Page layout software makes easy the process of taking text and graphics and integrating them in a document for publication, whether the document becomes a brochure, a business card, a newsletter, or some other desktop publishing project.
Generally, the target audience for professional page layout giants Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress is professional designers, but if you have access to either of these programs, you have access to the most high-end program available in desktop publishing.
As I'll address shortly, both programs cost a pretty penny if you had to purchase them outright and would likely bust the software budgets of most SOHO businesses (not to mention the steep learning curve you'll have to overcome to use the programs). But the extensive feature sets and tremendous graphics capabilities of InDesign and QuarkXPress easily trump issues of cost or user friendliness--at least for those certain tasks where these programs really shine. Let's take a brief look at each.
Adobe InDesign CS3 (Price: $699 U.S.)
InDesign (http://www.adobe.com/products/indesign/index.html) is the relative newcomer in the professional page layout software category. It has been working hard ever since to unseat Quark as the premier program and number one choice of designers (just as Quark once unsat the former champ, PageMaker). However, a feature-to-feature comparison of InDesign and Quark would largely end in a toss-up. Both programs offer vast and very cool feature sets, numerous add-ons, and full slates of templates to use. The key to InDesign's continued attraction for designers is its integration with all the other CS (Creative Suite) products. That's a difference QuarkXPress cannot compete with.
QuarkXPress 7 (Price: $799 U.S.)
I used QuarkXPress extensively in my magazine editing days (version 3.2, which dates me and Quark simultaneously) and I can tell you first-hand, if you have a project that requires tight typographical controls, say, for example, in a pamphlet or a multi-page brochure, there's no better program out there. Version 7 (http://www.quark.com/products/xpress/) has been completely retooled and includes new features such as collaboration tools (cleverly called Composition Zones), content management capabilities, transparency effects, and much more. InDesign may be making inroads on Quark's base, but with three-million plus registered users, QuarkXPress 7 still has powerhouse publishing chops.
It could be an understatement to call InDesign and Quark best of breed products. They are both superior page layout programs. But the cost factor may be prohibitive to most small or home-based businesses. If you need a quality page layout program but don't want to break the bank, check out the three best small business programs for page layout covered in Part 1 of this series (http://www.brighthub.com/multimedia/publishing/articles/1880.aspx). Or consider an open source alternative like Scribus (http://www.brighthub.com/multimedia/publishing/articles/1399.aspx). But if you have the money to spend, or better yet, have the access to InDesign or QuarkXPress software, you will be equipped with everything you need to create stylish, designer-level documents.
In part 3 in this series, we'll cover page layout software for home publishing projects.
The previous article, Top Page Layout Software Part 1