Microsoft Publisher, which comes with every Microsoft 365 subscription as well as being a standalone app, is easy to forget about. Even Microsoft itself seems to do it, as it hasn't lavished the kind of updates - such as mobile apps or online file collaboration - on Publisher as it has on Word or Excel.
This might be down to the fact that, while its capabilities are markedly more advanced than those of Word, for the majority of people the word processor's image handling and page layout tools will be enough. Professionals will use something like Adobe InDesign or Affinity Publisher. Where, then, does this leave Microsoft Publisher?
Microsoft Publisher Review: Layout and Publishing
For someone new to Microsoft Office, Publisher's interface is less cluttered and easier to understand than Word's. If you want to design a leaflet or poster, Publisher will get you set up quickly, with guides for printing on both sides of the paper, or with folds. There's a template for everything, and they make a great starting point as you can customize them to your needs.
Those familiar with Word, or other Office applications, will be right at home with the ribbon menu, which changes the visible options depending on which of its menu headers you've selected. There's a mix of tools from Word and Powerpoint here, and the interface can be customized to suit your needs.
Thanks to its mixture of templates and easily grasped tools - and things like Color Schemes, which make it easy to adjust all the colors in a document with a few clicks - it's simple for even new users to make something that looks great.
Microsoft Publisher Review: Features
Everything in Microsoft Publisher works via the ribbon menu. Professional features such as text running around artwork, or the use of Pantone and CMYK colors, are neatly integrated. And while it's certainly possible to create an image-rich document in Word, you'll have a better time in Publisher, and may end up with a better result too. Publisher serves a niche for documents that are too complex for Word, but don't require their designer to sign up for an InDesign subscription.
What's missing from Microsoft Publisher, but present in other Office apps, are things like mobile or web apps for viewing documents, or OneDrive collaboration between multiple users. The program also seems to be outside of the integrated Office help system, saddled instead with an old-fashioned system that takes two clicks - one on the Help menu header, then a second Help button on the ribbon - to even access.
Should you buy Microsoft Publisher?
If you're a Microsoft Office 365 subscriber, the chances are you've got Microsoft Publisher already. It is possible to buy it directly, but at $140 you need a very good reason to buy it over Affinity Publisher ($50). In fact, you could get the whole Affinity suite of three apps for just $10 more than Microsoft Publisher. That's not to say it's a bad app, but only the most die-hard of Microsoft Office users would consider it over the competition.
As part of an Office 365 subscription, Microsoft Publisher makes a lot more sense, but it remains a second-string program that's hard to find even on the Microsoft Office website. If you find yourself needing its niche capabilities, and already have a subscription, then dive in. If you're not a subscriber, look elsewhere.