Re: software question

Subject: Re: software question
From: Siliconwriter <siliconwriter -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: Mary Elizabeth <msmith -at- medicfirstaid -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 17 Feb 2006 17:47:20 -0800

On Feb 17, 2006, at 2:09 PM, Mary Elizabeth wrote:

Question: For a technical writer interested in starting freelance work,
would it make sense to purchase Adobe Creative Suite?

Only if you have the money to commit to the constant and expensive updates.

I am deliberately moving away from pricy, proprietary software as a freelance writer. In the first place, when I work a contract, my employer usually provides the hardware/software and that's what I use. If I am doing a contract from home on my own equipment, I get an upfront, carefully constructed contract spelling out what format the deliverable is in. Most of my clients can't even use Adobe InDesign or Framemaker files--they want Word docs.

If you have to have an image processing package, check out GIMP. It's free, open source, and duplicates 90% of what Photoshop does. If you need the more esoteric functions of Photoshop (playing with levels, etc) you probably already have it. There are open source vector drawing packages such as Inkscape. Here's a link to an article reviewing these open source alternatives:

In addition, Scribus is an interesting new page layout program that can duplicate many of the functions of InDesign, and Nvu ( is a full fledged web management program that looks easier to use than GoLive (which I hate hate hate).

I agree with Joe Malin that Acrobat is an essential. Splurge for the full bore Professional edition so that you will have maximum control over files going to a press operator.

One red flag went up for me when you asked "Is InDesign (or Acrobat/ Photoshop/Illustrator, etc.) important enough for freelance technical writing to justify the expense, or would Word work just as well?"

DO NOT attempt to make Word perform as an image processor or other graphics program. DO NOT, if you value your sanity, attempt to create graphics in Word at all. You are asking for SO much trouble. Word is a barely acceptable word processor, a very poor layout program and an absolutely ghastly graphics program. I also recommend against using PowerPoint to create your graphics, but that is probably a losing battle. (I never yet met an engineer who didn't love to create little schematics in PowerPoint.)

Good luck.


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software question: From: Mary Elizabeth

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