In contemplating the seemingly eternal question—Is Linux ready for the Desktop? —the recent release of Scribus 1.0 adds one more major reason to say yes. A frequent complaint is “I can't use Linux on the desktop because I am missing application X.” Scribus ably fills a missing piece—a graphical WYSIWYG page layout application. Linux users and their *nix cousins now have a versatile and user-friendly desktop publishing application with fresh approaches to the challenges of using Linux as a desktop publishing (DTP) platform. Moreover, Scribus brings other new capabilities beyond DTP with its ability to create PDF (portable document format) Web forms and interactive PDF documents.
Thanks to the increasing polish of important support libraries, like freetype2, Ghostscript and CUPS, Linux desktop publishing is a reality. Scribus cleverly works around some of the potential limitations of Linux and UNIX as DTP platforms, by the extensive and flexible use of PDF as an output file format and to a lesser extent, PDF import. PDF, whose format is copyrighted by Adobe but licensed at no charge for other developers' use, offers flexibility, stability in format and broad application support. PDF is similar to PostScript and is well documented by Adobe; the draft PDF 1.5 reference manual is a slim 1,000+ pages. Plus, PDF is supported on almost every modern computing platform available.
At the most simplistic level, creating documents with Scribus is like grade-school cut and paste. When using the drawing tools, working with Scribus is like having a canvas. When dealing with text and images, it is like using a pasteboard. Composing documents with a word processor is more like working with an intelligent typewriter. Conceptually, it helps to think of Scribus as a pretty face wrapped around a great PDF engine—an engine that greatly reduces the complexity in creating either press-ready high-resolution PDF files or fully interactive PDFs. One of the challenges in creating PDFs, especially press-ready PDFs, is the necessity to know some of almost 100 distilling options in Adobe Acrobat Distiller.
Scribus is most definitely not a word processor; it belongs to the family of applications known as page layout programs. Well known DTP applications include Adobe's PageMaker (the original) or InDesign and Quark XPress. Scribus is unique because it is licensed under the GPL, and no other DTP application with its professional features runs on Linux. Scribus has been ported to the BSDs, HP-UX and Solaris as well. With the help of KDE-Cygwin, an experimental version of Scribus also runs on Microsoft Windows 2000. Work on a Mac OS X version with the GPL'd Qt for OS X is underway as well.
Table 1. A Comparison of DTP and Word Processor Features
|Color support||CMYK and RGB||RGB only|
|Drawing tools||Real PostScript vector||Metafiles or low-res bitmap|
|Four-color printing||Color management||N/A|
|Precision||High—up to 3,600 dpi||Adjusts to screen resolution|
|Built-in export||Via third-party drivers (OpenOffice 1.1 has a built-in PDF exporter)|
A page layout application is different from word processors in the sense that it is concerned with laying out text, images and drawings with a much higher level of precision and control by the designer, which is not possible and sometimes not desirable with modern word processors. Where a word processor excels at processing words, only a page layout program can combine text plus images and other artwork with exactness and ease. Scribus, for example, has many bits of code to optimize PostScript output, control color reproduction, layer images with text and manage high-resolution artwork.
In a page layout application, text is an object, like pictures or shapes, and is contained within frames. This enables precise placement and flow of text on a page. With Scribus you easily can create effects like flipping or running text at angles or auto-flowing multicolumn text. You can use layers or place objects on top of each other, otherwise known as masking, to achieve impressive visual effects. Scribus has special controls for typography to adjust the layout and spacing of individual letters within words, known as kerning. You can control the placement of all objects to within hundredths of an inch or hundredths of a millimeter. Try thinking of a page layout file as a wrapper—the last step in composing a document of any kind destined for print professionally, in-house or a Web downloadable PDF, where object placement, exact color matching and formatting are a necessity.
Some of Scribus' major features include:
Creating state-of-the-art ISO standard PDF/X-3 conforming high-quality press-ready PDF files for use in commercial pre-press. It is the only one to support this directly—a DTP first.
Creating fully scripted and interactive PDF documents, which include external links, such as Web links and presentation PDFs à la MS PowerPoint or OpenOffice's Impress. You also can create calculated fields and send user-entered form data to a Web site.
Using Python as a scripting language. Most serious DTP applications are scriptable. Python gives Scribus a uniquely powerful and platform-neutral scripting language. Most other DTP applications use a custom scripting language or AppleScript, which does not cross platforms. This ability also enables you to run third-party Python modules, like the imaging modules, or to run other Python applications, such as PySol.
Having full support for CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) color used in commercial printing, including optional color management, color separations and importing spot colors in EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) files.
Supporting Unicode text and fonts with freetype2, as well as right-to-left languages, like Arabic or Hebrew. At the time of this writing, Scribus has been translated into 19 languages, most recently Czech, Russian and Indonesian.