it only produced a bit-image of the page, which was of such poor quality as to be unuseable. Maybe I've got some settings wrong somewhere.
I have one customer who always sends me their artwork in PDF format. It's a real handicap not having good PDF software on RISCOS, as more and more customers can produce work in this format. It's the single most important piece of software for printers using RISCOS. The only way I can get round the problem is to use a PC to print the files, but even then the file cannot be 'reflected' - which it must be for films to be produced. The imagesetting bureau can reflect it, but my PC can't!
RiScript is being updated by its authors for relaunch via XAT (the guys who will soon be releasing Impression-X). It is hoped that this will address a number of issues such as the lack of ability to use clipped images and will generally add further features of Acrobat to RiScript. This may make it an increasingly useful application to have, and it should get somewhat cheaper as well.
In summary, then, I would say RISCOS is a perfect OS for printers to use, provided they originate their own artwork from customers' instructions. It's so much faster, and better quality, than a PC. In fact, I am asked by several other local printers to produce artwork for them!
It is interesting to note, however, that most of the printers I know are actually changing from the traditional printer's computers - i.e. the Mac - to PCs. Seems like yet another missed opportunity for RISCOS.
The last point is certainly interesting. If things were somewhat different, and RISC OS had a larger market share, we'd be in a position to compete with the likes of QuarkXPress. Quark are increasingly aiming their key design package at PC users, particularly with the increasing market share of InDesign in the Mac marketplace.
With recent developments such as SIMON (the means of speeding up the loading of draw files) and the introduction of twin-card Iyonix systems perhaps RISC OS is starting to gain more ground as a general design workstation. Such upgrades are likely to cost a fair bit of money, but for professional design this may not be an issue.
Our final reply for the moment comes from Gavin Crawford, of Crawford Printers. Responsible for producing the Wakefield Show guide, Crawford use RISC OS computers daily for the production and management of customers work. Gavin writes:
We are printing firm, and we use RISC OS for almost all of our artwork and origination. We also have Mac and PC based systems, but we hardly ever use them - only for dealing with files sent to us by customers. For me, RISC OS is so much more productive than other systems, and that is why I use it.
So I would say Yes, RISC OS can still stand its ground for professional publishing, and it does, daily.
With that, who are we to argue with a professional printer? RISC OS does currently have enough on offer to compete in the world of professional publishing, and there are many users out there doing just that. If you have any comments to add, please do so - email@example.com - and we'll add them to future articles such as this.