Project Rome: there's no reason a piece of software can't make you say prego! Especially if it's an all-in-one desktop publishing tool that makes it easy for even the novice computer user to make and publish webpages, photo albums, flyers and anything else an expert might use Adobe Illustrator or InDesign for, but without having to pay loads of cash just to do so. Currently, the project is in beta and available to whomever might want to try it. To get a feel for it, we played with the software ourselves and wrote up a few tips and tricks and point out some choice features from the web application.
Test it out and let us know what you think!
Pro Tip: the desktop application (you'll need the latest version of Adobe Air) will work a lot better than the web application.
Right. We should probably explain that to you before we dive into the murky waters of desktop publishing. Project Rome is, very specifically, a simple content creation and publishing tool for virtually anyone. It's easy to use and it's free (while it's currently in buggy beta mode), and in the future all you'll have to do to subscribe to it is pay a simple fee.
When you start up the application--we're using the desktop based one in the screenshots--you have the option to choose what kind of project you'd like to do. If you're just looking to make invitations for a party, or brochures for your next political rally, you can do so with a selection of easy to use templates. There's even a community template bank available, where you can also submit your own ready-made templates. This is a wonderful resource for teachers and professionals who are looking for specific content, but don't have the time to come up with it themselves.
Word to the wise: use caution when choosing a template because you never know if the one you pick will be a pain to use or not. Templates with tons of convoluted layers can be difficult to edit, so keep that in mind when you're working on your own projects as well. And take into consideration the difficulty of editing an entire template--sometimes it’s better just to leave things as is.
Once you open up a project, you can easily drag and drop, and point and click, to get things moving. If you've ever used a presentation making application like Keynote and Powerpoint, or any of Adobe’s products, navigating the interface should be a cake walk. If you've having trouble with too many windows showing up, you can enable tabbed mode from the menu bar under "Window."
Like Photoshop and Illustrator, layers work for individual objects, but only when they’re selected. If you have nothing selected, the left-side menu bar turns into "Sheets" to show you how many pages you have in your project.
If you've got a template open that has many objects, you can select and hide them from the objects box on the bottom left-hand side of the screen. The objects are stacked just like layers in any other Adobe application, and they can be locked and deleted with a quick click all the same. Each object also has individual elements that can be changed or edited by clicking the arrow next to its name.
Selecting an individual object will display a tiny icon that looks like a pencil. Click it to bring up a dialog box of editing options you can do for the object. You can, for instance, add a filter like a drop shadow (shudder!) and render a set of difference clouds. Or, you can change the size, transparency and orientation of the object. You can even change the way the file outputs when you export your project, and the file extensions and types of each individual object.
You can also double click the object to go into bitmap editing mode, which will enable you to use some of Photoshop's best tools to edit your picture, without having to go into an image editing program to do so.
Best part of all of this? If you don't like it, you can always undo with Command + Z. Fabulous!
It's scary looking and it's a bit intimidating, but when you find out what it does we feel like in time, you'll grow to love it. If, for example, you're working on a webpage to let your friends know that you're having a kickin' party, the timeline animates your objects to give that online party invitation a little extra bit of "oomph." In this case, the house and the "Party in the House" text above it pulsate, while the "How to Get There" button shows an overlay of a map when you hover over it with your mouse.
You can insert all kinds of objects and knick knacks from the "Insert" item located in the menu bar. For instance, you can select “Object Exchange” to select an object that other users have created. Or, you can search straight from the web for that photo you need. You can also create shapes and add interactive components as well.
By now, you can see from our screenshots that we changed the whole theme behind our project. It's no longer a raving house party, but a cute party with sewing and stuff. Now, we didn't actually change the animations or anything like that--we just took out the photo and changed the colors of certain objects by editing individual layers. Project Rome makes it easy for beginners to keep the advanced mechanics of a template while still being able to customize it to their liking.
Every tool you can use on the canvas has a slew of extra bits, so even if you're unfamiliar with animation and the like, the menus and dialog boxes are really self explanatory. The Help box is constantly popping up, trying its best to give you some aid. While it annoyed us, we can see how this would benefit someone who has never used this kind of product in their life, or are overwhelmed by the amount of tools available at their disposal.
Quickly, here’s the description of each of the main tools:
Selection tool: Enables you to select an object, select a path, or select a sequence in an animation.
Rectangle tool: Create a circle, rectangle or line Vector brush tool: Enables you to draw with a paintbrush, pencil or pen
Layout text tool: Create text or layout text
Gradient Fill tool: You can also do gradient stroke, for a dramatic effect on your photos
Warp tool: You’ll have to create a path for this to work. This tool also lets you create a guide, a bitmap image, and animate your objects
Hand tool: It’s your hand! In binary form!
Magnifying glass: Don’t strain your eyes!
There are several different file types that Project Rome outputs: JPG, PNG, Flash (.SWF), SVG (XML-based file format for vectors), FXG (Flash XML Graphic), or PDF. If you save your project as a website, it will export as a .SWF. Now, although Flash websites aren’t exactly all the rage these days, that’s what Adobe’s Project Rome outputs them as--not CSS or plain Jane HTML, as we were hoping. If you’re curious at the output, you can check out one of the website templates here and peruse through the source code.
The good news is that if you don’t want to deal with a hosting company and just need a site to show off your resume, you can publish to Adobe’s Project Rome website. Or, at least you can publish it now, while the application is still in beta. Then, you could buy a cheap domain name and route it to the URL where the site is hosted. But as we mentioned, it’s in Flash. Keep in mind, many smartphones cannot render websites built in this format, and pretty soon the myriad of tablets available at the local Tech Mart won’t have access to them either. So, if you want people to see your site, you might want to find a different solution, or hire some kid to code some CSS for you and use Project Rome just for vector purposes.
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