Quark will today demonstrate a Mac OS X-native pre-beta build of XPress 5.X during Apple CEO Steve Jobs' keynote at Macworld Expo New York.

Quark has been working on a native version of XPress since Mac OS X shipped, and it offers all the Web-ready features promised by XPress 5, the forthcoming version of the DTP standard that's due to enter beta-testing within the next few weeks. It also offers a unique, much-requested feature - multiple undos.

In an exclusive interview with Macworld UK last week, Quark's vice president of product management, Jürgen Kurz, explained why the Multiple Undo feature had to wait for Mac OS X in order to appear: "XPress has always been a lean, mean piece of coding. Its memory requirements are low. Under the hood, XPress could not support Multiple Undos - it's a feature that needs extra memory.
And to implement Multiple Undos would have mean breaking our Xtensions architecture - they'd stop working."

Quark has 700 developers with 1,300 XTensions. Developers can open XPress' source code, writing extra menus and software operations to add functionality to the application.

"Mac OS X has required a complete re-build of XPress. It also breaks the XTensions. So we don't want to break our developers' XTensions twice - we have to try to get our developers to migrate to OS X."

To ease this migration, Quark and Apple will be running developer sessions for XTensions builders later this year.

Quark shares Apple's commitment to Mac OS X. "Quark 5.5 will run natively on Mac OS X – it's not just user-interface dressing - it's the real thing," said Quark's senior product manager for desktop products, Brett Mueller.

Kurz agrees: "We're dedicated to OS X. It's a wonderful opportunity for us. If it succeeds the way we all hope it does then it's a business opportunity for us all.

"Apple understands that applications drive a platform's success. Apple has been an excellent partner in terms of making the transition. But there are some issues. For example, changes have been made to the printing engine and the way it's handled, and we need to be very careful about this in terms of implementing and testing, to ensure XPress' quality. But the support from Apple is outstanding.

"We have a native application, and have spent a lot of time on it. But it will take a while before it's ready for the market because we have to test these elements."

A significant feature of XPress 5 for both the Classic and OS X environments is its integrated WYSIWYG Web design and layout tools. Quark believes that, if just ten per cent of its current customers upgrade to version 5, XPress will become the world's most widely adopted Web-authoring tool.

Mueller said: "It will open up opportunities for designers to get involved in Web-site production. In the next few years design quality will open up the way the Web looks."

XPress 5 will be backward-compatible, capable of opening documents built in older versions of Quark back to version 3 – enabling publishers to transform archived content into Web pages through Quark's familiar interface. However, users will be unable to save documents as 3.x versions. XPress 5 will be the first version not to support 68K Macs.

New features include support for tables, tabs-delineated text, open-database-connectivity support, form controls and tables with dynamic HTML. It will build rollovers, wraps and add hyperlinks using familiar-feeling tools. It will also save colour-calibration information and collect images, fonts and text files for output.

Kurz also answers Quark's critics, who say the company is notorious for tardiness in releasing updates and bug fixes: "You have to think about the market. QuarkXPress is the final application used to bring everything together before the finished publication goes to print. It needs to work on a wide variety of platforms, different operating systems, a variety of printers and different ages of computer. There's many factors involved in building a stable application. One user's dream feature could mean expensive problems for another user."

He added: "On the other hand, we'd love to move into faster upgrade-cycles in order to be more responsive to users' needs and changes in the publishing industry."

XPress 5 is still in alpha testing with large print bureaus, but is likely to move into beta testing "within weeks". "We want to make it as close as possible to a final build when we begin beta testing," explained Kurz.

Mueller agrees: "We are working very hard to make XPress 5.0 as bug-free as possible. It's obsessive at this stage. We agonize over the bugs. It's good. Everybody cares. We review the application every day, sometimes twice a day."

Mueller is resolute that the company has learned its lesson from the release of XPress 4, which required four major bug-fix updates. "I think what happened then is that the company just wanted to get the application out. They did not test it sufficiently. This time, I'll make the decision for when it ships, and will not release the product until our testers tell us it's ready to ship."

Kurz praised the new version's familiarity. "Once you look at Quark - there's no relearning necessary - if you know Quark, you can publish to the Web. It's that simple."