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James Brokenshire

thoughtful review and feedback on Publisher beta by experienced user

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Have you seen this review for Publisher beta?

https://medium.com/@postenterprise/affinity-publisher-beta-hands-on-review-4f5f05c96c02

The author seems very thoughtful and the conclusions seem very sensible. Affinity should take note.

 

The image is a comment on that review which I also agree with.

 

It's disappointing that this forum now has "moderator approval" - that's the total opposite of the recommended open and transparent development process that would have avoided this mess....

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@James Brokenshire

Welcome to the Serif Affinity forums :)

Thanks for the link to the review. 

Regarding the approval of posts, all new members have their first posts approved for 3 reasons.

1) So we can thwart spammers. This place would be fairly unpleasant if it weren't for the spam protection, but some avoid the automatic prevention techniques and post ads and links to unsavoury sites. Using this manual approval procedure we can often tell even with a generic first post that they are spammers and so it's a fairly focused software forum without SEO RUBBISH etc

2) we can move misplaced posts into the correct forum. It's astonishing how many people put their first post into the tutorials section just because they are asking for support and guidance on a problem they are experiencing. 

3) so that we try to remember to welcome each new member and encourage them to feel part of the forums. 

So now you have your first post public no other posts will need to be approved. We encourage critique and will often reply and even own our faults occasionally 

 

 


Patrick Connor

Serif (Europe) Ltd.

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I agree to 100% to this review. Affinity had better done well to publish the Publisher as Alpha. The Publisher lacks so many very basic features for DTP (global layers etc.). Unfortunately, the Publisher is currently only a Designer with the ability to manage multiple pages.

I am sure that Affinity will deliver many features until the final release. But in view of the necessary mass I have doubts whether this is feasible in the foreseeable future at all. Please Affinity: surprise me.

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12 minutes ago, musiberti said:

I am sure that Affinity will deliver many features until the final release.

When the first Publisher beta was released the Affinity team has said that it might be useful to some and it might not to others.
Deep down you want this product to succeed and it's nice to see people willing it to be the top dog in publishing.

Whether it's called Alpha or Beta it's really immaterial in this case. The product is out and people have responded.
Some find it great as it is, others, involved in larger product find it wanting. 

There are two outcomes here:
1. The product fails to attract larger user base
2. The products thrives

Time will tell. But thankfully, there are now more options in DTP to choose from than before. :)

And one more thing. The developers do hear us users and respond quite willingly in these forums.

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Excuse me in advance: I – for my part – can’t stand these kind of comments any more. All of this is already said in this forum – even the guy, whose review is referred to, promoted this article by posting a forum thread about this here.

Saying „Publisher is alpha", in my eyes(!) is close to an insult. Stating „it lacks very basic features (global layers)“ is more then subjective. If you look at this thread: https://forum.affinity.serif.com/index.php?/topic/67701-my-big-reasons-im-looking-to-switch-from-indesign-to-publisher/ you’ll find a member, who really loves the existence of page-bound layers. You see: There is more than one opinion about things. :)

To tell us, there are basic features missing isn’t helpful at all. What can be expected? Should a Beta of a version 1 have all features, which a 20 year old application has? And if it has 100 of these „basic features“ already built in, I bet, the same persons will find 100 more „basic features“ which are missing.

For my part (as a life long designer of high end products) I think, we have a very interesting, feature balanced pre-version 1. Of course there are some gaps, obstacles and bugs, but I really think, you can do nearly everything you want right now – even without a dedicated feature. If you use the existing features in a creative way, nearly everything is possible. (Except laying out books with footnotes, endnotes and related needs. :))

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Actually, now that I read that review and got around to take a small break and test master page item usage/content editing/overriding (or its lack thereof; I really didn't think it would be missing and I just assumed it would be there, as it's so, so basic), I am aghast at how seriously behind Publisher is functionality-wise. Master page items ARE NOT used for decoration only, they serve very serious workflow and time-saving purposes for content insertion as well. I teach students how to use creative software, and a recurrent theme is telling them how to use as many of those “do once, reuse often” automation features as they can (in my case, it's side-bearing and kerning-pair grouping, as well as component usage – it's a kind of “typographic symbol/asset” of sorts, which you can fully parameterise – and basic scripting with classes for contextual alternates in the acclaimed type design application Glyphs). I would never, ever recommend Publisher to them if it didn't adhere to this basic standard of operation at launch, of which even Designer seems to be a great example, with its symbols, assets, etc..

I concur with the reviewer's assessment; this may end up hurting Serif more than helping. This isn't even the “nice to have for complex projects” kind of feature like the ones I've mentioned before here in the forums (to save you some time, I mean having multiple-page spreads), let alone an advanced professional-level feature which no one really expected because the Serif team had already shot it down (think Multiline Composer), this is actually the kind of “I'd rather use the car-crash-interface-Scribus, install InDesign CS5 – or Page Plus, if that's your cup of tea, as I don't believe you can't override master page items on PP – on a VM, pay the Adobe CC tax or sell a kidney to buy a license from Quark if I can't do this on Publisher” kind of feature.

So I will ask the Serif devs very bluntly: what is the ETA for this very, VERY basic feature, without which Serif shouldn't even be allowed to called Publisher a DTP application as many people would see it as, more than incomplete, actually broken/useless? 1.7 GM? Or 2.0 GM? I should also restate the same question re inline/anchored images and vector objects as well, while I'm at it… Is it a 2.0 affair, or can we expect it sooner?

Sorry, mac_heibu, while I do concur that calling it “alpha” may be an “insult”, in the sense that Publisher is indeed way more stable than alpha-quality software, calling it “proof-of-concept” would be, as of now, entirely fitting, as it's a functional stage somewhere between alpha and beta (betas don't have to be feature-complete or even completely stable, but they have to be at least usable for basic stuff; for instance, Gmail was officially in beta for years on end and, guess what, you could always quickly and easily send e-mails – and then some – from the very beginning). It's an interesting piece of software, but in its current state it would be cumbersome (if not downright useless) for even the most basic of tasks (and yes, typesetting a 300+ page book of prose or poetry, without footnotes, is something I would call basic, as it's precisely the kind of easy DTP exercise we had to do at an undergraduate level). At some point, if using a word processor is easier and quicker than even using Publisher (and I had colleagues on my BFA that did indeed set entire, complex 40+ page documents in Word – and by complex I mean stuff with images and recurrent, master page-like decoration –, and I can assure you they looked good), its point of even existing is moot.

To do DTP you can't just make do with multi-page Designer with cross-frame text flow, baseline grids and static masters tacked on; you need way more than that, and Publisher is currently failing to deliver on that basic set of needs (not of being an InDesign/Quark/Scribus clone per se, but at least a prosumer DTP app), period. After you properly set up your document, a DTP app should work for you, and not the other way around. Never, ever, in a million years, otherwise its cheap price will just be quickly offset by diminishing returns, as any economics 101 will tell you. I'd say 10 pages would be about the top limit over which that effect would kick in and hey, guess what, Designer can handle as many pages just as well so, again, Publisher's very reason to exist is rendered moot, and by another Serif app, no less. 9_9

And to the Serif devs, I am very sorry, as you've been very kind to me in the past, a kindness which I haven't returned for personal reasons (as I said before, I'm finishing a beast of an MA thesis – on typography, no less) that have nothing to do with what I think of your work and mission, which I feel is mostly useful and positive, but… While I used Designer and Photo betas for professional work with glee (despite all your recommendations to the contrary; yeah, sometimes I like living on the edge), I wouldn't subject myself to actually test Publisher even in a speculative setting in its current state. Please do appreciate where I'm coming from: reengineering old InDesign projects into APub format could be useful in the future, but only if I had the guarantee that by 1.7 or 2.0 GM they – or the muscle memory acquired in the process – might actually be useable and useful, hence my insistence on getting an ETA from you (also, it's not like I'm asking about some super secret feature Adobe mustn't know about, lest they rip it off from you).

I know it could be in my (eventual) best interests as well, but it would feel like a potentially pointless chore (and an unpaid one, at that… wait, even worse, I would be the one paying for it after the GM launch!), and not like a fun (and actually useful from a strategic standpoint) thing like the earlier betas did. Also, I know that you always make a point of warning users that files created with the betas are not guaranteed to work properly with the GM versions, but that's a gamble that at least has some chance of return; Publisher's value proposition, even from that standpoint, is pretty much null at this point.

I am impressed and relieved to see that you are taking typography – my baby – seriously enough, but when it comes to the mundane nitty-gritty of DTP workflows, I really do believe you have your priorities all mixed up and that most serious users would be more forgiving of many other bells and whistles not being there in the beta (like… many features from Designer – including, yes, advanced typography controls –, which are already there by default anyway). Please fix this, and then let us know in the forums or via e-mail newsletter when you do, so I can resume testing in earnest…

My honest advice is: I know the road to GM is hard (having worked on a personal project with a somewhat fluid deadline for four years myself, I can absolutely relate) and, at some point, you will have to freeze the feature set (ditto for that), but please, oh PLEASE, do not ship this thing with either of those features missing, as you'll lose a few important pro testers/potential DTP clients in the process (me included; and I specified “DTP”, as Designer and Photo are, indeed, “good enough”), even if temporarily (though it won't make you look good in the eyes of the pro crowd even if you do get around to adding them in a later 1.x or 2.x release, that's for sure…). And don't think for a second this is a slippery slope and that, after these features were implemented, I'd start harping on about a myriad others (like literary/academic/technical-related ones, such as multiline composer, indexes, footnotes, the works; those should come eventually, but I'm obviously not holding my breath). No, these features would elevate Publisher into “good enough” status and put it at least roughly on par with its brethren, even if it stayed a bit behind the other incumbents in the DTP space… It would still be the inexpensive option, but the value proposition would be there and work its magic, as usual.

As a matter of fact, I could quickly redo 90% of my professional freelance work (as opposed to some of what I did – and all of what my colleague did, as she was responsible for a medical magazine – at the medical event management business I worked for, namely long-ass conference programmes and books of abstracts) in a practical and sensible fashion (as in, in an easily editable/expandable/reusable form) if only – and only if – you added those two features. As long as they are not there, I won't be spending my money on Publisher or recommending others to do so, sorry; that's where I draw the line, and it's a sensible one at that, as the kinds of projects I worked on seem to match pretty well with your target demographic (people who do more artsy/marketing/advertising work and less literary/academic/technical – in essence, “boring” – work) and with those most of my colleagues worked on, too; I don't know what kind of market research you did but, unfortunately, I do believe reality will get the better of you and once the disgruntled InDesign user reviews start pouring in you will regret that decision (if you do indeed go the opposite route of focusing on fluff over workflow, that is). On that subject, I should also add that I have been heavily pushing Publisher (and Affinity in general) on social media and IRL (and while I don't have a metric crap ton of followers/acquaintances, I am a bit of an influencer on my niche, on account of having been a – still somewhat locally famous – computer room monitor and being a teacher), so my personal credibility would also be on the line, so to speak… In a sense, not recommending Publisher in its potentially incomplete 1.7 incarnation may hurt your wallet a bit in the short term, but it will also spare you some needless (and, I reckon, somewhat unfair, because I do think you have your heart in the right place) humiliation. Peace, and godspeed!

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2 hours ago, mac_heibu said:

Saying „Publisher is alpha", in my eyes(!) is close to an insult. Stating „it lacks very basic features (global layers)“ is more then subjective. If you look at this thread: https://forum.affinity.serif.com/index.php?/topic/67701-my-big-reasons-im-looking-to-switch-from-indesign-to-publisher/ you’ll find a member, who really loves the existence of page-bound layers. You see: There is more than one opinion about things. :)

To tell us, there are basic features missing isn’t helpful at all. What can be expected? Should a Beta of a version 1 have all features, which a 20 year old application has? And if it has 100 of these „basic features“ already built in, I bet, the same persons will find 100 more „basic features“ which are missing.

For my part (as a life long designer of high end products) I think, we have a very interesting, feature balanced pre-version 1. Of course there are some gaps, obstacles and bugs, but I really think, you can do nearly everything you want right now – even without a dedicated feature. If you use the existing features in a creative way, nearly everything is possible. (Except laying out books with footnotes, endnotes and related needs. :))

Sorry, but "NO"!

It was clear from the beginning that the Publisher would be a harder piece of work for Affinty than Photo and Designer combined. In most cases, a graphic designer has to earn a large part of his income with a layout applicaton. Here, Affinity can not afford to do without basic functionality. After all, time is money. And nobody wastes time with workarounds!

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51 minutes ago, musiberti said:

Sorry, but "NO"!

It was clear from the beginning that the Publisher would be a harder piece of work for Affinty than Photo and Designer combined. In most cases, a graphic designer has to earn a large part of his income with a layout applicaton. Here, Affinity can not afford to do without basic functionality. After all, time is money. And nobody wastes time with workarounds!

 

I think there is some confusion about what Alpha and Beta is:

  • first there is user research to understand your users, what their user needs are, who they are, how they work, their context
  • then based on this (and only after) you develop ideas for how you might meet these user needs .. these ideas become experiments to test ... that is what an alpha is .. an alpha is one of potentially many experiments to see of your ideas really do meet user needs in an efficient and pleasant manner as possible 
  • beta is where you have already established how you're going to meet user needs, and have the evidence that it works .. you then test .. test.. test.. for bugs, issues that didn't emerge earlier from use at scale, many more and different kinds of users and use cases ... 

 

So right now it seems that Affinity are experimenting to see how they can meet user's needs for creating documents / books with over 100, maybe even 600, pages. Right now the alpha is proving that you can't.

 

Like someone said earlier - alpha and beta are not points on a timescale to product launch, nor are they a division of product features or user stories.

 

So - perhaps we're being really stupid and Affinity has an even better way of meeting the needs of users who need to produce documents with more than 10 pages ... in which case the calls for them to be open and publish their user research and user stories are well founded. 

 

But they haven't, and they continue to censor / "approve" posts here. Which suggests they've gone further in the direction they should - closed secretive design by committee. They've already been a little arrogant here and told someone they "have over 25+ years of DTP experience and know what we're doing" to paraphrase.

Evidently not.

 

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1 hour ago, James Brokenshire said:

 

I think there is some confusion about what Alpha and Beta is:

  • first there is user research to understand your users, what their user needs are, who they are, how they work, their context
  • then based on this (and only after) you develop ideas for how you might meet these user needs .. these ideas become experiments to test ... that is what an alpha is .. an alpha is one of potentially many experiments to see of your ideas really do meet user needs in an efficient and pleasant manner as possible 
  • beta is where you have already established how you're going to meet user needs, and have the evidence that it works .. you then test .. test.. test.. for bugs, issues that didn't emerge earlier from use at scale, many more and different kinds of users and use cases ... 

 

So right now it seems that Affinity are experimenting to see how they can meet user's needs for creating documents / books with over 100, maybe even 600, pages. Right now the alpha is proving that you can't.

 

Like someone said earlier - alpha and beta are not points on a timescale to product launch, nor are they a division of product features or user stories.

 

So - perhaps we're being really stupid and Affinity has an even better way of meeting the needs of users who need to produce documents with more than 10 pages ... in which case the calls for them to be open and publish their user research and user stories are well founded. 

 

But they haven't, and they continue to censor / "approve" posts here. Which suggests they've gone further in the direction they should - closed secretive design by committee. They've already been a little arrogant here and told someone they "have over 25+ years of DTP experience and know what we're doing" to paraphrase.

Evidently not.

 

My understanding of what alpha and beta stages are seems to be a bit different; I was of the conviction that those stages pertained more to the overall stability of the software – and did indeed correspond to points on a timescale to product launch, obviously –, and that features could indeed be added or removed (more likely removed, but Serif does have a history of adding stuff, too) until release.

But yes, I do agree that this is an alpha-level app (per your definition) with beta-level stability (per my definition). Which is sad, because for all the wait, us pros were certainly expecting bigger and better and now feel a little deceived and disappointed, alas.

As for them publishing their research: nope, I fully stand by the Serif devs on that one, as I've been following the development of Affinity since its very inception (in fact, I predicted/guessed it in a letter I sent them a full year before they announced the suite) and I can still appreciate why they might be mum on that. Adobe does have a history of stealing features from Serif rather quickly, as the corner tool appearing on Illustrator shortly after being released in Designer should attest. Hence me putting such a strong emphasis on the ETA, and not on the specifics of the implementation; I don't care about the details, as long as it works and it arrives in a sensible timeframe which justifies resuming my testing. If you want to partake in a fully open development process, by all means go to the Scribus forums, or something. Besides, Serif is already way more open than Adobe, so I believe the tester doth protest too much on that regard.

On that subject, though, and considering how all three apps are going against a 300lb established gorilla and have a lot of catching up to do, I think it would be nice to see Serif use a trac-like version timeline/graph with all the publicly announced and expectable features; that way, we wouldn't have to be pestering them about ETAs or progress anymore. Unless, of course, they wanted to still be able to reprioritise stuff on the fly and still avoid raising expectations only to fail them right afterwards, a degree of strategic opacity which I can also appreciate… The constant delays in the Publisher beta launch were already bad enough, so imagine if they did promise a more complete feature set than the one they ultimately delivered (though we did assume, and rightfully so, that these features I mentioned would be there, because the only ones they explicitly said weren't coming were very advanced InDesign/Adobe features that would take years to replicate regardless of how far along the overall development of Publisher was).

As for their supposed “arrogance”, please do point us towards the relevant post. I'm keeping an eye open for that but, for now, I don't share that sentiment, though I do feel they sometimes suffer, to some extent, from hubris (and understandably so, seeing how successful they got with the first two apps). But that's what we, the pro forum-goers, are here for, to anchor – pun unintended, but funny in retrospect – them back to reality. Again, if we did a comparison with Adobe (and their insufferable engineers who sometimes argue with their users even in the face of overwhelming evidence, like in that infamous thread on gradients on an Illustrator user forum), the Serif team would, once again, come out on top. Still, these oversights and misguided priorities may add up over time, so what do I know…

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