David Madore's WebLog: Scribus

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I am on a quest to discover a (free software) page formating engine for rendering newspaper-style layouts (that is, flowing text organized in multi-column boxes and floating inserts of images or other text boxes) with PDF output capabilities, during which quest I considered such things as Apache FOP and the (IMHO) entirely crazy PassiveTeX but found nothing satisfactory (every candidate so far has unacceptable limitations, typically the lack of support for floats). The goal would be to be able to design a daily newssheet (such as the ENS students' BOcal) without using either the horribly clumsy and stiff LaTeX or QuarkXPress (unusable under Unix or with CVS). So far Scribus seems the most promising, so I have given it a further look. In a nutshell, it is a WYSIWYG (WYSIWYM?) desktop publishing and page layout program for Unix with the ability to import and export various file formats (including PDF). It comes with a graphical user interface, which is something that I actually do not care about (I would much prefer a command line tool which takes a plain text input file in some variant of the XML format and converts it to PDF, the advantage being that there are many tools and editors which work with plain text files — for example they can be used under CVS), but I suppose some people might prefer it that way (at least the file format is not binary, though it is hard to edit by hand).

On the positive side, there are some very nice features for the page layout part proper (such as the ability to shape text boxes more or less arbitrarily): it's not just a toy program (such as the many projects which, driven by the free software hype, proudly announce that this is version of a program which, in version 1.0, is projected to brew coffee and make your bed, but so far only displays its version number and exits with a segmentation fault). PDF output seems intelligently done, the file format is documented XML, the program looks like it's stable, and can actually produce genuine documents. And it's scriptable in Python, which is nice. On the negative side, it's very clumsy to use. It somehow only found a limited subset of the fonts installed on my system, it sometimes refuses to change the font size or alignment for no reason I can understand (probably because the selection is not what I believe it is), it constantly reverts to the “default” font, the mouse drag doesn't snap to where I want it to, drawing a border around text is impractical, and so on. And the file format, although it is XML, is really hard to edit by hand (making it pretty unthinkable to do entirely without the GUI as I would prefer). I'm afraid that, so far, it does not suit my needs.

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