Adobe InDesign 1.0 full review

Ever since PageMaker was unofficially relegated to the SoHo market a few years ago, no software developer has been able to find exactly the right combination of a six-figure marketing budget and the sophisticated software necessary to tackle the dominance of QuarkXPress.

XPress has reigned supreme in the graphic design/page layout software arena for the past five years, a position not necessarily maintained through the merit of the XPress software itself – but due, in some part, to the absence of decent competition. But now Adobe’s InDesign (ID) is here, and the status quo in graphic design software is about to change.

Casting XPress in the role of defending champion, the Adobe development team has clearly worked with the aim of matching or exceeding its capabilities – so if you have a wish-list for XPress, you’ll probably find it in ID.

Want to hang items off the pasteboard edge? Edit EPS graphics in ID? Customise your keyboard shortcuts? Zoom to 4,000 per cent? Specify position values to 0.0001 of a unit? Sheer and rotate a group of text and objects? Convert a picture box (‘frame’ in ID) to a text box or vice versa? Inbuilt pre-flighting? It’s all here, courtesy of a plug-in architecture that’s central to the ID philosophy: the core program is tiny (just 2MB), and it’s the plug-ins that cover the clever bits.

However, there are one or two important features missing from the standard in-box set of plug-ins: no indexing or automatic table-of-contents generation, for instance. It’s not clear yet if these may be added at a later date, or if they’ll cost extra.

Family resemblance
At first glance, the ID interface looks a lot like that of sister programs Illustrator and Photoshop. Any graphic designer familiar with these will be off to a flying start with ID. Tools and navigation aids such as the Pen, Gradient, Direct Selection, Scissors, Zoom and Line, work in the same way in all three programs. In fact, the range and sophistication of ID’s drawing tools calls into question whether or not you really need a separate drawing program.

Integrating with the natives

The Navigation palette is the same as in Photoshop, and there’s also a version of the Layers palette, allowing you to make layers visible or invisible. And there’s a high level of compatibility between the formats output by Photoshop and Illustrator, and ID – such as the ability to import native Photoshop files, layers being flattened automatically when you print, and the ability to edit Illustrator EPS artwork in InDesign.

And, swatches can be saved for import into Photoshop and Illustrator (and vice versa) – definitely an advantage over XPress. While we’re on the subject, you can also import XPress 3.3x and 4.0 documents into ID, a feature which works slowly, but on the whole well.

InDesign’s typography features are superb. There are four kerning options – manual, optical, metrics and range (otherwise known as tracking) – of which the optical kerning is perhaps the most innovative. This determines the ideal spacing for characters visually, a great feature for those cases where different fonts, or sizes, have been used in a selection. There’s also the Flush Space feature, which inserts a right-justified character to signify the end of, say, a magazine story. And there’s support for 21 language dictionaries, straight out of the box – unlike Quark which demands that you buy a new copy of XPress for each language.

Stunning composition
Perhaps ID’s most exciting typographical feature is Adobe’s multi-line composer. Most page-design software uses a single-line composer, that considers only the current line when deciding where to make hyphenation breaks. With the multi-line composer, you can tell ID to look up to six lines back to make its hyphenation decisions in context. You can also tell ID to highlight where it’s had to break your composition rules, which it does in a fetching shade of yellow – the deeper the shade, the more serious the violation.

Adobe is anticipating that studio workflows will turn more towards PDF format in the near future, and the PDF export facilities provided in ID are excellent. Files can be exported directly to PDF format 1.3 – supported by Acrobat 4.0 – from ID without going via Acrobat Distiller. Similarly, PDF files can be imported directly for placing on an ID page. One potential drawback to using ID, in a production workflow, is that it doesn’t print to non-PostScript printers: it ships only with drivers for PostScript Level II and III printers. The theory is, you’ll be able to print to your desktop ink-jet using Adobe PressReady which ships later this year – for the time being, you could export as a PDF and print from Acrobat.

There are lots of clever, time-saving features in ID, the inspiration for many having been pinched from XPress’ Xtensions. Take the ability to set up a master page as a ‘parent’, for example: editing the parent master also edits the ‘child’ master. Or the ability to nest frames within frames, for layered text and graphics effects. Plus, there’s the automatic layout adjustment feature that revises the proportionate distribution of the items on the page when you change page size. And how about multiple views: the ability to have one window set to 40 per cent, and another set to 300 per cent, to see the effect of your changes on the entire page.

Another great feature is the automatic document recovery, that rebuilds your document if you crash, even if you didn’t save. And, unlimited undo and redo. Or the position proxy feature, that allows you to specify if a transformation should work from the centre, or any of the corners of a frame. And there’s a Guide Manager feature which creates guides automatically, plus the Step and Repeat feature also works on guides.

For a first release, ID 1.0 is more unstable than you'd expect: there are quite a few bugs, but Adobe will presumably fix these shortly – if ID isn’t to alienate all its early users. The more significant criticism of ID, at this stage, has to be that the program is less obviously as production-orientated as XPress. For my money, this is a combination of ID’s sophistication and Adobe’s strategy of palettes rather than dialogue boxes: the result is that there are too many palettes cluttering up the screen, and their contents are too small for easy point-and-click selection.

XPress-fluent designers whose hands hardly ever leave the keyboard will be impatient at the loss of speed that using a mouse over a key-combination entails. But the Keyboard Shortcut Editor could solve a lot of these problems: as well as shipping with a set of QuarkXPress-standard shortcuts, you can use the Editor to customise your own shortcuts to call up, amend and dismiss palettes via the keyboard. Use the Shortcut Editor to dream up wild key combinations for your shorcuts (it also ships with a set of QuarkXPress standard shortcuts)

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