Scribus is finally usable

By Eric Bright

The DEV version

Scribus icon

UPDATE 2018-07-07: Updated the URL to the portable version.
UPDATE 2018-02-20: Listed the latest test version.

You need to give Scribus 1.5.4-test, i.e. the development version, a try. It is a totally different beast now.

I always used to test the 1.4.x branch now and then, and it was a GUI disaster. Today, I stumbled upon the 1.5.4-test version and got the portable copy of it from here:

Holy smoke! It is usable! It is usable! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Almost all of my complaints about the 1.4.x branch was totally addressed and some. I might actually switch from InDesign to Scribus after all.

Anyway, I had to head back to my 2014 review of the software and update it big time. It is, for all practical purposes, a different package altogether and very much worthy of a closer look.

Four years after my first review, almost all of my issues with the 1.4.x branch is addressed and fixed. In version 1.5.4-test, all the panels are dockable, the items in the panels are re-arranged, and most, if not all, of the usability issues and GUI/UX problems are fixed. The test version is still a work in progress and should not be harshly judged if bugs show up. The development team is certainly on the right track. Scribus is now actually usable and the learning curve has been ironed-out greatly.

Try it, again!

If you tried Scribus a few years ago and it did not work for you, now it is a good time to give it an honest spin and see all the changes and improvements that are made to this software. I am seriously thinking of switching to Scribus finally after testing the above-mentioned version.

If you like to install the regular copy of Scribus from their website, here is where you can find it:

Get Scribus

My first impression of Scribus in 2014 which is NOT true today

On the positive side, this wonderful project has huge potentials. Excellent results can be achieved by using this software. The results are easily comparable to commercially-available alternatives.

On the negative side, I think the project is underpowered and needs more developers. The user-interface needs rethinking. Many of the great options and features cannot easily be used or are arranged in very confusing ways. It is not lack of features, but the way they are presented that is a big issue: disorganized, scattered, unmanageable, and confusing at times. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for it either.

I always wanted to switch to an open-source alternative (from the most-commonly-used desktop publishing software application). I’ve never been able to do that with Scribus. One reason is that most of your skills on other software are not easily transferable to Scribus. The learning curve for Scribus, even if you have come from another desktop publishing application, is pretty steep and long; and unreasonably so. The panels need serious re-engineering to become useful. They cannot be ducked (as of version 1.4.4) which adds to the usability issue. They’re not foldable either, i.e you either have them opened, or closed. This makes using the panels extremely awkward and inefficient. The panels’ usability and the issues surrounding them is the single, most important usability issue with Scribus.

The visual elements of the design of the software is stuck somewhere in 1990s and uses the mentality and design paradigms of that era. So it has a lot of room for improvement in this regards. The available themes do not help you fix the dated look of the design at all (they actually make it worse).

Aside from the user interface and usability issues, the setting and preferences are reasonable. You can calibrate the units for measuring sizes based on the resolution of your monitor and it works great. Autosave, colour management, preflight verifications, and PDF export settings are available and different PDF standards are being added gradually.

Scribus also allows you to use Python scripts (although I never tried it) and it uses a pluggable architecture (so there are a few plug-ins available for it). The plug-ins extend the features of Scribus. I certainly recommend this software to anyone who wants to have a reasonable alternative to the expensive commercial desktop publishing software applications. Once you passed the first learning stage, you can be sure that you can create great results in this application, ready for publication at the highest level of quality and standard.

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