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Contact Customers, Make Campaign Fliers, Do Desktop Publishing

November 9, 1995

ATTENTION all small-business owners and civic activists! Now you, too, can create realistic-looking business documents in the privacy of your home or small business. Yes, folks, through the magic of the personal computer, you can crank out fliers, brochures, signs and newsletters _ in black and white or even vibrant color _ that rival those produced by professional designers. Why pay high prices for those handouts you love to find plastered on your car’s windshield? Now you can turn out your own, without leaving your desk! Act today, and you’ll also get the ability to create business cards, stationery, calendars and more.

That may sound like a pitch for kitchen knives or old records, but, in fact, it is becoming easier to do great-looking desktop publishing from a home office or small business, without spending a fortune. And such personal desktop publishing isn’t just useful to small-business people.

Computer owners can use the same techniques to help civic, social, professional, religious, political and school groups in which they’re active, and which share many of the characteristics of small businesses.

A bunch of new or updated products have just hit the market that deliver sophisticated desktop-publishing results without requiring much skill or money. I’ve been trying them out. Here are brief reviews of each:

Microsoft Publisher 3.0: For years, this has been simply the best desktop-publishing software for home and small business use, and the new version, which runs only with Windows 95, is even better. As always, Publisher is based on the concept of ``PageWizards,″ 20 automated routines that quickly build attractive documents to your specifications, even if you have no artistic sense at all.

EACH WIZARD offers multiple styles and options. For instance, there are nine basic types of newsletter, in four basic layouts. There are even automated routines for producing invoices, receipts, business logos, labels for homemade foods, resumes, greeting cards and on and on.

If you don’t like the wizards, you can start with a blank page and create your own documents, using easy tools such as a ``design gallery″ of professional-looking styles for headlines, tables of contents and other elements.

The $79 program comes on either floppy disks or CD-ROM and requires at least a fast 486 PC with eight megabytes of memory and Windows 95. I recommend getting the CD Deluxe edition, which costs no more but adds 1,000 pieces of clip art, 60 fonts and extra borders.

Alas, there isn’t a Macintosh version, and I have yet to find a Mac desktop-publishing program that comes close to Publisher’s combination of ease of use and power.

LaserJet 5L: If you’ve been waiting for a big-name laser printer that won’t bankrupt you, this may be it. Hewlett Packard’s new $479 laser looks unusual _ a squat, curved device in which blank paper and finished pages enter and exit vertically at the top. But the print quality, including the gray-scale graphics common in desktop publishing, is excellent, nearly indistinguishable from costlier machines.

Though it is rated at four pages a minute, the 5L seemed even speedier and was a piece of cake to set up and operate. You can load 100 blank sheets at a time, which is fine for light-duty work, and also print on individual sheets, envelopes and thicker media.

The 5L only works on IBM-compatible computers; there is no Mac version.

DeskJet 855C: For about the same money, $499, H-P also offers a new small-business-class color inkjet printer, the 855C. This printer, which operates on either an IBM-compatible or Mac, is simply the fastest, best-quality color inkjet I’ve seen for under $1,000. Its text output is nearly laser quality, and the colors are vivid and don’t take all day to print.

ITS RATED SPEED is up to seven pages a minute in black and white and up to three pages a minute in color. As with all printers, your actual output will likely be slower, but still quite fast for an inkjet.

My only complaint was that, on some documents with deep, saturated colors, the pages emerged from the printer a little damp and with noticeable curling, which cleared up as they dried.

Simple scanners: A number of companies now offer inexpensive, compact scanners that let you get photos and printed documents into your computer for use in desktop publishing. For photos, the best choice is the little, no-brainer $250 EasyPhoto Reader, from Storm Software, Mountain View, Calif.

For most other documents, I like the new version of the slim, sleek PaperPort scanner, which fits between your keyboard and PC or monitor and has no confusing buttons or controls. It’s around $370 and is from Visioneer, of Palo Alto, Calif. H-P now sells its own, less-advanced version of the Visioneer device, called the ScanJet 4s, for around $350.

Addendum: I’ve often criticized the Internet for promising more than it delivers, but in the wake of last week’s assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the World Wide Web now offers something truly remarkable. It’s an electronic condolence book, in which computer users anywhere in the world can enter their names and personal comments on the tragedy. To ``sign″ the book, light an electronic ``candle″ or just read through the heartfelt condolences inscribed there, log onto the Web and go to: ``http://www.netking.com/index.html″.

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