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BEWARE ALL THE HYPE ON DESKTOP SOFTWARE

Have you noticed all the ads promising software that'll make your desktop-published reports, brochures, newsletters, business cards and stationery look like they rolled out of a fine design studio? Our tests show that most of these programs fall far short of the mark.

First we tried to load and run a desktop-publishing program from Queblo. They specialize in selling decorated laser-printer paper that you can use to create fancy brochures, newsletters, business cards and stationery. Their software, called variously Desktop Today and Q-Prints, is so finicky, we couldn't get it going even after a long technical support call.If you want to see for yourself, Queblo's number is 301-739-4487.

Nebs, the giant forms maker that also sells OneWrite Plus for basic accounting needs, sells a line of fancy papers similar to Queblo's. Not to be outdone, they offer PageMagic for desktop publishing.

We got the Nebs program to load and run. (It takes up to 11 megs of room on your hard disk.) But it's an even worse word processor than PageMaker, Quark Express and the other hefty desktop publishing programs. Even unflappable Frank reached frustration overload before he finished creating a simple business card in PageMagic.

PageMaker and Quark Express make up for their poor word processing by being able to import most of your words from word processing files. They come with conversion utilities that recognize all the popular word processors. Not PageMagic. It can't recognize the latest version of Word for Windows or WordPerfect for Windows. On import, you get plain text that you must then reformat. It lists at $69.96. Nebs' phone number is 800-882-5254.

PrintMaster Gold, on the other hand, is slick, easy to load, easy to use and easy to learn - especially if you're passingly familiar with Windows. It seems to be aimed at amateurs: clubs, schools, fraternities and the like. But you can push it to generate useful business brochures, signs, flyers and calendars.

PrintMaster doesn't hide its limitations. Its opening menu lists every option it offers: Poster, Banner, Calendar and Card (as in birthday, not business card), Select one option and next you'll get to choose from dozens of prefinished products that are previewed in a matchbook-size window.

You can print the design as is or make modifications, changing type fonts, type and paper size, layouts or colors. Your changed files can be saved as new designs.

The predrawn calendars are just calendars. But the greeting cards are very attractive - and the banners and posters are knockouts. The program's print driver is smart enough to divide banners up into discrete parts and print them with cut-and-paste marks. Posters can end up 11 inches wide by several feet long.

The banners, cards and signs look best printed on color printers. But even in black and white, you don't have to apologize for PrintMaster's quality. The program's Windows version retails for $79.95. For $59.95, you can get a DOS version that does most of the same jobs. MicroLogic, the maker, is at 800-436-7897.

Broderbund's Print Shop Deluxe is an update of a program that dates back to the earliest days of personal computers. Ten years ago, we recommended its use in schools. By now it's so powerful, many schools' computers can't run it - and the maker has added enough fonts and canned templates to make it better suited for businesses.

Print Shop makes calendars, letterheads, signs, greeting cards, banners and labels. The calendar designer comes with 20 predrawn choices and the option to make your own from scratch. There are 15 ready-made letterheads, 10 banners, 20 greeting cards and 20 signs.

PS Deluxe Companion guides you in making business cards, postcards, name cards, envelopes and certificates. It also custom-designs unusual drop capital letters and numbers.

The CD-ROM disk includes more clip art, TrueType fonts and digitized photos than all the above-mentioned packages combined. It also has templates that print accurately onto fancy preprint papers from Queblo, Beaver, Paper Design Warehouse, Paper Access, PaperDirect and Idea Art.

We tested it by designing a logo for our villa in Jamaica. Our toughest task was choosing between 38 predesigned formats. We finally picked number 5 and selected a tropical backdrop and dropped in a pair of palm trees, a sandy beach, an exotic sky. We lightened the background to taste and - because our villa's named Yellow Bird - added a lovely yellow bird found on the CD-ROM under Amazing Animals.

It was easy to type our villa's name, address and phone number onto the layout in varied type sizes. We chose deep yellow for the type and added a black shadow, then switched it to gray, which looked a lot better. On our Acer Pentium computer, the changes jumped quickly onscreen.

Broderbund's Print Shop Deluxe CDROM Ensemble sells for about $80. For more information, phone Broderbund at 800-521-6263.