Sooner or later, every computer owner gets the urge to make something slick, be it a family newsletter, a brochure for your kid's soccer...

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Sooner or later, every computer owner gets the urge to make something slick, be it a family newsletter, a brochure for your kid’s soccer team or even a cover for that genealogy research you’ve been doing. That takes us to desktop publishing and graphic-design software.

I have two programs to suggest, representing both ends of the design application extremes.

At the lower end ($79) is Apple Computer’s new Pages program, part of its iWork application suite that also includes Keynote, Apple’s answer to the ubiquitous Microsoft PowerPoint presentation program.

After first being blasé about Pages, I am now gaga over it. The more I use it, the more blown away I am by its elegance.

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Alas, it only works with Apple computers. But with all the people who have been switching to the Mac platform recently, we need to talk about it.

At the higher end of the design-software category ($699) is Adobe InDesign CS. It’s not for the everyday user. But this program is so powerful, you could design a slick magazine, a book or an album cover. It’s used by commercial designers and comes in PC and Mac versions.

In between and above these programs are lots of older, perhaps better-known products — Microsoft Publisher ($130), Broderbund Print Shop ($50), Corel Ventura ($699) and QuarkXPress ($999), to name the best known.

But better known doesn’t necessarily mean better. Pages and InDesign are generating lots of buzz at the expense of their long-in-the-tooth rivals.

Let’s start with Pages. It’s clean, crisp, very flexible and so easy to use you don’t even need to read the instructions.

Style is what sets Pages apart. It comes with about 40 design templates that cover everything from invitations to newsletters, brochures, news releases and school or business reports.

I’ll use Pages for my annual family Christmas letter and, for that alone, I’d pay the $79. You can drag pictures and images onto it, resize them and place them by using your mouse to pull or push the corners to the proper perspective.

Just one click inserts tables and charts or changes colors and font styles.

Probably the neatest thing about Pages is how you can import and export it into Microsoft Word or the popular PDF format used to make an image of the page that can easily be sent by e-mail.

I’ve played around with most of the other design software over the years, and Pages beats them all in ease of operation and the sheer beauty of its output. It’s immediately usable by children and even computer-challenged adults.

That’s not the same for InDesign CS. You’ll definitely need the instruction manual to be able to start using this program.

But InDesign is not targeting consumers. It’s for professional designers or heavy business users. You could pretty much design this entire newspaper with InDesign

If you’ve used Adobe’s other big-league graphics programs — Photoshop or Illustrator — you’ll feel at home in InDesign.

Forget templates. You create from scratch here, using things like a story editor, layers, transparencies and measurement and style palettes.

What makes InDesign so neat is its advanced typographical controls that let you create truly professional-looking typefaces.

There are a lot of plug-ins that add extra creative controls, but since it would take pretty much an entire column to explain each InDesign feature, suffice it to say that there’s a big learning curve.

It’s worth it. If your business or organization wants to do desktop publishing for annual reports, catalogs, advertising or booklets, InDesign is the tool.

For the rest of us, there’s Pages.

5-Language European

Translator

Franklin Electronic Publishers
.

www.franklin.com, $20

If you’re planning to travel abroad this summer, this $20 gadget could prove to be as valuable as your passport.

The 5-Language European Translator from Franklin Electronic Publishers can quickly translate 210,000 words from English to French, German, Italian and Spanish.

How would you order a beer in a Madrid cafe if you don’t know botella de cerveza? Or ask for ice cream in Berlin if you don’t know eiscreme?

OK, maybe you don’t need a translator to get your fill of eiscreme. But you can imagine plenty of other situations in a foreign country that could leave you at a loss for words.

Franklin has thought of those situations. It loaded the pocket translator with 5,000 conversational phrases grouped in categories such as: Travel & Directions, Emergencies, Eating & Drinking and Shopping.

The translator is about the size of a thick credit card.

It’s powered by a nickel-sized lithium battery, which shouldn’t be too difficult to find in Venice or Versailles.

In addition to the translator, the device has an option to let you enter and store names and phone numbers, a clock that shows local and world time and a calculator with metric and currency converters.

It can also give you the value of the euro in 11 national European currencies.

It has a full QWERTY keyboard with raised, nubby keys that let you quickly enter words using fingers or, more likely, thumbs.

The results of each are displayed on a two-line screen that shows 14 characters at a time. That’s a little snug, especially for some of those long German words and phrases. Anything that doesn’t fit in 14 characters will scroll to the right.

The translator also works in the opposite direction, changing foreign words into English. But its performance doesn’t seem to be as good as when it’s starting with English.

— Ric Manning

Louisville Courier-Journal