Corel Ventura 10

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XML import and PDF export are added to Ventura's existing strengths.

Ventura was the first professional DTP package for the PC and set the gold standard by which all future publishing applications were judged. With a difficult transition to the Windows environment however, it began to lose out to the competition from simpler and more hands-on applications such as PageMaker. Corel snapped up the ailing giant and grafted on some design-intensive know-how but misunderstood the program's long document strengths and the user-base haemorrhaged. After skipping a release, Corel came back with a much stronger, A-listed product but still found it difficult to win back the market share that had been lost.

It's now been over four years since the launch of version 8 and it was beginning to look as if Corel was just letting Ventura slip away. Thankfully that's not the case and, after another skipped release, Ventura is back. So what's new this time and is it enough to put Ventura back on the top?

At first sight nothing has changed with the toolset, toolbars and docker windows all left pretty much untouched. It's a serious disappointment as no-one could call Ventura an easy program to get to grips with. And the one attempt Corel has made to make the interface more user-friendly backfires badly. By adding icons next to every command on the menu bars, Corel clearly intends to give the environment a more friendly and recognizable face. In fact there's no way that you can differentiate between hundreds of slightly different icons and it just adds to the program's complexity.

I wasn't too concerned by this as Ventura has long offered excellent customization control and this has been greatly expanded in version 10. Sure enough, not only can you control which commands appear on which menu and toolbar, you can also now save and exchange the customized workspaces that you create. You are also now able to dig right down and customize the text of the commands and tooltips and change, or even pixel edit, each icon. If you're feeling reckless, you can even choose to make the menus semi-transparent. In other words you can do just about anything apart from switch off the command icons!

Customization has been improved but the interface is largely untouched.

After such a long break away, the most immediately important new functionality for a DTP application is that it adds support for the latest file formats. Ventura has always prided itself on its close integration with word processors so the support for the latest WordPerfect and Word formats is crucial. Even more welcome is the new ability to precisely control what happens to imported formatting, with options to ignore styles completely, to ignore style attributes or to ignore local attributes. Style handling is also more intelligent so that, if a style already exists, it is formatted according to the Ventura tag settings while, if it doesn't, an appropriately formatted tag is created.

With over 40 import filters, Ventura's graphics support is even more comprehensive. As you would expect Corel's own formats are to the fore here with direct support for CorelDRAW, Photo-Paint, Painter, Picture Publisher and Designer files, though rivals' standards such as Illustrator, FreeHand and Photoshop are also included. However the level of support is pretty mixed. I was impressed that I could import both Draw and Illustrator 10 files and break them up into separate editable objects but, under the late press beta, Photoshop PSD files were converted to grayscale while FreeHand 10 files were simply rejected. In most circumstances it's probably advisable to stick to the vector EPS and bitmap TIFF staples, though the new PDF import does make it possible to think of all-PDF workflows.

If you embed your bitmap files rather than link to them, a whole range of new options opens up. Corel no longer includes a copy of Photo-Paint in the Ventura box (WordPerfect has also been dropped), but it does make use of its Photo-Paint experience to provide a wide range of bitmap-based power. There are over fifty new filters, making over a hundred in all, offering everything from advanced colour correction through to artistic stroke-based effects and 3D rotation. The creative options are enormous and having the power right there in your DTP application makes it much more likely that you will take advantage of them.

Ventura offers plenty of global bitmap control.

In terms of formatting and layout, Ventura's design power derives from its use of tags which are controlled with the Tag Window docker. Most users will be used to the idea of paragraph and character tags from word processors though with features such as text angle and vertical justification settings, Ventura takes the control they offer onto a different level. Just as importantly, it also offers Frame, Rules and Page tags so that all aspects of formatting and layout are brought under similar tight, but flexible, control. Once your tags are set up and applied, it means that the document formatting and, where appropriate, reformatting becomes virtually automatic - though you can always override tag settings where necessary.

The big change to Ventura's tagging system in version 10 is that a new category, Table, has been added. Producing attractive tables has always been a major headache for designers and Ventura has long offered the best handling available including features such as multi-page layouts and spreadsheet-style formulae. The major difference is that now all aspects of a table's design, including access to advanced fill and outline formatting, are automatically tied to a table tag. It will only make a serious difference if you regularly produce publications with multiple tables, but it certainly makes sense to expand tag-based control in this way.

You can now control tables using tags.

That's just about it for new layout power, but Ventura 10 does see a number of important improvements when it comes to output. To help output the reliable PostScript needed for commercial print there is new support for third-party PPDs, the ability to force all images to output to RGB, grayscale or CMYK, and fall-back options of down-sampling all images or rasterizing the entire page. When outputting to supporting PostScript 3 devices you can also now take advantage of In-RIP trapping. Further support for commercial print comes in the form of simplified imposition creation in the excellent Print Preview, improved colour management with support for embedded ICC profiles and a new Prepare for Service Bureau command which automatically collects all fonts and linked files.

The Prepare for Service Bureau command also provides the option of creating a PDF version of your publication that your bureau can use for proofing. This is a sign of Ventura 10's biggest new output option: export to the Acrobat PDF format. In fact Ventura has long offered a Publish to PDF command but previously this was little more than a con - simply enabling the creation of a PostScript print-to-disk file that then had to be run through the separately purchased Adobe Distiller. Now though the command really does what it claims and enables the direct creation of a PDF version of the current publication.

And the level of control is impressive. Ventura offers in-built PDF styles for document distribution, editing, pre-press, and Web delivery along with more advanced control over bitmap compression, font sub-setting, bleed, crop marks and so on. It's not completely state-of-the-art as files can't be output in the latest Acrobat 5 format, but as Ventura doesn't offer control over the latest PDF features such as object transparency or text reflow, there would be little point. Otherwise the ability to output exact electronic PDF versions of your publications is a huge advance whether intended for collaboration, for posting to the Web, for producing commercial print or as an alternative to print. It's taken so long to arrive that most Ventura users will already have gone down the Distiller route, but direct PDF support is undoubtedly a major advance.

Ventura 10 offers direct export to PDF.

Ventura might be late to join the PDF bandwagon but it's determined not to be left behind in the next big-thing in DTP. That's why the feature that Corel is pushing most heavily for this latest release is Ventura's XML support. And with good reason. If XML (eXtensible Markup Language) lives up to the hype it's going to be the lingua franca of data exchange and publishing - and just about everything else. And the fundamental unit of XML is the content-based tag which should mean that Ventura, with its formatting-based tags, makes the perfect publishing partner.

To begin to take advantage of XML all you need to do is import an XML file and Ventura prompts you to select an appropriate mapping file or to create one with the separate XML Mapping Editor. Essentially the task boils down to importing your XML file or schema and then your publication's stylesheet and then mapping each XML element to the appropriate Ventura tag. As well as simple tag-to-tag mapping you can specify rules that depend on each XML element's attributes and position in the document tree and you can set structural tags that associate elements with frame, page or table tags.

XML import is handled through element mapping.

So far so good, but what about when the XML file has loaded? Based on rivals such as FrameMaker I was expecting to be able to apply XML tags within Ventura and view and navigate the XML-based document tree, but there's nothing. Far worse, while you can reformat your document's tags, you can't apply new tags or even edit the text! Eventually I worked out that you can get around this by importing the XML to the text cursor, but then the link to the original XML is broken. No problem you might think, just export the edited text, but here's the rub: while Ventura 10 provides XML import it doesn't provide XML export.

It's a fundamental limitation and a big disappointment. Tag-based automatic layout can go a long way but it's very rare that you won't have to fine-tune a layout or correct a typo. And without XML export, Ventura can only act as an end destination for your XML not as part of an ongoing XML workflow. In other words without XML round-tripping you have to choose between embedding or editing. Having said this, it certainly doesn't mean that Ventura's XML import is useless. Once you've set up your mapping, the style-free XML is automatically converted to a fully-formatted high-impact document ready for electronic or paper-based publishing. It's a perfect example of the benefits of Ventura's tag-based approach in action.

Ventura 10's XML support is typical of the application as a whole. After so long, Corel's developers could certainly have done more, but they have done enough to show that there's still plenty of life left in the old stager. Ultimately though what really makes Ventura 10 stand out is the strengths it's always had. Most DTP applications tend to take either a hands-off, relatively low-impact approach like FrameMaker or a hands-on, high-impact approach like InDesign. Ventura is the only publishing package that offers the best of both with long-document specialities, such as footnoting, indexing, scripting, conditional processing and equation editing, alongside design-intensive specialities such as hanging punctuation, fractal fills, text-on-a-path, bitmap filters and node editing.

Version 10 doesn't do enough to recapture the mainstream but, for those who are prepared to master it, Ventura offers the most powerful all-round publishing solution available. It always has.



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System requirements: Pentium II 230MHz, 128MB of RAM, 240MB of hard disk space, Windows 2000 or XP only, CD-ROM, SVGA

Tom Arah

October 2002

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