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August 13, 2003

Regrets

Sometimes you make decisions to use a certain tool that you later wish you hadn't. But by then you have invested so much effort, that you can no longer back out of it.

This time my regret is about Adobe InDesign. It is a magnificent desktop publishing application, but it is a pain to do a book in. The book was based on a collection of papers, which were all in different formats (framemaker, word, latex), and given that I had to do quiet a bit of editing to turn the papers into chapters, I had decided to start from scratch. InDesign met all the requirements, and was especially strong in text flow and graph & image placements department. I had picked Adobe Illustrator for reworking all the drawings and graphs, so sticking with Adobe seemed a good idea. Another reason for picking InDesign was the rumor that Adobe was going to drop support for FrameMaker, and that InDesign was much better at handling large documents.

The problem was of course that I didn't have the requirements complete, or at least there were issues that I didn't know would become requirements. For example a simple thing like an auto-numbered paragraph type, doesn't exist in InDesign, nor do bullet or numbered lists. Another example is the use of 'running headers', where in the page header you get the chapter name on the left page and the top-level paragraph title on the right page. No support for this, nada. The help documentation is absolutely of no use for finding solutions, but the support forums over at Adobe.com are very good.

The lists you have to do 'by hand', I have not found an easy way around it. But numbered paragraphs headings needed to be consistently through the 18 documents that made up the book, so that was too much work, and to critical, to do manually. Bring in good old OLE Automation. Adobe exposes the application, the book collection, documents, frames pages, sections, etc., etc., through an Automation interface. So I ended up writing vbscripts for almost all these tasks, renumbering paragraphs, creating sections and section headings. Never knew I would be programming to get the book done.

Several times during this process I asked myself whether I should go on, or that I should dig myself deeper into this hole, not knowing whether there would be other surprises waiting for me down the road. Now that it is over I am 'proud' of my acquired skills, but I know more about DTP now than I ever have wanted to know.

The regrets are mainly with respect to the time consumed by non-editing tasks. When asked whether I would use it again for a similar task, I hesitated, because now that I have all these scripts .... but I certainly would not recommend it to anyone else for doing a academic/technical book.

Posted by Werner Vogels at August 13, 2003 10:34 AM
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The autonumbering thing is also a big deal for those working on scientific proposals. We use Framemaker (7) as our DTP but since our office is currently moving from OS 9 to OS X and there is no carbonized version of Frame for OS X, we are considering our options. InDesign is my DTP of choice but the lack of something as simple as autorenumbering (of sections 2.II.A.3, for example) is a huge problem and would add hours of work that is now done effortlessly by Frame.

Any thoughts on third-party plugins or other reasonable workarounds for this with InDesign? Would love to hear any suggestions from anyone.

Posted by: geoff85858 on August 24, 2003 11:41 PM