Lately I've been thinking about and using desktop publishing (DTP) software more than I have in a quite a while. Many years ago, the wonders of being able to do typesetting without a gigantic expensive machine, x-acto knives, and wax was a big deal. DTP software was a cool thing.
Unfortunately, at some point, desktop publishing became less cool. Maybe that explains why the software has basically gone almost nowhere in the last 10 years or so. I'm using the most recent version of InDesign, which is the latest and greatest DTP product from Adobe. It's okay and it does have a few truly nifty features, especially for high-end design.
The sad thing is that InDesign and Quark still don't do some things that we could do 10 years ago with now long-defunct software. I wrote and teach an online class on Quark XPress, so you could say I'm a power user. The "book" function in Quark and InDesign is no better than it was in PageMaker circa 1995 (i.e. yuck). Quark XPress itself is almost unchanged from version 4.1 and the company seems sort of mystified that no one is upgrading. After 10 years, creating a lowly bullet in Quark is STILL an exercise in frustration. It's stupid.
I may be working on a long document project soon, so once again I'm considering investing in FrameMaker. I've used it in the past, but never had to cough up the big bucks to buy it myself. I finally may have to though. Pretty much everyone knows that you don't even want to try and do 400 pages of graphic-intensive documentation in Word. That's just asking for trouble. FrameMaker offers high-end features like conditional text, powerful indexing, and autonumbering that actually works (unlike Word).
Unfortunately, FrameMaker also seems to have become the ugly stepchild at Adobe. Last year, Adobe discontinued FrameMaker for the Macintosh and given the lack of any decent and recent upgrades for the PC, its future doesn't look too bright.
But if you have to work on a 400-page manual, what do you do? Word is limiting and buggy, but Quark and InDesign are not good choices either, since they are really for creating short, graphic-intensive documents like brochures. I don't want to invest in FrameMaker if it's slated for doom. Here's hoping FrameMaker doesn't die. It may be old and uncool, but it seems to be the last piece of software left that can actually deal with long documents.