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QuarkXPress Still Going Strong

As some of you know, I came to the Mac via prepress. By night, I labored as a freelance writer, and by day, and sometimes into the evening, I worked as a typographer in New York City. While the jobs changed, for some curious reason, I always found employment within a few blocks of an area near 5th Avenue and 30th Street in Manhattan.

In any case, the arrival of the Mac changed a lot of things. I had already become comfortable playing with those early personal computers, and had a smattering of knowledge of Basic and DOS, but I was especially pleased to be able to do everything via point and click. Till then, the traditional typesetting computer front-ends I worked on were mostly text-based, and graphical layout schemes were primitive and usually inaccurate. I could usually figure things out better via the command line, but the Mac was a revelation. Finally, there was a proper way to handle graphical interfaces.

With the arrival of Adobe PostScript and laser printers, it was possible to place a prepress operation in your living room, which is where I set up my first home-based Mac. There were two major publishing applications that allowed you to create fully formatted professional calibre documents, and a number of lesser contenders. Of the former, PageMaker came first, designed to mirror the actions of a graphic designer on your computer’s display. So instead of using a physical layout table, you placed the elements of your document on the screen by dragging them into position. The other contender, QuarkXPress, took the typographer’s route, opting for precision, using frames — text and picture boxes — to assemble your layouts.

Over the years, I put together literally thousands of ads and brochures in XPress. Later, I combined my writing skills to prepare manuals for one of the larger American audio manufacturers. I also put together magazines and books for several clients. In case you’re wondering, I still have most of those document files around somewhere, but no current application will read them, even assuming I had a floppy disk drive around to retrieve the data.

In any case, serious publishing professionals largely adopted QuarkXPress. PageMaker, later acquired by Adobe, was slow, buggy and just not precise enough. Printing to high resolution output devices could be inconsistent. I know that I did a number of booklets in PageMaker and learned to tolerate it. Put the emphasis on tolerate. When Quark owned the market, they once attempted a hostile takeover of Adobe without success. Had it succeeded, PageMaker would have been sold off to satisfy antitrust concerns, but the effort was laughed off.

Well, in 1999, Adobe released InDesign 1.0. It was promoted as a totally new app, but the PageMaker lineage was evident in the interface, and it still could be slow and flaky. But it was well integrated with other Adobe apps that were mainstays in the publishing and design worlds, such as Illustrator and Photoshop.

Now Quark Inc. wasn’t without its problems. From bugs to abysmal customer service, it was the app you loved to hate. Much of the blame for these issues fell on CEO Fred Ebrahimi, who was notorious for blaming customers for the company’s failures. In 2002, in response to the poorly-received QuarkXPress 5.0, he bitterly announced, “the Macintosh platform is shrinking,” and went on to suggest customers switch to “something else,” being, of course, Windows.

Over the years, InDesign continued to improve, and it seemed that XPress languished, and more and more designers and publishers decided to adopt InDesign. For a few years, it appeared that Quark’s days in the sun were numbered, although some people, particularly those in the corporate and book publishing industries, continued to use it.

New management helped restore Quark’s reputation, and fairly frequent updates have added a decent amount of new features that answer the needs of publishers. Earlier this year arrived QuarkXPress 2015, with huge across-the-board improvements. Rather than list them all here, I’ll simply point to the company’s full listing. Notable improvements include, at last, full 64-bit support for better performance, enhanced tables, and content variables, including running headers. I’m particularly pleased to discover the ability to import footnotes and endnotes from Word documents; it’s a feature I would have loved to try out when I laid out a long book in the previous version of XPress.

Add to that improved e-book tools, more powerful PDF features, including the ability to create PDF/X-4 files, and you end up with a well-rounded publishing app that will definitely answer the needs of existing XPress users and perhaps dissuade some from jumping ship to InDesign.

As for me, I’ve used the app for more than 25 years, and I’ve long become accustomed to its power and its quirks. XPress 2015 has fewer of the latter. In particularly, it’s no longer apt to crash and burn at uncomfortable moments.

As to InDesign, well, I’d be pleased to give the latest version and try and report back to you readers. Unlike Quark, however, Adobe is often reluctant to grant tech reviewers extended cloud access to write long-term evaluations. I might consider signing up, but access to any documents I create would require keeping up the subscriptions for as long as Adobe Creative Cloud lasts.

I do have projects at hand that were begun in InDesign, which I’d like to update in the new version. But without Adobe’s cooperation, I might just export them to XPress and be done with it.