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Desktop publishing refers to the use of a computer and software to create a visual display of information and ideas.

Originally, in the 1980s and 1990s, desktop publishing was used solely for print publications, but it later began to be used for designing various forms of online content, as well. Desktop publishing documents may be created for desktop or commercial printing, or for electronic distribution, including PDF formats, slideshows, email newsletters, electronic books, and the web.

The term was coined to refer to a specific type of software, and the use of that software to combine text and images to create digital files for print or for online viewing. Prior to the development of desktop publishing software, the only option available for most people for producing typed documents, as opposed to handwritten documents, was a typewriter. More complex print tasks were accomplished manually by people who specialized in graphic design, typesetting, and prepress operations.

Early desktop publishing platforms included the Apple LaserWriter printer in 1985 which, combined with the Aldus PageMaker desktop publishing software released for the Apple Macintosh that same year, offered the tools required for digital desktop publishing. However, the PageMaker-LaserWriter combination resulted in frequent crashes, the cramped display on Mac's tiny screen, and discrepancies between the screen display and the printed output didn't make for an easy task. It was a start, though. The Macintosh II proved more suitable for desktop publishing, and Mac-based systems dominated the desktop publishing market until the late 1980s when Ventura Publisher was introduced for the MS-DOS platform. Ventura Publisher automated the layout process through tags and style sheets and automatically generated indices, which was particularly suitable for longer documents.

Other early desktop publishing software packages included Professional Page for the Amiga, Publishing Partner for the Atari, Timeworks Publisher for the PC and Atari ST, and Calamus for the Atari TT030. Other programs were introduced for the Apple II and Commodore 64, including Home Publisher, The Newsroom, and geoPublish.

As more sophisticated applications were developed for professional publishing and for web design, desktop publishing developed the reputation of software developed for amateurs, as opposed to professionals.

Today, while desktop publishing software is available for virtually every operating system platform, Apple still dominates the publishing market.

Although several formats are supported, desktop publishing is used to produce two general types of documents: electronic pages and virtual paper documents made to be printed onto physical paper pages. All computerized documents are electronic, text or graphic, and are limited in size only by the available data storage space and/or computer memory. Virtual paper documents are designed to be printed onto paper, so they will require the use of parameters that correspond to standard paper sizes and formats. Some desktop publishing programs allow for custom sizes designed for large format printing needed in the creation of posters, billboards, and other uses. A web page is an example of an electronic page and is generally not constrained by virtual paper size parameters. Most electronic pages, today, are designed to be dynamically resized for display on various size monitor screens. This process is known as responsive design. Cascading style sheets may be used to provide global formatting functions for electronic documents.

Desktop publishing software includes the features necessary for print publishing, and modern word processors generally include publishing capabilities beyond those of early word processors, blurring the line between word processing and desktop publishing.

Likewise, the lines between desktop publishing and web design software may be blurred, in that most desktop publishing applications can produce documents for the web, except that web design software is unlikely to include all of the features required in virtual paper documents. Desktop publishing is primarily designed to produce static print or electronic media and is the focus of this guide. Although similar skills, processes, and terminology are used in web design, that is covered in another section of this directory.

The focus of this guide is on desktop publishing, desktop publishing software, and applications designed to be used in desktop publishing.



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