QuarkXPress 5.0 full review

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.
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