[scribus] Letter to all Scribus developers

Christoph Schäfer christoph-schaefer at gmx.de
Sun Mar 28 07:57:48 CEST 2010

Olá Roberto,

> Hi everyone,
> Before anything else, I'd like to congratulate you guys for the tireless
> effort to develop such a necessary, promising and unique tool in the
> opensource universe. I've been following Scribus with keen interest since
> version 1.0, back in 2003.
> Now let me introduce myself: my name is Roberto Costa and I've worked for
> 17 years at Desktop Publishing and Graphic Design. I started out working
> for a publing company, then for print house and more recently for some
> agencies. During all this time, I studied and mastered the main page layout
> tools, from (Aldus) Pagemaker to QuarkXpress, passing (rapidly) by Corel
> Ventura, up to Indesign. I've followed with keen interest the evolution of
> these tools, as they're part of my professional life. No doubt, Adobe and
> Quark Inc. deserve all acknowledgment for their contribution to the
> publishing and design markets over the last 20 years. But at the same time
> I feel quite
> disappointed at these companies' commercial strategy which prevent
> professionals like me to have their own work tools. I say that because here
> in Brazil, with an almost 100% import tax and currency exchange taxes,
> software prices double twice, making many companies and invididuals opt to
> use illegal copies.
> So I have the exact notion of what you are doing. You are opening the way
> for us to get rid of the necessity to use proprietary tools to work. Thank
> you for this.

One thing that should be noted, IMHO, is that different DTP programs have 
different feature sets. There are things you can do in InDesign that are 
impossible in XPress and the other way around. The same is true if you add 
Scribus, FrameMaker or RagTime Solo to the mix. This includes details like 
optical margins (available in InDesing and Scribus but not in XPress) as well 
as workflow options (InDesign and XPress both offer so-called cross-media 
workflow, i.e. print and web, whereas Scribus is focussed on PDF output, 
including forms and presentations).

> I find very interesting the straight interaction between users and
> developers in the opensource universe. You deserve congratulations for this
> too. So I have a few comments and suggestions to offer you from my usage of
> Scribus so far. I hope you understand my point of view (Note: I use Scribus
> mainly on MacOS 10.6, downloaded and built from SVN code. I've also
> downloaded the newly released 1.3.6 binary). So let's go.
> I think Scribus has made great strands on the Mac platform, as far as speed
> is concerned. I think this comes from the transition from qt3 to qt4.

Indeed so.

> However, one can still feel some sluggishness while dragging items,
> selecting text (the worst) and panning or scrolling through pages. So this
> is my first criticism:
> 1)Lack of responsiveness. Scribus must get more responsive and agile. When
> Adobe release version 1.0 of Indesign, many rejected it for being so
> sluggish compared to QuarkXpress or even Pagemaker. I think this should be
> a top priority for you. To find ways to optimize Scribus code for speed.

We are aware of this, and this is a work in progress.

> My second criticism relates to usability. I know this is a hot topic among
> you, as you have discussed it over and over. Still, I'd like to share my
> honest thought about this from user perspective. Scribus interface needs
> more attention to make look more like a Pro tool. Here are my suggestions:
> 1)Toolbox, bars and properties palette icons all need refactoring. They
> lack contrast and definition. Perhaps a shaded look would be much better.

There is an alternative (and better looking, IMHO) icon set available (Oxygen 
icons), but currently there's no way to switch from one set to another. I 
think we need to find a way to switch between icon sets, just like we can 
switch between UI themes.

> 2)I also suggest using black and white icons, that might change to
> one-colored icons when selected. Perhaps a blueish tone might be good.

100% agreed.

> 3)The toolbox should float vertically instead of horizontally.

Hmm. It used to be possible to set the direction in earlier version. Looks 
like you unearthed a bug.

> 4)I think the toolbox has too many icons, 19 in all. Some could be
> suppressed (as a menu option) or grouped. For instance, “insert text frame”
> + “edit frame content” in one icon. Less is more. QuarkXpress 8 in
> comparison reduced its toolbox icons to just 8. Scribus might get near
> that. 

Edit Content of Frame isn't restricted to text frames. It's also relevant for 
image frames and render frames.

> 5)The panning function, locked after pressing the spacebar, is 
> confusing and annoying. It'd be better if it stayed activated only while
> pressing the spacebar. 

That's a matter of taste ;)

> Panning should also work horizontally even when 
> pages are viewed at 100%.

Err, it does here (Linux). If it doesn't on OS X, this is a bug.

> 6)The mouse icon used when transforming items (arrows) looks excessively
> large.

Perhaps not excessively, but too large. This is a matter of polishing, and 
1.3.6 is not an officially stable version.

> 7)The lines (edges) around selected items and pages look too thick.
> Couldn't they be a little thinner?

Another OS X issue?

> 8)Guides look strange, with an irregular dotting pattern. They should be
> solid.

I don't think so. The line pattern helps to distinguish guides from real 

> 9)Now, the properties palette. I know many of you have strong opinions
> about this. But frankly, it needs attention. Yes all needed functions are
> there. But it feels confusing and messy. To make it friendlier and more
> functional, besides giving it better looking icons, maybe you could make it
> context-sensitive. For example, if you select the edit content tool and a
> text frame, the palette should instantly display the text and paragraph
> control properties. If you select an image frame, it should display the
> image controls, text-wraps etc. It makes more sense this way. I also think
> the palette should be dockable instead of floating.
> As for the X, Y, Z tab, I think it should be moved away from the palette to
> the bottom bar, so as to be always accessible.

The PP needs a redesign, and we are aware of it. But it's a huge task.

> Now my last and more controversial criticism: the application name. Scribus
> does not seem to be a an appropriate name for a page layout application. It
> conveys the idea of a writing application, since the original latin word
> relates to a writer. I know many of you may get offended but please
> consider the possibility of giving Scribus a name more related to
> Publishing, Layout, Design etc. Something in the lines of LivePages,
> OpenLayout, Precise.

You forget one aspect: despite being a niche application in a niche market, 
and notwithstanding the dominance of two companies in said market, Scribus 
has been able to build what is called a "brand recognition" in the "market." 
Many people in the printing industry are already aware of the 
Scribus "brand," and the reliability of PDFs created with Scribus has become 
an asset! Changing the fake Latin name (there is no Latin word "Scribus" -- 
the closest would be "scriba" = writer) to a meaningless English marketing 
word would do more harm than good. I don't want to start a rant about the 
innovative branding of programs like Word, Excel or Access, but ask yourself: 
If you have to skim through a text quickly, what would let your eyes or your 
brain stop first: one of the names you suggested or "Scribus"?

In other words: Forget about it! ;)

> Well, this has been a long post. I really wish you take into account my
> criticism (or at least part of it) because, like you, I too want Scribus to
> grow and become an international standard in the publishing market in the
> very near future.

I'd rather like to see an internationally agreed-upon file format standard for 
DTP apps, like ODF for office programs, but I assume that's dream.



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