July 30, 2003

Scribus excels at DTP

- by Joe Barr -
Scribus, a new desktop publishing and layout program for Linux, is the most impressive new free software application I've ever seen. Period. No contest.

Perfect? Hardly. It still has bugs to be found and fixed, features to
be added, distribution-specific installation and quirks to be resolved,
and documentation to be written. But even with that to-do list, it's starting in much better shape than Seabiscuit did.
Scribus is destined to join the GIMP as one of the crown jewels of the
free software world.

If you are adept at desktop publishing, you'll undoubtedly find it
easier to get familiar with Scribus than I did. My own DTP
experienced is limited to a print version of a newsletter I did a few
years ago. Even then, I wasn't using a real DTP product like Quark or
FrameMaker, but a full-featured OS/2-based word processor called DeScribe.

That, along with a recent start at learning FrameMaker 6.0, is
the sum of my experience with DTP. But in the very short time I've had
Scribus at hand, I've already learned to do more with it than I can do
with FrameMaker, including creating a PDF file to view my work as a
finished product rather than wasting paper and ink to print a copy
simply to see how it looks. Pixels are way cheaper than ink cartridges.

Scribus is licensed under the GPL. It began life in 2001 as a Python
application. Version 0.3 in mid-2001 was a port of the original work in Python to
C++. The first time I noticed Scribus was in link in NewsVac a couple of weeks ago pointing to a story about the release of
1.0
.

Based on what I can glean from its documentation, Scribus is primarily the work
of one man: Franz Schmid. Two others are cited in the docs for their contributions, but whether
the developer base is one or three, it's a very small group.

I began my Scribus exploration by downloading Scribus 1.0 and the English documentation from one of the mirror sites listed at on the download
page
of the Scribus Web site. Before you can install Scribus you need to have QT3 development headers and libraries -- at least version 3.03 but 3.12 is recommended -- as well as Ghostscript and PostScript Type 1 or TrueType fonts. My desktop is based on Red Hat 9 and Ximian, so I just ran up2date qt-devel. Your own mileage will vary depending upon your distribution.

The LittleCMS library is listed
as optional, but if you want to create PDFs it is required. I downloaded the LittleCMS tarball from its Web site, untarred it, and ran make and make install. If you need to toggle
configuration settings in order to get it to make, they are found in the
lcms.h file in the include subdirectory. I didn't need to change a thing.

I recommend installing LittleCMS before Scribus, because the
Scribus configure script looks for it when it runs. If it's not there, Scribus won't include color management in the build, which means you can't create PDF documents. If you
install LittleCMS after Scribus, you have to reinstall Scribus to get
that functionality.

Because I am not running KDE, my QT situation was
muddled at best. I had version 3.1 installed, but the QTDIR
environment variable pointed to an earlier release. The Scribus configure script would not give me a clean bill of health until I found the problem. I edited my .bashrc file
to export QTDIR pointed at the right version to cure the
problem. By the way, KDE users get the benefit of drag-and-drop
functionality in Scribus; others currently do not.

Don't follow my example and blindly stumble back and forth between
trying to use Scribus and searching the docs to learn how to do the next
little thing that is not as obvious as the nose on your face. Read the
docs all the way through first; they are filled with useful tips and
information. Pay particular attention to the program's nice little tutorial,
which has been translated from the original French. The tutorial walks
you through the creation of a document from the front cover
to the back cover and everything in between.

Because I failed to follow my own advice, it took me a little while to understand that I had to create
a text box before I could "Get Text" from a text file I had
created earlier. It took me even longer to learn that I needed to chain
the text box on one page with one on the following page in order to be
able to see all the text in the file I was bringing in. Each of these
actions was simple to do, once I knew enough to do them. For instance, to move a text box, click on the text box tool icon, then click-hold-drag it across the page. Chaining is as easy as selecting text boxes and clicking on the "Chain Text" tool.

I mentioned creating a newsletter with a word processor earlier. Scribus
is definitely not a word processor, but rather DTP through and
through. We're talking about CMYK color, PDF creation and import, four
color separation, EPS support, and more. Scribus is the real deal.

No, I won't be throwing my eMac out anytime soon, but I won't
be upgrading to the latest version of OS X and the latest
Adobe desktop publishing tool, either. And I'm going to continue studying FrameMaker 6.0. It
offers a well-documented path to becoming DTP-literate, and what I learn
with FrameMaker will translate easily to Scribus. But my heart already belongs to Scribus, the first modern free software desktop publishing solution for Linux.

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