What Applications Support PageMaker Files?

Category: Tech Writer

The discontinued Adobe PageMaker was a popular publishing application during a time when both commercial and desktop publishing were focused on print and not digital. Being given the task of reusing or even archiving PageMaker .pmd files can be a challenge especially if PageMaker software is not available. Very few applications support the .pmd file extension and unlike recent file formats isn't XML-based. Even open source software such as Scribus doesn't support .pmd. There are a few options, however, if a serious task of archiving or repurposing .pmd files is necessary:

1. An original copy of PageMaker 6.5 or PageMaker 7.0. If a copy or boxed set of PageMaker is still available at the company or lying around in storage, then it can still be installed on a laptop/desktop or even better a virtual operating system (Windows 2000 or Windows XP come to mind). A full installation is less than 200MB in size and performs like greased lightning even on VirtualBox on a mid-range workstation. Although the .pmd format wasn't prone to file corruption or malware, installation on today's production systems isn't recommended since the venerable PageMaker hasn't seen a security update for more than a decade now.  During the setup process select Compact in the options to conserve resources. Export all the .pmd files to PDF using the options in the File Menu or through Acrobat Distiller. Even a legacy version of PDF is supported in the latest Adobe products and on freely available applications. In addition, exporting to PDF ensures that extracting text or images can be done if ever the need arises. See #2.

2. PageMaker-exported PDF files. If the .pmd files were backed up properly, they should have a corresponding PDF available. Unfortunately, publishing houses back in the day were so focused on print that some never exported their files to PDF, which was then a controversial format that not all enterprises supported. PageMaker PDF files were created using Acrobat Distiller and follow the same Postscript code used by Adobe today. Although the resulting PDF will not be as secure as PDFs produced today (and may not display in today's tablets or mobile apps), they can be viewed easily in any machine whether you're using Linux, Windows or MacOSX. There are also plenty of tools online that can convert, edit and extract content from these PDFs.   

3. Adobe InDesign CS2 and later. Adobe used to release a PageMaker package with InDesign, which brought back the familiar controls for veteran PageMaker users. Recent versions of InDesign support .pmd natively. Even the MacOSX versions of InDesign (from CS2) support .pmd out of the box. If the .pmd was well-designed and includes plenty of images, InDesign is the best application for repurposing PageMaker files (as Adobe intended it to be). Paragraph Styles are retained and Text Frames are maintained as long as the original fonts used are available on the system.

Take note, however, that poorly designed .pmd file will not improve once opened in InDesign. The example in the screenshot below had text frames sequenced in such a way that when they are printed on a desktop printer, they can be folded into a book. In InDesign, the .pmd file will appear in exactly the same way and once exported to PDF can't be read in proper sequence. Adobe InDesign will also not allow the user to save to .pmd as it can now be saved only as an InDesign file.

4. Adobe Framemaker. Framemaker, which is PageMaker's distant cousin, also supports .pmd and like Adobe InDesign, will save the .pmd to its native format. Styles are maintained and will appear in the Paragraph Designer and Character Designer pods. However, since Framemaker doesn't always handle Text Frames in the same way as InDesign and PageMaker, text may appear cut off. In some cases, you will have to modify the text frames individually to display the text - which will of course ruin the original PageMaker layout.

Unless the PageMaker file was a straightforward left-to-right, up-to-down layout, Framemaker may also interpret the .pmd file differently resulting in a different look from the original. Framemaker excels in text formatting, however, and is recommended for very simple but text-intensive .pmd files which require reformatting (for example, a novel). If Framemaker is the only available software, it is recommended that the user starts with a fresh Framemaker document and manually move the text from an open .pmd file rather than "fix" layout issues from an imported PageMaker book or document.


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