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Pushing back the desktop frontier: or...how the desk was won!

PUSHING BACK THE DESKTOP FRONTIER OR ...HOW THE DESK WAS WON!

Desktop publishing, a few years ago uncharted territory braved by only a few intrepid pioneers, is today home to a thriving population of industrious communicators, with 97 percent(*) of the respondents to a recent Communication World survey saying that they use desktop publishing, compared to 65 percent in a similar survey last year.

The average survey respondent produces 68 percent of his or her publications on desktop. Even more impressive, 86 percent produce all of their publications in this manner.

The survey was sent to 1,000 IABC members in July 1990. Two hundred and thirty seven responded, for a 24 percent response rate.

Deskward, Ho!

It seems like only yesterday that all of desktop publishing was an untamed frontier. Those of us who stayed safe at home in settled territories heard wild rumors of the bonanzas just waiting to be claimed beyond the next horizon: incredible cost savings, immediate turnaround, typeset quality and design excellence at our fingertips, the paperless office. We also heard the warnings: gangs of unruly typestyles robbing blank pages of their innocence, power surges appearing out of nowhere and wiping out years of work, systems crashing, viruses attacking, incompatible software packages catching unarmed bystanders in their cross-fire.

Today, with the clarity of hindsight, we see that the earliest reports were exaggerated. We take the promises with a grain of salt. We save on typesetting, but we reinvest in upgraded software and hardware. Turnaround is faster, but, more often than not, the margin we gain is filled up with an increased work load. Typesetting and design excellence may indeed be at our fingertips, but how many of our fingertips are trained to call them forth?

We have come to take the pitfalls for granted too, girding ourselves with back-up systems, surge controls and virus protections.

The results of Communication World's 1990 Desktop Communicator survey show that there are three distinct territories within the desktop frontier: first, an area that has been mostly settled, where a majority of communicators work; second, an area where sizable minorities, but not majorities, have staked their claims and third, an area which still remains largely unexplored.

Home, Home on the Desktop

In terms of the kinds of functions performed on desktop, some are now clearly standard fare for communicators. Ninety percent of the respondents to the survey said they use desktop to produce printed materials; 70 percent said they produce charts and graphs on desktop (chart 1). We asked the respondents to break down the types of printed materials they produced on desktop: 88 percent use desktop to generate newsletters and 77 percent use it to produce record-keeping forms (chart 2).

When it comes to hardware, there are clearly some pieces of equipment that go with the territory. Eighty-four percent of the respondents store their files on hard disks and 68 percent use floppy disks (chart 3). Sixty percent work on black-and-white monitors and 51 percent use color monitors (chart 4). Fifty-five percent use Macintosh computers for their desktop work (chart 5). Fifty-two percent use modems to send or receive files electronically (chart 4). In terms of software, the only program which seems to have won the acceptance of the majority is Aldus PageMaker, used by 70 percent of the respondents (chart 8).

Not all of the Desktop Has Been Tamed

Not all of the desktop field has yielded so easily. Only 38 percent of the respondents use desktop to manage data, 36 percent to create slide shows, 33 percent to generate illustrations and 29 percent to communicate electronically via E-mail and electronic bulletin boards (chart 1). When it comes to printed materials, desktop is used to produce advertisements by 44 percent, directories by 34 percent and tabloids by 23 percent (chart 2).

Less than half of the respondents use:

* computer networks (43 percent--chart 6),

* black-and-white scanners (43 percent--chart 4),

* passwords and other security measures (33 percent--chart 9).

The Remaining Frontier

Beyond this middle ground remains a vast stretch of wild frontier, explored by only a handful of the respondents to the survey.

Desktop technology is used to edit photographs by only 11 percent, to create halftones and color separations by eight percent, to edit video tapes by four percent and to produce interactive media programs by another four percent (chart 1). Some printed materials are still rarely produced on desktop. Annual reports and magazines are produced on desktop by only 22 percent of the respondents, catalogs by 16 percent and books by 11 percent (chart 2).

Color scanners are used by a mere six percent of the respondents (chart 4). Also, most communicators have not yet begun to explore new ways of storing their files, beyond the conventional hard disk/floppy disk combination. Mainframes are used by only 19 percent, compact disks by 11 percent, removable hard disks by 10 percent, magnetic tape by eight percent, Syquest drives by one percent and Bernoulli Boxes by another one percent (chart 3).

There is no clear favorite for illustration software. Adobe Illustrator is used by 29 percent and Aldus Freehand by 24 percent, but 47 percent of those who use such software use other brands (chart 7). On-line services such as CompuServe are used by only 15 percent (chart 9).

This issue of Communication World will give you a closer look at three of the remaining desktop frontiers: prepress operations, file storage and desktop presentations. [Chart 1 to 9 Omitted]

(*)numbers have been rounded.

Kyle Heger is associate editor of Communication World.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Heger, Kyle
Publication:Communication World
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Words:921
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