For some months now, fans of Apple's Macintosh have been able to point out a limitation of the IBM PC and compatibles: Desktop publishing, which is the personal computer rage this year, was the sole province of the Macintosh.

Because the Mac is built around a high-powered chip and uses a graphics interface, it is ideally suited for graphics-intensive operations, which require good screen clarity and lots of personal computing horsepower.

But software makers, never ones to pass up an opportunity, heard the wails of IBM users who wanted to get into desk-top publishing and responded. As a result, you can now jump into desk-top publishing on the IBM side as well as on the Mac side.

In all fairness, this application still presents less overall hassle on the Macintosh side. Still, if you have committed to a sizable investment in an IBM compatible, you don't have to sell your computer to play publisher. Aldus Corp.'s Page Maker, the most popular program for desk-top publishing on the Mac, is now available for the IBM PC.

Also available is Ventura Publisher by Xerox Corp. If dazzling documents are what you need, you can get them from Ventura Publisher. Be forewarned, however, that it will initially take some time. A desk-top publishing program makes a word processor look like child's play in terms of complexity.

I had an idea that things might get complex when I opened the package and found 11 disks.

It took 15 minutes just to install the program but, once installed, Ventura Publisher was easy to get started. The program bears a strong resemblance to the Macintosh, with pull-down menus and on-screen tools that you select with a mouse. (The mouse, by the way, is required by this program.)

Like Aldus' Page Maker, Ventura Publisher is a page layout program, not a word processor. You build a document by using your favorite word processor to create a file, then loading that file in Ventura Publisher, and laying out the page.

You have many controlling options that professional printers have: You can place text into columns, insert drawings or other images, and use a variety of type styles.

The program's documentation is comprehensive, but you'll spend some time learning Ventura because there's simply so much to desk-top publishing.

One major advantage of this program is that you don't necessarily need to go into hock to afford hardware to run it. Ventura Publisher does require a hard disk and a mouse but, unlike many desk-top publishing programs for IBM compatibles, you do not need an AT-compatible PO or fast processor accessory card to use the program.

After my first close look at desk-top publishing on the IBM compatible, my impression is that professional printing appearance from a personal computer is quite possible. But be prepared to spend a good bit of time, and some money, to get what you want.