The bitter battle between software giants Quark and Adobe is well documented – and often compared with that of Microsoft and Apple. As far back as 1999, Adobe promised a "Quark killer” with the launch of InDesign. Quark was then the press and publishing industry's dominant page-layout tool; the de facto standard for print output. Quark dominated the industry, even making a bid to buy Adobe, then worth around $1.6 billion, a year earlier.

Next month the two will renew the rivalry with a much-anticipated face-off at the Macworld Conference, part of MacExpo 2004 at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Each is keen to maintain and increase a prestigious client base, gaining bragging rights at the news of clients switching or the suggestion of migrating from one to the other. Both, according to analysts, are benefiting from increased magazine advertising spend, potentially good news for all vendors in the publishing market, including Apple.

Since the early 1990s, Quark has had a large and extremely loyal user base, in part based on its domination of the marketplace – but also on the better-the-devil-you-know attitude of their customers. This is despite antiquated licencing agreements and less-than-satisfactory customer support, which Quark now claims to have addressed. Dismayed at Quark’s delayed support for OS X, Apple users, and particularly the design community, began switching to InDesign. Apple and Adobe bundled the Mac OS X-friendly InDesign 2 free with new Power Mac G4s sold in the last third of 2002. October 2003 saw InDesign get a major tweak. Rebranded as InDesign CS, it joined the newly created Adobe Creative Suite that includes industry stalwarts Photoshop and Illustrator. InDesign CS received rave reviews. Slowly Adobe began poaching high-profile customers – including the entire BBC magazine portfolio.

Quark has denied that there’s a trend. Gavin Drake, marketing director of Quark in the UK responded to the BBC’s migration by telling Computer Business Review Online: “There’s no question that a small number of customers have or are switching to InDesign for various reasons and we wish them every success in this. However, you have to put this in context – which is that this represents a very small percentage of the UK market and is certainly not a trend”. Last month, QuarkXPress 6.5 was announced – promising new features such as QuarkVista, a new XTensions module for image manipulation; increased stability and reliability; and Mac OS X-only features such as QuarkXClusive. Apple and Quark are currently offering £300 off a copy of XPress when buying a Power Mac G5 or PowerBook, a deal running until January next year. The popular Quark forums are back with Quark representatives responding to queries and complaints. The moves, however, came too late in the day for the BBC.

The BBC publishes a raft of magazine titles via BBC Magazines, a division of BBC Worldwide, the company’s commercial consumer arm. Benefiting, controversially some would say, from free advertising from TV and radio tie-ins, BBC Worldwide does not use licence-fee income for its activities, and re-invests in public service programming. Magazines include BBC Gardeners' World, BBC Good Food, BBC Top Gear, Top of the Pops, Toy Box and Radio Times, the UK’s most profitable magazine. With a portfolio of around 40 regular titles and several specials, the BBC recently announced a record 500,000-plus subscriber base, targeting 600,000 subs by 2007. Earlier this year, BBC Magazines acquired Origin Publishing, a Bristol-based publisher of specialist consumer magazines such as Focus and Living History. Clearly, the BBC’s decision to switch from Quark to Adobe with the purchase of 350 licenses was a major boost for InDesign – and was trumpeted by an Adobe press release.

Macworld spoke with Julian Adams, publishing systems manager, BBC Worldwide.

What practical problems did you face switching 40 titles from QuarkXPress-based publishing and layout systems to Adobe InDesign?

The tricky bit was sorting out how to work with external people who were still using QuarkXPress. We involved our licensees at an early stage, and in the end it didn't turn out to be a major headache. Freelance support was a bit hard to come by in the early days of the migration.

You had a test run with one issue of a magazine?

We ran a pilot with It's Hot! (aimed at the younger end of the teen market) We chose it because it's quite busy design-wise and felt that it would be a real test for InDesign.

What improvements did you see?

I think the biggest efficiency is being able to do more without having to leave the page-layout tool. QuarkXPress forced us to do a lot more work externally in Photoshop and Illustrator. We've saved a lot of time by simply being able to colour-up logos directly in InDesign. This work previously had to be done in Illustrator

Have experience tighter integration between InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator?

Yes. InDesign allows us to work pretty seamlessly with Photoshop and Illustrator. Its support for the native Photoshop files means you don't have to Save As all the time for minor changes – updates are automatically reflected in InDesign.

And any disadvantages or regrets switching from Quark to Adobe?

No but obviously it's quite an upheaval to migrate to a different page-layout tool.

How did your staff respond to the changes?

We provided plenty of training and support during the migration. This helped to ease the pain of change. The majority of people responded well and got excited about the new features in InDesign.

How long roughly will it take to complete the migration of all your titles?

It's taken over a year because we needed to fit round production schedules.

Did Adobe suggest or help with the switch or was it BBC initiated?

Adobe didn't suggest that we switch but did provide on-site support during the pilot and came in to talk to our design teams about InDesign.

Did Quark's allegedly less-than-accommodating attitude towards its customers affect the BBC's decision to switch?

It didn't help, but one of the things that did prompt us to look at switching was the uncertainty as to when we could expect to see QuarkXPress 6.0.

Quark has denied a trend of switching to Adobe. Would you agree?

There's certainly a trend in large consumer publishing houses like ours.

Finally, Quark is promising great things from QuarkXPress 6.5, with QuarkVista included with the next update. Would you ever be tempted to switch back?

I don't think we'll be changing our strategy for somtime.

BBC Magazines