GrassHopper – PageStream V5 review

DTP competitor to Quark Xpress and Adobe InDesign
Photo of GrassHopper – PageStream V5
$99

A long time ago, when Windows were for cleaning not double-clicking, and lasers were something only referred to in episodes of Star Trek or very expensive Apple dealerships, a small American company by the name of Soft Logik launched a desktop publishing program for a low-cost Mac clone called the Atari ST.

Its program, Publishing Partner, did reasonably well, but unfortunately it was competing with a certain Quark Xpress on the Mac. Apple did a better job of promoting its platform than Atari and the rest, as they say, is history. Desktop Publishing took off, as did the Mac. Quark became the de-facto standard in DTP, while Atari, and its budget computing bed-fellow Commodore, never quite made it. And Publishing Partner missed the widespread acclaim it deserved.

Skip forward to the present day, and thanks to the devotion of its creator, Publishing Partner has survived, morphed a few times, changed name – as has the software house – and changed platform. It’s now called PageStream, is available on PC, Mac and Linux and is one of the hidden jewels of the publishing industry.

In its modern incarnation, PageStream is locked in a bitter David and Goliath struggle with the combined might of the industry heavy weights – Quark Xpress and Adobe InDesign. Not an easy fight for a small software company. To compete, GrassHopper LLC – the developer – packs it full of features, many of them highly innovative, and sells it for a fraction of what it would be if it were adorned with a Quark or Adobe logo. The latest version has just been released and continues in this tradition.

We haven’t got space here to cover all its features. Suffice to say that feature-for-feature it compares favourably with Quark and InDesign and contains the majority of core layout and publishing tools needed to produce just about any type of business document; magazine, leaflet, advert, even business cards.

Like its more expensive competitors, it supports master pages, can read a wide variety of text and graphical file formats (although not as many PC formats as might be expected) and then output them to any Windows compatible printer, PostScript file or PDF. It’s adept at colour separation and, as befits a heavyweight DTP package, includes options for registration marks, odd/even printing and definable screen angles.

What makes PageStream stand out, however, are numerous extras the programmers have incorporated to give it an edge. Got an unusual document size or shape to produce? It’ll not only support it but probably has it as a predefined document type: CD layout or C6 envelope anyone?

Want text with a gradient fill colour? Need table of content, indexes and table of figures? Longing for an easy way to create numbered lists, bullet points and drop caps? PageStream features all these and dozens of other small one-off features that people frequently moan about the lack of in Quark Xpress. Got a nice layout you want to mail-merge with a list of names? Three guesses which package will do it. The list goes on.

Unfortunately it’s not all good news. PageStream lacks the finesse of mainstream commercial applications. There are no tool tips to guide you when moving the pointer over many of its floating pallet tool bar icons, the user interface occasionally drops control back to Windows Explorer rather than the PageStream window and the Help function lacks an index.

Perhaps most seriously, when using the program on several PCs, many of its menus simply failed to work. GrassHopper assure us that they haven’t encountered this problem before, and it may well be an issue with the PCs we were using, but it’s still worrying and we’d recommend that you try the program first – using the downloadable demo version – to check that this problem doesn’t manifest itself on your system, prior to ordering.

Company: GrassHopper

Contact: 001 715 627 0789


Verdict
More a rough diamond, replete with unpolished surfaces, than a hidden jewel. At the price, however, it can't be beaten. If you're in the market for a DTP publishing package and can't afford or don't want to pay the price tag of Quark and InDesign, you should definitely take a look at PageStream. But try the demo version first.