QuarkXPress 5.0

If it seems an eternity since Quark’s first announcement concerning XPress 5.0, that’s because it is – stretching way back to Boston Seybold in March 1999. Now, XPress 5.0 is finally shipping, and it’s got layers, tables and Web-content creation tools. Hooray! But there’s no multiple undo. Boo! Neither is XPress 5.0 Carbonized – yet here it is going head-to-head with the recently released Adobe InDesign 2.0, which is. More than ever with this update to its veteran industry-standard DTP application, Quark is posing more questions than it is answering. XPress 5.0’s key new features have been long-trumpeted and much-discussed. I can number among my life’s low points the creation of complex XPress tables with no bespoke tool for the task; inching, nudging and realigning myself into an ever-blacker mood. Now, 5.0’s Tables tool provides almost everything. Almost. It’s possible to easily create a table that contains either text, images, or both; determine the number of rows and columns at the click of mouse; change the colour of cells; merge cells; and manipulate text and images within cells. What you can’t do is tab from cell to cell, apply a global colour change – each cell’s colour has to be changed individually – or make the table transparent so it can be used against a colour background. The former are irritations, but the latter is a serious layout limitation, and with all these oversights, XPress’s Tables tool loses out to that in InDesign 2.0. The lack of spreadsheet import is also a limitation, and this, too, is a strong feature of InDesign’s Tables tool. The emergence of the Layers tool is the next big-hitting new feature, and something that will please many long-time XPress users. The productivity gains that Layers bring will depend on what you use XPress for. If dealing with multi-language documents whose layout is identical – product-instruction manuals, for instance – then no longer will you have to create a new document for each language-version. In 5.0, you create a single document containing a layer each for images and each language-version. To output, say, the Japanese version, simply turn off all layers except those containing images and the Japanese text. Being able to place text and images on separate layers is a smarter way of working in general. How many times have we worked on text within an image-heavy document, only to curse sluggish screen-rendering and printing times? Prior to 5.0, the workaround involved greeking images in preferences, or suppressing them for printout. You can now hide and reveal images in a flash, by switching the layer containing images off or on. Web feat
But XPress 5.0’s most-significant new addition is its Web-content authoring tools. XPress 5.0 now offers the option of creating a Web document, whose content can be made interactive, and exported as HTML either for immediate posting online, or for fine-tuning in an HTML editor such as Dreamweaver. Interactive-content creation tools include those for form boxes, buttons (radio and image), pop-up menus, lists, and check boxes. It can also create hyperlinks, anchors and rollovers. These features can be used in tandem with the XPress’ regular layout tools, to give WYSIWYG Web-page design. I’m no HTML cruncher, so I got our in-house webmaster to run her eye over the HTML that XPress 5.0 creates, and she assures me that its clean and more than adequate. Another plus with XPress 5.0’s Web functionality is that, when a page is saved for Web, it automatically transforms TIFFs into JPEGs or GIFs. There’s no doubt that these new Web tools add value to XPress 5.0, yet this begs the question: “For whom?”. XPress users who are newcomers to Web-content creation will be able to build a site quicker using XPress 5.0 than any other tool. But how many DTP professionals are there who double-up as Web-content creators, or who wish to? Not nearly as many as those who will wish to repurpose existing XPress-generated print content as Web content. In 5.0, doing so is wonderfully simple: a print XPress document is drag-&-dropped onto an empty Web document, and can then be exported. Crucially, it allows all text to remain selectable after HTML conversion, meaning text and headings are searchable on browsers. Text that has to retain its integrity (corporate logos, for example) can be exported as a GIF or JPEG. XPress 5.0 also automatically transforms TIFs and EPSs into QuickTime JPGs and GIFs. This ability to easily repurpose print content for Web use is ideal for those wishing to post archive print content online with a minimum of time and fuss. XPress 5.0 also allows content to be imported and exported with XML tags, thanks to the bundled avenue.Quark XML engine. This allows the output of copy to the Web, ebooks, or wireless devices. So what else has Quark been working on these past four years? Encouragingly, there’s a host of less-heralded improvements and new features that may prove to be as valuable to usersas the new Web tools. Foremost among these is the addition of contextual menus, something that always gives a productivity boost. Another interface change can be seen in Preferences, which has been rearranged so that items are corralled in a scrollable list, instead of the less-handy tabbed-folders format. There’s also a better Find/Change, which adds coloured text to its list of searchable items. Another great little enhancement is the ability to fit a box to an image, meaning no more time-consuming tweaking at 800 per cent. Handily, images can also be centred in a box, although I’m not sure I’ll ever be using the Fit Image to Box Disproportionally feature. Two further enhancement are that EPS images can also now be saved in RGB or CMYK, and that the Index feature can now cross-reference styles from Style Sheets. And then there’s the ability to export a document as a PDF – this is a big deal. It’s good to see that Quark has taken some trouble to offer users extensive control over PDF attributes, both in the appearance and printability of the file, as well as its multimedia structure – including the ability to add hyperlinks. The trouble is, XPress 5.0 doesn’t come bundled with either Adobe Distiller as a stand-alone product, or with it bundled in Adobe Acrobat 5.0. Quark assumes that either you’ve already got it, or are quite happy to buy it. Given that QuarkXPress 5.0 is almost twice the price of InDesign 2.0, this could prove to be a costly assumption. 5.0’s lack of support for OpenType fonts is something the company should also address sooner rather than later. One thing I was amazed to find Quark hadn’t improved was its stupidly outsized Tabs window – it still hogs the screen with its useless acres of white nothingness. Another small-but-irritating omission is its lack of a smart underlining tool: uselessly, it still slices through descenders. What’s doubly annoying about this is that I emailed Quark’s technical department two years ago alerting them to this, and was assured it “would be taken care of”. Following the debacle of XPress 4.0, Quark made a great show of promising that 5.0 would be bug-free. It isn’t, because the Show Clipboard command regularly crashes the app. A four-year lead time between versions is more than enough time to make at least all menu items stable. One last gripe – XPress 5.0 comes with a PDF manual, which is just a ruse to pass the cost of a printed manual onto consumers (who spend valuable ink, paper and time printing it out). XPress 5.0 costs £1,095 as it is. At least give us a manual guiding us through new features.

OUR VERDICT

It’s crunch time for XPress users. Do you stay with 4.0, upgrade to 5.0, or make the switch to InDesign 2.0? If you stay, you get undoubtedly the best version of XPress to date. It’s easier to use, promotes greater productivity and boasts powerful Web-design features. But the rub is, it won’t run in OS X, and has no multiple undos. Quark is equivocal about when XPress for OS X will appear. Worryingly, the company has told Macworld that it’s unsure whether to release XPress for OS X as a free upgrade with no extra features, or as a paid-for upgrade offering new functionality. Neither has it decided whether the app will be Carbonized (so it works in OS X and Classic) or be an OS X-only Cocoa version. If it’s yet to determine this preliminary stuff then – given Quark’s record – it could be two or three years before an OS X version ships. That’s ages to be without the significant performance benefits offered by Mac OS X. Your choices are to buy 5.0, and hope the OS X version is free, or bite the bullet and wait for what may be ages. The choice to buy should be determined by how much you need 5.0’s Web functionality. If this is largely an irrelevance, then XPress 5.0 is more like XPress 4.2: an overpriced (£328) collection of interface and feature enhancements: you are as likely to derive as much benefit from the Fit Box to Picture command as the entire collection of Web features. The other choice is whether to stick with XPress at all. The key argument against moving to InDesign 2.0 is that, unless you’re familiar with Photoshop, the learning curve will be steep, and that buying InDesign 2.0 will be more expensive than upgrading XPress – although only £241 more expensive. The stand-alone XPress 5.0, meanwhile, is £1,095. But significantly, unlike InDesign 2.0, XPress 5.0 does not have multiple undos, and isn’t Carbonized. Unlike with XPress, InDesign 2.0 means no toggling between Classic and OS X. It also comes bundled with its own PDF exporter, and dovetails excellently with Adobe’s other Carbonized big-hitters, Illustrator 10 and Photoshop 7.0. Many publications are planning to move to a PDF-driven computer-to-plate production process, and there’s little denying that InDesign 2.0 is currently better placed than XPress 5.0 to take advantage of this seismic shift in work practices. More than ever, it was imperative that Quark made XPress 5.0 a must-buy product – yet unless you’re a Web head, it isn’t. The time and money Quark spent adding the Web functionality would have been far better spent Carbonizing the application, adding an own-brand PDF creator, and paying for a pile of the best print-productivity XTensions to be bundled with it (such as the handy AppleScript menu). The XPress 5.0 logo is a water lily, which Quark chose because “it has long been seen as a symbol of rebirth and renewal”. With XPress 5.0, it has committed the ultimate irony: gilding the lily.

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