„Scribus 1.3.5: Beginner’s Guide“ (Packt Publishing) – a review

(Full disclosure: Packt Publishing contacted me if I would write a review on this title and offered me a free e-book in return. I agreed, but would have written this review anyway.)

Just before christmas, I got my hands on the eBook edition of „Scribus 1.3.5: Beginner’s Guide“ from Packt Publishing. Being a long-term user of LaTeX, I had planned to explore new terrain in the land of desktop publishing for quite some time. But only when there came along a project that didn’t fit with LaTeX did I seriously check out what’s available when it comes to documentation on Scribus. Of course there’s the official Wiki and Scribus is briefly mentioned in many introductory titles on GNU/Linux or FLOSS in general. But when it comes to dedicated titles that handle Scribus in-depth there’s not much of a choice right now.

Packt added to this small selection with their title which saw the light of day in December 2010. I always liked the broad variety of their portfolio and wanted to check on their promise of no-nonsense, straight to the facts guides for advanced and specific subjects. In review, „Scribus 1.3.5: Beginner’s Guide“ definitely delivers on that promise.

The two first chapters, which bring you up to speed in a few pages, are quite general. First, you get some basic knowledge on the workflow of desktop publishing and gephical layout tools. Some pitfalls of professional printing are hinted at. Next, the interface of Scribus is explained in a glance (I always find those chapters quite dull). With Chapter 2 the book cuts to the chase. You create a simple businesscard layout following a step-by-step tutorial that merely tells you to do things without too much explanation as to the why and what of many features and concepts used. If the task at hand that forced you to read up on Scribus happens to be a business card (like it was in my case) you profit from the book already. If your demands towards Scribus are more advanced, rest assured that this first tutorial pushed you on most of the basic concepts. At least that’s what I realized after working through the rest of the book. Quite smart.

The remaining chapters are a mixture of small mini-tutorials that introduce you to just one or two small features on the one hand and tricks and best practices from an obviously quite Scribus-savvy author on the other hand. But beware that there’s a noticeable progression, i.e. many of those small tutorials refer to and use skills that are trained/explained earlier in the book. You don’t always get page references, but the index at the end is detailed enough to find your way around. And after working with the book for some time you develop a feel for where things are.

Which is one main point to mention: you have to work with this book. It’s not something you just read, with exercises attached at the end of chapters. This is one big exercise! Of course there’s the more explanatory section here and there. But those felt more like the exception to me. The norm is concise instructions which you better follow right along and then take a minute or to to reflect on what you just did. I really liked that, made me feel less stupid.

Sounds all good, doesn’t it? But there’s one big catch. The – how should I call it? – „variant“ of english used in the book is at times very hard to read. It’s not what you know from school or daily conversation. Not even what you stumble on in blogs and the like. It’s more like what you used to get from Babel Fish. The most prominent example is the use of „to validate“. It doesn’t mean „to check for errors; to make sure something is correct“ like you might think but is used for the trivial act of clicking a „Confirm“ of „OK“ button instead. So „to validate“ == „to confirm“. After the 10th or so time I deemed it a running gag, but per se the constant fuzzy use of phrases and collocations is not funny at all. Proofreading can make quite some difference. As far as content is concerned the publisher seems to have done their job. When it comes to grammar – not so much. All other weaknesses I booked as „nobody’s perfect“ and didn’t take notes on.

So, if you want a hands-on, straight to the facts manual for Scribus, this might be the book for you (it was for me). But expect a bumpy ride on the grammar side. It’s not always written in plain English…

Scribus 1.3.5: Beginner’s Guide by Cedric Gemy, Packt Publishing, 1st edition December 2010, 248 pages, ISBN 1849513007

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