I originally wrote this up on Amazon.ca a few days ago and thought that, since most readers would not go to the Canadian site, this review would be helpful posted here for a larger audience.
After spending approximately 40 hours working in the 2010 version of the program (we have been using this product since the 2003 version), here are my initial observations:
1. It is definitely more stable and it is more integrated into the Office suite
2. It has lots of little additions that make using it much easier - for example, it has no problems with a bilingual document and switches keyboard, language and speller seamlessly. Changing pictures is a snap and you can link an Excel table to Publisher - change numbers in Excel and when you open Publisher, it updates your Excel tables. Excellent.
3, It is much easier to use than a real publishing solution such as InDesign, which has a really steep learning curve and costs about $1K more per license. If you know Word, you can use this product. Everyone in your business can use Publisher, while very few will have the knowledge to use a professional desktop publishing software solution such as InDesign by Adobe. This is a really big advantage from both a cost and time perspective.
4. The learning curve is very low, especially if you are already familiar with the Ribbon.
5. Contrary to popular belief and snickering on the part of printing houses and so-called experts, Publisher does a very good job at creating documents for printing at a professional printing house - it has Pantone and CMYK built into it and an excellent commercial printing wizard - our documents are of the quality of, for example, The Missing Manual series, using full colour. Some of our printers cannot believe that our documents were created in Publisher.
6. If you need to make a lot of changes to a document to satisfy clients, Publisher makes it really easy - but it is flawed, some basic automated functions do not exist. Your alternative is to do everything in a competing product like InDesign.
7. Publisher is very affordable compared to InDesign and if you are prepared to invest your sweat and time into manually manipulating each page, it probably is a very good solution (see the Cons about automation however).
1. It still is NOT a real desktop solution. You need to write all of your documentation in Word first, then design your template and move everything from Word to Publisher. Trying to import a Word document with pictures, tables etc. is a nightmare (believe me on this one). Write your text in Word and import it, but add your tables, pictures etc directly from within Publisher. This tip alone is worth money in terms of saved time and frustration - donations are, of course, accepted :-).
2. The help files are completely and totally useless - there is no detailed information on all of the features (SHAME ON YOU MICROSOFT). I have to use Word help files to get information on using specific elements of Styles for example - fortunately, if you know Word, many of the functions are the same. I sometimes use a Word reference manual to find more information on a Publisher function - wow!
3. You can see literally that Microsoft is still not really supporting this product - with the dearth of comprehensive help files, it feels still like an orphan and it still seems to be oriented towards greeting cards and newsletters and very short documents (think twice about writing a training manual of 200 pages for example, it is really time consuming - as some basic automated functions do not exist and you need to do each page manually). Too bad, the product merits more attention as it is a very complimentary extension of Office.
4. Lacks automation - this is a very serious drawback. Publisher 2010 lacks some really basic functions - for example, it cannot create a table of contents, although it offers some table of content templates that you can fill in manually. Importing a table of contents from Word will save a bit of time, but you still have to manually type in the page numbers in the table of contents if you change anything -which means that if you add in some pages, you need to manually enter the changes such as new titles and page numbering, into the Table of Contents and redo all of the numbering manually - ouch! Very time consuming and creates the conditions for errors slipping in with page numbers, table references etc.
5. Because of the lack of automation, you need Word to make this product shine but, importing from Word is very time consuming. Sometimes, when updating a manual, we simply do the changes in Word and re-import what we change (like a table of contents) ... but if you have a lot of changes throughout a document and not just the Table of Contents, then you are better off simply starting a NEW publisher file using the custom template you created AND, just so you know, importing is very problematic and time consuming as Publisher dumps everything into a single text box when it imports (it chains the text boxes onto other pages to accommodate your content). It does NOT convert your Word template into a Publisher template.
6. Publisher still seems oriented towards very SHORT documents, say 20 pages or so. For example, automated page numbering is still basic and this is not acceptable - you can only place automated page numbering in the headers or footers, you cannot place them halfway down the page for example, as many textbooks or manuals use today, unless you are prepared to manually enter the numbers yourself. You CANNOT generate a Table of Figures or a Table of Pictures or an Index - it needs to be done manually, just like the Table of Contents. By the way Microsoft, you are not serious about this product when I see basic functions like these still unavailable in Publisher (see Con item number 4 above). I had such high hopes that this functionality would be added - but alas this is still a crippled product.
7. Oh yes, you cannot merge two or more documents - you need to follow an obscure and intimidating process that someone created in a user forum - it works, but it is scary and you should not have to be forced to do this. Why is this is a problem? Well, Publisher can only handle documents up to about 100 pages or it freezes or does not load, so you need to divide longer documents and then merge them by converting everything to PDF and using Adobe pro or similar software to merge your PDF files. This is what we have been doing for the past several years - it works very well, but you should be able to merge two or three documents that are less than 100 pages, right?
8. The master pages function is still really flaky and un-intuative. I have yet to figure out how to copy master pages from one document to another in 2010 - and before criticizing me on this, I can tell you from experience that the "switching template" function within Publisher 2010, for example a document submitted by another user using a generic Publisher Template, does NOT work with complex customized templates, it only works with simple templates.
9. You can send your content and template to a professional designer who can convert your file to an InDesign or Quark document with a special add-in (interesting that this exists for designers who pay for this add-in; this means that there are a lot of small companies like us that use Publisher primarily for desktop publishing - ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION MICROSOFT?) - however, you CANNOT take your designer's content and convert to Publisher (you have to manually created a template, or master page, within Publisher). This is a real pain as you then become totally reliant on your designer (we use one as a sub-contractor) to make changes using InDesign and this is very expensive and frustrating for them and for you. You can send them your Publisher files but they cannot return the favour basically. So, for some of our documents, we are stuck with outsourcing or rewriting in Word and then going through the entirely un-automated process of importing the Word document (as noted earlier, everything dumps into a text-box which expands onto multiple pages for a long document - you then hope that you do not have too much manipulation).
10. Lastly, and maybe fatally for the future of the product and its attractiveness, there are no really comprehensive third-party support reference books out there - there is no Wiley, or O'Reilly or even Microsoft Inside-Out reference manuals - you really are on your own and have to rely on user forums for help.
We still find Publisher useful enough that we continue to use it in our small business but Microsoft still does not seem to take this product very seriously, at least from what we perceive. Like I noted earlier, this is really too bad because the product has so much potential.