Quark today kept its promise, announcing a significant free update to its flagship desktop publishing application, QuarkXPress. the upgrade ships in the next 30 days.

QuarkXPress 6.5, which is available as a free upgrade to registered users, offers a host of new features, is more stable and has been "developed in direct response to user requests", the company said.

Quark's senior vice president of product development, Jürgen Kurz, said: "For more than a decade, QuarkXPress has been the single most popular desktop publishing application, thanks to its proven performance with graphics, text, colour management and print output, as well as innovative new features that continue to expand its functionality." He added, "This upgrade is all about responding to customer input with features that help you meet your deadlines while exploring your design possibilities."

In a signal of the easing of tensions between the two companies, Apple's vice president if worldwide developer relations, Ron Okamoto, also welcomed the news: "We are excited about the release of QuarkXPress 6.5 and its Mac OS X-only features such as QuarkXClusive. It gives Mac users a powerful tool to create and deliver high-impact design for both print and electronic media."

Built-in image manipulation

XPress 6.5 includes a new XTension, called QuarkVista. This extends the capabilities of XPress to include non-destructive image editing within the context of the layout. Image manipulation features now built-in to XPress include: colour balance, levels, brightness and contrast. This feature also allows users to apply common non-destructive filters to images, the parameters of which can be changed on the fly.

Cocking a snook at Adobe, XPress 6.5 also lets users import native Photoshop (PSD) files into XPress, with complete control of the original image layers. QuarkVista will let layot artists switch image latyers on and off, modify opacities and blend methods, assign channels as spot colours and choose clipping paths.

Quark describes this feature as: "Saving time and hard disk space by eliminating the need to flatten images and saving many versions in different file formats. Users can maintain a single version of their image files."

Built-in variable data printing

Another XTension, QuarkXClusive, also features in this release. This feature supports variable data publishing, so business users can output customized, database-driven documents on HP Indigo digital presses.

The new version will add support for PPML-T, allowing it to output to both new and older models of HP Indigo digital presses through HP Production Flow. PPML is an open standard for personalized printing, and one of the technological underpinnings of the personalised digital printing industry. QuarkXClusive.

Workgroup features

The upgrade also includes support for Citrix application deployment software. This allows large networks to host application packages on a single server, and works with Quark License Administrator to make the application easy to deploy in large organizations. Effectively, it reduces the number of seat licenses required to manage publishing needs in a large organization, while also ensuring those who need to use the application can use the application.

The new Quark grows more stable

Quark's developers have worked to make XPress more stable and reliable than before. The company claims its beta testers, "Have been impressed with Quark's responsiveness in addressing issues they have reported, and many have already begun using the revised application in live production environments".

Additional improvements in this release include: support for guides on pasteboards on master pages; enhancements to XPress' new Tables funtion, such as grouping; and the ability to set bleed settings in pr9ont styles.

The new Quark gives you more

The free update also includes a host of handy software and other tools from Quark's partners. These include a selection of design templates by Stock Layouts and demo versions of Creo Tokens software and Insider Font Agent Pro.

In collaboration with Linotype, QuarkXPress 6.5 also offers a way to purchase fonts used in a project but not owned by the customer. Registered users of QuarkXPress 6.5 are being offered a Linotype font bundle worth $1,000, which customers will be able to download at no cost.

Apple and Quark also launched a worldwide offer, in which customers buying a new power Mac G5 or PowerBook G4 can order XPress at a £300 discount yesterday.

XPress 6.5 will be available from Quark as a download. Customers can also request an upgrade CD from customer services.

Once the upgrade for registered users is released, Quark will make its PSD Import Xtension and the updated version of QuarkXClusive available at no charge, the company said.

As the battle for DTP between Adobe and Quark intensifies, both companies claim the customer is the winner. Macworld UK is hosting the second-ever UK Macworld Conference at MacExpo, featuring a rare head-to-head application shoot-out between XPress and InDesign.

Hosted by publishing guru Alistair Dabbs and hotly contested by Shellie Hall of Quark and Chris Kitchener of Adobe this is sure to be a no-holds-barred event as Adobe and Quark square off with their products, capabilities and future visions. Visit this page to see thehuge selection of additional highlights during the Conference.