RISC World

Budget DTP


1: Introduction

The Acorn Archimedes and A3000 computers are "naturals" for Desk Top Publishing (DTP) as they have the necessary large memories, excellent graphics facilities, high-speed processor and WIMP (Windows/Icons/Menus/Pointer) based operating system.

Suitable DTP packages are now available but none of these packages is cheap. Their prices, all in the £100 to £200 range, are hardly a barrier to the serious business or educational user, but do deter the home user or very small business wishing to experiment.

There is, however, a way to perform DTP-type operations on the Archimedes or A3000 at little or no extra cost and perfectly legally. The "applications suite" which comes with the RISC OS operating system includes !Draw, an object-based drawing package, and !Edit a text editor.

!Draw possesses the graphics and page layout features of DTP, but it has no facilities for text editing. !Edit, in contrast, allows the editing of text files but has very limited provision for formatting them. The two applications can work together, however; !Edit being used to create and edit text and !Draw to lay it out and add graphics. The Archimedes User Guide mentions, almost casually, that !Draw's "text area objects" make possible "simple desktop publishing". Many RISC OS users have enthusiastically tried out this "simple DTP" capability which offers the prospect of producing professional-looking documentation using software which they already own and saving them the need to purchase an expensive "proper" DTP package. Some have succeeded but many have found themselves frustrated.

The frustration arises from a number of causes; the following are typical.

  • The User Manual gives little information and in places is confusing.
  • A whole new "language" of textual commands must be mastered.
  • Editing "text area objects" in !Draw is impossible.
  • The range of fonts provided with RISC OS is very limited.
  • The system persistently gives error messages such as "Bad font number" whose cause can be very difficult to find.
  • When the page is at last composed, the printer produces gobbledygook.
  • Even when the printer reproduces a recognisable page, print quality is poor.

Yes, there are many pitfalls and there is much to learn. When all is said and done, !Draw is not a DTP system. It will never give you the convenience of a "proper" DTP package. If you want that convenience, you must pay the price!

But there are simple "fixes" to all the problems listed above, except the second. If you have patience, !Draw will give remarkable results. In fact any page layout that can be produced using a full DTP package can also be produced in !Draw, although it will probably take longer and some effects may require the use of additional software. And indeed !Draw can do some things that DTP packages cannot do.

I started using !Draw and !Edit to produce user manuals, company newsletters and other publications while waiting for the software industry to introduce a DTP package that would run reliably on my one-megabyte machine. I confess that I came close to throwing the computer system out of the window on several occasions - once I wasted a whole day trying to find the cause of the 'Bad font number* error. In time I have learned the solutions to most of the problems commonly encountered and also many shortcuts. This book draws on my experience.

I am also indebted to many friends and organisations with whom I have swapped notes and shared experiences.