...is not that impressive. As some of you know, my wife runs her own business designing and selling cute knitted critters. Most of the revenue, however, comes from the sale of patterns, and not the actual toys, because the amount of time spent on knitting a toy pretty much offsets the price at which people are likely to buy it. Since I'm somewhat familiar with desktop publishing, I help her out with the layout of the patterns, and with the layout and design of the book.
In the world of free software, there's pretty much only two choices for doing desktop publishing -- either OpenOffice.org Writer, or Scribus. We started with OpenOffice, but while it's great at doing simple documents, introducing more complex layouts quickly brings it to its knees. Our book is only 40 pages of 2-column text with full-page graphics here and there, plus a sprinkling of floating frames. I dread reformatting it, as that inevitably causes Writer to go into fits. Sometimes just adding a paragraph causes it to insert dozens of blank pages somewhere in the middle of the document. My editing sessions almost always result in wailings and the grinding of teeth. Nothing more frustrating than saving a document only to find that it renders differently upon re-opening.
I tried Scribus when we first ran into some trouble with Writer, around November of last year. I wasn't impressed -- it was crash central, and I couldn't get even the simplest text frames to work correctly. Perhaps it was a bad build, or just a bad version release -- not sure -- but we decided to stick with OOo with all its failings. Recently, we started talking about releasing another holiday-themed pattern book, this time perhaps with an actual ISBN, which lets us hook into Amazon and B&N digital distribution system. Since Lulu's PDF file requirements for ISBN projects are a lot more strict, I decided to revisit Scribus again -- to see if things are any different six months later.
They are, but still not without drawbacks. Current version of Scribus in F8 and F9 is 1.3.4, which still crashes every now and again, though not nearly as often as before. The interface is not that confusing, and seems to render the content correctly -- at least when it's a few pages long, as I haven't yet had a chance to create a longer document. The main drawbacks with this version -- the rendering (and thus scrolling) is very slow, the undo is very weak, and it still links against qt3, meaning that if you don't have KDE3 installed on your machine, the interface will render in all its eye-stabbing Motif-y goodness.
Of all three, the incomplete undo is the most jarring. You can undo most operations on the objects, such as moving or resizing a frame, for example, but you can't undo any changes you made to the actual text. The argument from the Scribus development team is that you should currently use an external text editor until you're ready to import the finished text into the project. However, that doesn't help when I want to undo a style change, or restore something that got deleted due to my fat fingers.
Of the three main problems I have with it, only one is getting addressed -- the upcoming release of Scribus-1.3.5 uses qt4 to render the interface, and thus looks a lot less ugly. However, the lack of text undo and the slowness are still there, and I don't think they will get fixed unless Scribus gets an influx of developers (sadly, can't help them myself -- c++ and qt3 is not my idea of fun. ;)). Nonetheless, I think I'll stick to Scribus for my future work, and only use OOo for writing documents with simple layouts.
Using either of them is painful, but at least thus far I know that Scribus is not likely to subtly reformat my document if I save and re-open it later. I guess if I don't find a way to make Scribus do what we need, I'll have to bite my lip and get us a copy InDesign, though the price tag of $600 is currently way more than we can afford, not to mention that I'd have to boot into OS X just to use it.