Multiple undo, layout spaces, synchronized text, improved Web and
PDF output - but another underwhelming release.
At one time QuarkXPress was synonymous with high-end design. While
version 4.1 was expensive, users were willing to pay a premium to
know that they were using the best print publisher available. The
long overdue version 5 was a disaster however, largely ignoring
print to graft on underpowered and misconceived web functionality.
At the same time, seriously attractive competition appeared for
the first time in the form of Adobe InDesign. However, changing
such a mission-critical application isn't a decision to made lightly,
and most users decided to give Quark one last chance. So does Quark
6 take it?
On first loading the program, there's little obvious that's new.
At one level this is reassuringly familiar, but on another it's
seriously disappointing - the all-new QuarkXPress 6 still looks
old and outdated. Thankfully the one interface enhancement users
have been crying out for has been implemented: QuarkXPress 6 finally
supports multiple undo. Using the icons at the bottom of the document
window you can undo and redo up to 30 actions. You can also open
a pop-up list of recent actions so that you can immediately return
to a previous stage in your editing process. Disappointingly however,
not all commands are undoable and some, such as making changes to
a master page, clear the undo history so that, just when you've
come to rely on it, the new safety net sometimes fails to appear.
While the Quark interface and look-and-feel is relatively unchanged,
that's not true of version 6's working approach or how it handles
files. In version 5 you either created QXD documents for print or
QWD documents for the Web, now there's a new all-encompassing QXP
format for creating "projects" of either type. More importantly,
each project can now contain up to 25 documents or, as Quark now
refers to them, "layouts". This is all handled through the new Layout
menu which provides commands for adding new layouts from scratch
or duplicating the current layout. You then switch between your
project's layouts using the named tabs at the bottom of the project
The biggest introduction is multiple layouts within a single
This is ideal for experimenting with versions of the same duplicated
project but also for managing separate but connected publications.
This is especially true as as each layout within the project shares
the same H&J, Lists, Application Preferences and, most importantly,
Colours and Style Sheets. If you change the font of an existing
style, for example, or the Pantone number of your house colours
this will be updated through all the layouts in the project. The
advantages in terms of consistency and productivity when producing
themed publications such as stationery sets are obvious.
QuarkXPress 6 takes the idea of sharing between layouts much further
and into totally new territory with its Synchronized Text palette.
By selecting a text box in one layout and then clicking on the Synchronize
icon, it is added to the palette list and can then be dragged and
dropped onto any other text box in your project replacing the previous
contents. If you then edit the text in any layout it is updated
automatically in all layouts. Again the benefits are clear: change
address for example and you can update your entire stationery in
seconds. You can also use synchronized text within a single layout,
say to produce multiple business cards.
Text can be synchronized within and between layouts.
The potential productivity gains offered by the use of layout spaces
and synchronized text are undeniable - but it's not quite as simple
as you might think. You can't synchronize pictures for example or
just a section of text, or spell-check or find/replace across an
entire project, or share master pages or guides or even view more
than one layout at a time. Most bizarre of all, you can't create
book files based on multiple layouts as each chapter must be a separate
project! More fundamentally, the new multi-layout file format raises
disk housekeeping issues and concerns about file corruption. And
the whole principle of changing one layout and others updating automatically
unseen, raises the spectre of unwary users inadvertently wreaking
Where Quark is pushing the benefits of connected layouts most heavily
is when it comes to republishing print work for the Web. This is
an area that QuarkXPress 5 pioneered, but the implementation was
fatally flawed as there was no connection between the print and
web layout apart from through awkward cutting and pasting. And,
if you effectively had to begin your web layout from scratch, why
on earth would you want to do it QuarkXPress rather than in a dedicated
web authoring package?
Now in version 6 it's possible to see what Quark was trying to
achieve. By synchronizing text between layouts, for example, you
can ensure that both print and web versions of a publication remain
in synch with each other. And QuarkXPress 6 now offers the crucial
ability to automatically convert between print and web formats with
the Layout > Properties command, recreating the page design with
a mixture of HTML tables and CSS positioning and converting print-friendly
TIFF images to web-friendly JPEGs.
QuarkXPress 6 also sees a general boost to the web power on offer.
You can now easily create page-to-page hyperlinks without having
to create anchors and can specify how these are displayed. You can
also create remote rollovers where the user moving a mouse over
one part of the screen changes the content elsewhere. And you can
create pop-up cascading menus of links and these can automatically
be shared between layouts in the same project. You can also specify
CSS font families.
Again though XPress's web functionality and repurposing is not
as simple as it could, or should, be. The fact that you can't synchronize
pictures or sections of text or map between styles from one layout
to another means that the dream of regular, fully-automatic repurposing
is still a long way off. And simply converting from print to web
formats isn't the cure-all it might seem either. When I tried to
convert one layout from print to web modes and back again I was
told that I couldn't as an element would be off the pasteboard.
Leaving conversion to Quark isn't a good idea anyway as page layouts
for print with their multiple columns and overlapping text boxes
just don't translate well to HTML and will certainly lead to inefficient
code or even to text being turned into unselectable, download-heavy
With a bit of work, you can usefully produce synchronized print
and web versions of a simple brochure, say, but the bottom line
is that Quark doesn't give you any control over the HTML and CSS
code with which it produces its layouts. That's just about acceptable
for a program intended for occasional users like Microsoft Publisher,
but for the professional designers who use Quark it's simply not
good enough. In particular for the Quark-based publishing houses
needing to shift their regular print content onto the Web, Quark's
HTML-based republishing is so underpowered it's an embarrassing
For these core institutional users however, QuarkXPress 6 does
provide a possible alternative by bundling updated versions of the
XML Import and avenue.quark XTensions for handling XML. And without
the need for a DTD, better display of tagged content and a new parser
with better error handling the system is easier than it was. It's
still challenging however, to say the least, and way over the top
for most users. And those few users who are in the position to make
use of XML processing are already better served by third-party XTensions
which aren't tied to the Quark product cycle for new and essential
Ultimately QuarkXPress 6's web authoring capabilities still fall
between the two stools of its underpowered HTML-based repurposing
and its niche XML-based processing. In a way though that shouldn't
matter as the Web has never been the main concern of Quark's users;
where they make their money is print. That's why version 5 was such
a disappointment with just two new print-oriented introductions,
table and layer handling, neither of which were a patch on the competition.
So what new print-based design power does 6 provide?
Well, to begin with, it beefs up those unininspired version 5 features.
For layer handling, you can now more easily change the stacking
order and there's a command to select all objects on a layer. And
now when you lock a layer the program actually does stop you from
modifying objects on it! When it comes to tables the biggest advance
is the ability to set both lines and background to None so that
the grid disappears and the table can become a more seamless part
of its page. And you can also set up text linking between cells
and even between tables.
It's difficult to get too excited as all of these features should
have been there in the first implementation. And there are still
plenty of idiosycyncracies and limitations. In particular it's important
to realize that Quark tables are essentially just grouped text and
picture boxes (there's a new command to ungroup them). This means
that there's no option for cells and rows that automatically increase
in size to accommodate their contents or for tables that can flow
across multiple pages. What's unforgivable though is that these
minor tweaks are virtually the only new design capabilities. The
comparison with InDesign 2 with its support for transparency, blend
modes, feathering, optical kerning and multi-line compositing, is
particularly embarrassing. The bottom line is that you can produce
better work in InDesign.
But producing work on the computer is only one part of the equation;
reliably outputting it as four-colour commercial print is another
and, because of its long dominance in the field, Quark's biggest
strength. Version 6's print capabilities are largely unchanged apart
from a new Layers tab in the print dialog that lets you over-ride
layer display settings. These days though commercial print is increasingly
moving to a PDF-based workflow so the most important new output
capability is QuarkXPress 6's new ability to export directly to
PDF without the need to buy Acrobat Distiller.
Quark can now save directly to PDF.
Again though it's impossible to be too impressed. To begin with,
Quark has simply bought in the Jaws RIP from Global Graphics Software
(this is also used to generate high-resolution previews of imported
files including EPS once you've activated your copy of the program).
And very little has been done to integrate the functionality and
make it central to your workflow - unbelievably there are no presets
and you have to fine-tune job options each time you export! Most
importantly, the technology is already looking pretty old hat -
in particular there's no support for the publishing PDF/X standards
or for anything beyond PDF 1.3 (the current format is 1.5).
For a high-end publishing solution, PDF support is too important
to leave to a third-party provider and should be right at the heart
of what Quark is doing. It all seems symptomatic of a program that
has seriously lost focus on its core print function. So is it time
to jump ship? For designers who use QuarkXPress every day of course
that's no easy decision. And if you're producing good work with
Quark today there's no doubt that you can still do so tomorrow.
And with its multiple undo, synchronized text and layout spaces,
QuarkXPress 6 certainly has more to offer the print designer than
There are other factors though that might help you make up your
mind. Quark has put up the price of the full product so for new
users the choice of InDesign is a no-brainer. Upgrade pricing is
more reasonable but here other factors come into play. The new activation
scheme will put off many users, especially as you can't install
on a notebook for non-synchronous use. The system requirements have
also gone up dramatically and the program now only runs under Mac
OS X 10.2 and Windows 2000 or XP so you might well have to upgrade
your whole system(s) and also any third-party XTensions assuming
they're available. Then there's the new multiple-layout approach
and file format which could demand retraining. And, in a desperate
attempt to finally shift its userbase from 4.1, Quark has decided
that this new release should only be able to save to version 6 and
5 formats. As many users, including outputting bureaux, will undoubtedly
stick with 4.1, this is a recipe for confusion at best.
Quark seems determined to make this a make-or-break release. For
their sake I hope it's not.
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