Scribus: The Official Manual

Reviewed by Major Keary

Scribus Open Source Desktop Publishing The Official Manual is the full title, but it seems to be more commonly referred to as Scribus: The Official Manual or simply Scribus Manual. The bastard title is even more brief: Scribus.

Apart from the two lead authors there are some fifteen other contributors. The copyright page contains an unusual list of individual copyrights and declares "the content of this manual is subject to the Open Publication Licence", details of which are set out in an appendix.

This is not a collection of how-to instructions. The book goes well beyond that, discussing various DTP-related issues and technologies in depth. In a chapter, Your DTP Toolbox, a number of useful 'adjunct' programs are described. Colour management and other colour-related matters are discussed in depth. Scribus has several plug-ins, two of which are described in detail: short-words uses a non-breaking space to keep certain—user-selected—words together on the same line; and The Scripter, which allows for the use of Python to carry out a series of operations—including regular expressions—within Scribus. Appendices include a detailed description of Linux/Unix command line installation of Scribus. There is also a side-by-side table of terminology used by Scribus, QuarkExpress, and Adobe InDesign.

The reader is assumed to be computer-literate, and know his or her way around an operating system and its particular installation procedures. The Manual is best suited to those with some DTP or typographical background, but DTP novices should be able to find their way around Scribus. The writing is clear, and topics are covered in good detail.

Given that the manual is a show-case for Scribus, more care could have been given to the typography. For example, at page 125 there is a visually awful line (too much space between words) that could have been avoided; and breaking 'ubiquitous' thus: ubi-quitous, might be excusable if the measure is very narrow, but not in this instance. One should not rely on automated hyphenation systems in any DTP/typesetting applications. I was surprised that, even though the Scribus default encoding is UTF-8, there is no reference to Unicode or UTF-8 in the index. Unicode gets a passing mention at page 184, and the only reference to UTF-8 that I came across is in the glossary.

However, in spite of the rough edges (which others may consider to be mere nitpicking) this is much more than a manual: it is a remarkably good explanation and description of Scribus, and of DTP at large. Publishing has become more complex and applications such as Scribus make it easier to cope with those complexities. Scribus, of course, has a tremendous advantage over commercial products: it is open source and freely available for most operating systems (Linux/Unix, MS Windows, and Mac); there is good, cost-free, support; and Scribus has a proper manual.

An essential acquisition for libraries with holdings on DTP and publishing.

Pittman, Schafer, et al.: Scribus: The Official Manual
ISBN 978-0-9560780-0-1
Published by FLES Books, 439 pp., RRP

There appears to be no Australian distributer. Various bookshops are listed as having it in stock, but the asking prices vary. Amazon quotes $US 44.95 + $US 9.98 mailing, which translated to $AU 62.63 when the $AU bought $US 0.90c.


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