As a personal aside, as a Linux newbie and nonprogrammer at the time, volunteering to work on the documentation was one of the best experiences I have had in computing. Coming from the Windows/Mac/Novell world, this gave me a more sophisticated understanding of Linux/UNIX methodologies. Many excellent open-source projects and developers almost always can use help with documentation and testing. For nonprogrammers, this is a small repayment for the many programs we enjoy so freely.
The history of DTP on Linux is, well, brief. In 2000, Adobe publicly beta tested a release of Framemaker that runs on some flavors of UNIX. It then disappeared. For a short time, a company called Chilliware offered a DTP application called Ice Sculptor. The company closed shortly after the release. Although DTP is in some respects a niche application, Scribus brings new reach to the Linux desktop.
Q & A with Franz Schmid
Q: Why did you begin Scribus?
A: I needed a program for Linux to make menus and cards for my in-laws' small hotel in Bavaria, but there was nothing for Linux like the DTP programs that ran on my Mac. I originally wrote this only for myself in Python, until a friend suggested I put it on the Web. I was really surprised with the response.
Q: How did you come up with the name Scribus?
A: I was thinking of calling it something like “Open Page”, but it was not unique enough for me. Scribus comes from Latin for the name of official writers in Rome, like we use the word scribes in English. It makes sense in many languages.
Q: Why did you pick Qt?
A: When I decided to switch to C++, Qt was the only C++ kit with full documentation. Scribus was and is my first C++ project. Python is great for proof of concepts, but it was slow in some functions.
Q: Who is on the Scribus team?
A. Well, at the moment, it is me and Paul Johnson, who has been a member since 0.8 of Scribus. He started the anoncvs, helped with code review and does many other things like supporting users on the mailing list. Peter Linnell joined earlier with testing and documentation. Some valuable contributions have come from other users. Our mailing list is quite active, and I have received some nice e-mails from users who appreciate the quick responses. We have a group of users who are really active on the mailing list, and this helps free me to have time to code. We are probably not normal for open source in that we all are in our 30s and 40s. We all have regular jobs and families. But for DTP, especially, it helps to have some experience and knowledge of the industry.
When to use TeX, when to use Scribus?
For years, a large part of the UNIX/Linux world has equated DTP with TeX and its derivatives—for good reason, in the publication of long technical documents, scientific, mathematic and other text-heavy documents, TeX excels. TeX can create press-ready files as well; entire books have been created with TeX. However, although one can add images and other artwork, TeX is neither intuitive nor efficient for composing highly graphically oriented documents. DTP is actually one of the best uses of WYSIWYG. The methodology of TeX is quite different from visual WYSIWYG DTPs. It's like trying to describe a painting in HTML code—you can do it, but it is not easy. In the Linux world, there is most certainly room and a need for both.
The Secret Sauce of Color Management
One of the advanced features of Scribus is the option to use the littlecms color management libraries. Released under the LGPL, littlecms has become a refined and versatile package for a number of color-related tasks. End users of the profiling tools give it high marks for accuracy and constant improvement.
Proprietary color management methods have been a closely guarded secret until now. How does littlecms accomplish this? First, there exist ISO standards for color and color profile formats that are open and published by the ICC at color.org. Second, to greatly simplify, conversions are made with 3-D lookup tables to convert one color space to another. The secret sauce is the algorithms used by the color management module to adjust the differences between color spaces. The challenge is mapping from one type of color to the other while minimizing the effects of gamut compression. This is the result of the CMYK color space typically having a smaller gamut, or range, of colors that can be rendered by a given device. For example, certain brilliant greens can be created on an RGB monitor but are difficult to render with CMYK colors on a printed page. The thickness, brightness and ink adsorption of the paper also affect printer gamuts. The latest versions of littlecms have something called Black Point Compensation, another trick in adjusting the colors just so, matching as closely as possible the screen and scanner to the final print destination.
Littlecms offers not only a cmm (color management module), but additional utilities that can assist with color-oriented tasks. Some command-line tools allow for embedding or tagging ICC profiles in image files, but also a set of profiling tools can be used to create ICC profiles for your monitor and scanner. A good ICC profile of your monitor is really the first necessity in setting up useful color management in Scribus. My testing of the littlecms monitor profile yields good results for a visual profiler. In high-end DTP, profile creation and calibration is done with special equipment and software, which can run in the thousands of dollars.
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