Saturday, August 22, 2009

Damnable publishing

Philip reminded me Thursday that we are down to the last five dozen copies of the illustrated church guide book, when he asked if there had been any progress made in commissioning a new edition. Ten thousand guide books were printed in the early nineties. The speed at which the stock has dwindled is proportionate to the rise in visitors. This has been considerable over the past year, despite the recession. I have had to double the number of information leaflets in seven languages, plus faith enquiry leaflets this year compared to last, due to the rate at which they have gone. Sixty may only last us a couple of weeks, so no time to waste.

Apart from going to church for the Eucharist, I spent most of the day working first a scanning in the text from the old guide book, for editing and updating, and then setting up MS Publisher to do layout with text, and my own church photographs. By midnight, I had a full working draft ready and went to sleep, satisfied that I'd broken the back of the looming problem, and that a few extra photos and some further size reduction, text amendments and error checking would enable progress to follow quickly. I was horrified this morning to discover that Publisher would not re-load my file for editing. I had my imperfect print ready first draft, but that was all.

I'd had the same problem with the painting exhibition invitation, and thought that was an accident, as it had never happened to me before. Now I realised I had a problem, a big problem. Publisher 2000 worked perfectly under Windows XP on my older slower computer, but on my brand new much faster Windows Vista driven machine, it may work faster, benefit from extra memory to handle files, produce the necesssary print ready output, but also produced an unreadable Publisher file needed for re-editing.

The only remedy was to rebuild the file from the components I'd prepared on my old machine, now being used at home by my son, a job which had to wait until after work on Friday evening, and took four hours. Fortunately, I was able to complete the task without difficulty. Now I will have to wait until my next visit to check if the new file will still load and be editable as it should be. Publisher is notorious for file incompatibility between its different versions, but I was quite unprepared for this hidden problem due to the quirks of running older programs on Windows Vista. No wonder this operating system is so widely hated, despite looking pretty and doing a few nice turns.

There are huge productivity advantages in using programs you're used to operating, and never need to consult the manual. Learning or being trained to use new improved versions takes time, and often it's not worth the effort for the limited use you make of available features anyway. The
next time I have time to spare, I shall train myself to use the Open Source desktop publishing program Scribus. Apart from being free to users, there's a support community on-line with troubleshooting advice available, and the program itself undergoes incremental upgrades. If anything gets broken in the process of improvement, users flag it up and modifications get made quicker than happens if a Microsoft product upgrade goes wonky - the difference between dealing with a voluntary community of practitioners who feel they have a stake in making an excellent useable product and a large business organisation in which communication takes time and issues of budget loom large.

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