REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 15, 2001 — Microsoft recently celebrated the birthday of an application that for a long time has filled a very big need for small businesses. Microsoft Publisher, which turns 10 this fall, is a desktop publishing program that brings to the masses the ability to create slick business collateral, calendars, flyers, postcards, Web sites and more, without the expense and effort necessary to obtain and learn programs created for professional designers.
Produced through the love and sweat of a small, tight-knit team of Microsoft veterans, Publisher has been a hit with consumers and a leveling force for small business Despite its humble beginnings, product brought with it a little touch of genius that changed the face of the software industry.
Publisher Anniversary TimelineClick on the graphic to download a high resolution image
Publisher Gives Small Businesses More Time to Sell
Nina Fotopoulos has been an avid user and evangelist of Publisher for several years. As branch manager of Caldwell Banker’s residential broker’s office in Downers Grove, Ill., she sees Publisher as an indispensable tool for real-estate professionals, and the software has been deployed throughout her office.
“Publisher is installed on every computer,” she says.
According to Fotopoulos, Publisher can help both experienced and novice sales associates save time and money. “In today’s real-estate business, most of our marketing is the responsibility of the individual agent,” she says. “Publisher allows them to create postcards for mailings, flyers for their properties — even very high-end brochures — and they can do all that very quickly.”
Before Publisher, the Caldwell agents would have outsourced much of that work to professional designers and printing houses at great expense. But now, says Nina, “they don’t need to incur that debt any longer.”
And as liberating as that may be for industry veterans, the cost-effective production of business collateral is especially crucial for associates who are just learning, and who often don’t have the time or money to invest in professionally produced materials. Publisher can thus play a key role in getting new agents off the ground quickly.
“Publisher is especially valuable for them,” Nina says. “Within minutes any sales associate, whether they have little computer knowledge or are hardcore computer junkies, can get on Publisher and use it effectively. And it gives each of our associates a unique and professional look to communicate with customers and the real estate community.”
It is exactly the sort of thing that Publisher was made for — empowering everyday people to communicate creatively and effectively. The same thinking has driven each successive version since the launch of Publisher 1.0 in 1991.
“Publisher has stayed true to its roots,” says Adam Eversole, a Publisher lead software design engineer and member of the original Publisher development team. “Over the years, a focus on small business owners has emerged, but the end user we keep in mind is essentially the same — someone without design experience, who doesn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a professional page layout application, but who still wants to achieve great-looking results.”
By all accounts, they’ve succeeded. Since 1992, when Publisher 1.0 was winning widespread industry recognition, Microsoft Publisher has become one of the most popular and enduring products in Microsoft history.
“There Has to Be a Trick”
One of the biggest reasons for Publisher’s strong showing right out of the gates was the team’s development of innovative “Page Wizard” document layout assistants. Publisher introduced the concept of “wizards,” which are step-by-step instructional guides that lead users through a series of design options. Today wizards can be found throughout Microsoft software, guiding users through tasks such as printer setup, Internet connection and more.
The advent of these software helpers was a direct result of two seemingly contradictory goals behind Publisher 1.0. The team wanted to build powerful design tools into the program, while also making the program accessible to those without design experience.
“We realized early on that to make a mid-range desktop publishing program successful, we had to address the fact that a lot of people simply don’t have the design skills necessary to make a page look good,” says Ed Ringness, the original development lead for Publisher 1.0. “No matter how easy we made it to use the tools, people wouldn’t know what the tools were for. So the idea behind wizards was to get these people jump-started and do a lot of the design for them early on.”
Page Wizards were an ingenious and simple way to solve the conundrum. Using a set of document templates created by professional designers, the wizard guides users through the initial setup of their publication, such as a newsletter or brochure. Once the content is in place, the user is then free to modify the document however he or she wants.
The idea worked beautifully, and helped make Publisher a success. But the impact of Publisher’s Page Wizards went beyond consumer appeal to affect the whole philosophy behind software development.
“Some of the developers back then didn’t like the idea,” says Eversole. “In the early software culture, a lot of developers were more interested in making features than in making things easy. How many features you had was sometimes seen as more important than making things work. The Page Wizards helped people see that making the software easy to use was a key factor in popularizing these applications among consumers.”
It wasn’t necessarily a new idea, but the success of Page Wizards helped drive it home. Today the concept of making software accessible to everyone is a central tenet behind development practices at Microsoft.
The Publisher Family
It’s not just wizards and features and ease of use that have made Publisher such a longstanding success. There’s something about the product that simply seems to resonate with people. Perhaps it’s because Publisher embodies the spirit behind the personal computer, of enabling people to do more than they thought they could.
Or perhaps it’s because Publisher is the creation of a Microsoft team that has largely stuck together. The Publisher team has one of the highest longevity rates at Microsoft. It is a group of people deeply concerned with how Publisher works, what features are put into it, and how customers use those features .
Each new version of Publisher has expanded users’ ability to produce competitive communications materials in-house, whether it’s adding increasingly high-end design features to give users more refined control, incorporating professional printing capabilities to allow for higher quality printing and larger quantities than a desktop printer can provide, enhancing the product’s Web capabilities, or providing more integration and consistency with other Microsoft Office applications.
Publisher continues to spare its users the hassle and expense of hiring professional designers or learning to use professional desktop publishing programs, while allowing them to produce professional-looking results. In short, as users’ needs get more sophisticated, so does Publisher.
But whatever approach the team is taking, Publisher just seems to work. Just ask Nina Fotopoulos.
“Publisher is cost-effective, time effective, and it’s certainly saving us money,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of desktop publishing, using some very high-end programs, and I think Publisher is one of the best around.”