QuarkXPress 6.0 full review

While we've been waiting (and waiting), Quark has actually been doing something. The fruit of this labour is QuarkXPress 6, finally Mac OS X-native - in fact, it runs only on Mac OS X 10.2 and higher. This move should let designers finally make the switch to an all-OS X environment, leaving behind the unsavoury alternatives: XPress 4 and 5's inconsistent screen redraw by in OS X's Classic mode, having to constantly boot between OS 9 and OS X, and having to forego OS X completely so you can use XPress 4 or 5 without bother. But does XPress 6 offer anything more than OS X support? And does it provide a reason to stick with XPress rather than jump on the momentum-gaining Adobe InDesign bandwagon? The answer to both questions is yes. What's new...
QuarkXPress 6 adds several significant enhancements: multiple undo and redo (it's about time!), the ability to synchronize text across a layout, built-in PDF creation, the ability to convert print layouts to Web format and vice versa, and the ability to have multiple layouts with different specifications in one file. Each of these is a welcome addition, making QuarkXPress both more capable and more flexible. QuarkXPress 6 also enhances some of the many new features introduced in version 5, such as new rollover and menu capabilities for layouts destined for the Web, and several refinements to table and cell formatting. Because many, if not most, QuarkXPress users skipped version 5 for various reasons and are still using version 4, to them the switch to version 6 will seem like an even larger upgrade, adding cell-based table creation, Web-page creation, support for transparent backgrounds in exported PDF files, and layers. Of course, the fact that so many designers didn't upgrade to version 5 means a file-format issue will likely arise, since QuarkXPress 6 can't save files in version 4 format, but only as version 5 files. (It can open files created with version 3 and later.) That means you'll need to switch all colleagues and contractors to version 6 on OS X, or at least get them to move to version 5 if they stick with OS 9. And remember you'll need to replace all of your Xtensions - Quark's plug-in format - with version 6-compatible ones. That includes getting updaters for DiamondSoft's FontReserve and Extensis's Suitcase font managers. Until the updaters are available, you can't auto-activate fonts in XPress 6, so you'll have to quit XPress any time a document uses fonts not already active, activate them in your font manager, and then relaunch XPress. (FontReserve users: you may also have to deactivate, then reactivate your fonts for XPress 6 to see them. On my system, QuarkXPress didn't recognize previously activated fonts until I did so.) Expect smaller plug-in developers to wait until adoption trends are clearly positive before making the investment to revise their software - many never bothered with version 5 XTensions. A Lowly Apprentice Productions, Badia Software, Em Software, and Gluon plan to release version 6-compatible XTensions this summer and autumn. Extensis is considering updating its once-popular utility kit QX-Tools, but it hasn't updated those tools since XPress 4. ... and what's not
Beyond those new and changed features, Quark made very few enhancements to the core typographic, item-creation, graphics, and basic layout tools - it seemed to avoid even obvious, long-due changes. XPress 6 doesn't: convert two hyphens to an em dash as you type; allow its users to create print styles from within the Print dialog box; import Microsoft Word and Excel tables as tables; offer automated fraction building; permit drop-cap text-formatting settings to be part of a paragraph style; or integrate the Starburst tool's references with the standard Preferences dialog box. This version would also have been a good opportunity to bring in item transparency for the creation of sophisticated drop shadows and overlapping objects, keeping XPress level with Adobe's £579 InDesign in artistic layout capabilities. (InDesign doesn't do all of these things, either.) QuarkXPress 6 often feels and works like the same old XPress - this is good for long-time users whose workflow will be largely unaffected. Though it conforms to Mac OS X's interface standards and thus introduces a few menu changes, the functional interface is the same as before, with only the "skin" changing to use the cleaner, lighter Aqua look. Retaining the essential Quarkness of the interface won't cost you anything. But XPress 6 does lack complete support for a key modern Mac OS technology: the OpenType standard and its wider selection of characters and glyphs. Sure, you can use OpenType fonts in XPress 6, but you can only access the basic Western European characters. That's dumb and even ironic. XPress was the first layout program to offer professional typography, and now that the OpenType standard is in place, and extends a font's uses and capabilities, Quark should have embraced the technology. Adobe didn't make that mistake in InDesign 2, making its omission in XPress 6 is even dumber. As with version 5, QuarkXPress 6 does not ship with a hard-copy manual. (The printed manual is $50 extra and was unavailable for review.) A 676-page PDF version is included on the installation CD, if you're inclined to print it out or page through it in Acrobat or OS X's Preview app. I find reading a manual on screen difficult, especially because it obscures the application you're actually wanting to use. The net effect is that QuarkXPress 6 is a very familiar program with several new features that will appeal to specific groups of users. But if you don't use those features, XPress feels very much unchanged. A new layout approach
The most significant, as well as easily ignored, change in QuarkXPress 6 is the use of the project metaphor. Documents as we knew them no longer exist: what takes their place is the project, which can hold a collection of as many as 25 layouts, and in turn, each layout can have separate page settings (size, whether it's a facing- or single-sided layout, orientation, margins, etc.). A layout can be for print or Web, and a project can contain both types. At the bottom of the document window are now a series of tabs to let you switch among layouts. Unfortunately, you can't view multiple layouts from the same project at the same time, so moving elements among them means you have to do the old copy-paste or cut-paste routine rather than the simpler drag-&-drop. Also, spell-checking and auxiliary spelling and hyphenation dictionaries work only within a layout, so you can't spell-check or perform a find/replace across an entire project or use the same dictionary across a project's layouts. And many tools work only in the current layout, so you can't update fonts and images across all layouts in a project, or copy or apply master pages across layouts. But colours and styles defined in one layout are available in others - go figure. These divisions are too stringent. This approach lets you use one file for a layout with a gatefold, rather than make that a separate document as in the past. If your work doesn't require you to use the full capabilities of projects, you'll be none the wiser - you could still treat each project as a separate document and have just one layout in each file, as in previous versions. Boilerplates without pain
The other major new capability - synchronized text - is also mostly a win. With this feature, you designate one text box as a master story. Then you apply that story to other text boxes, which places the same text in them. (You can have several master stories, for multiple boilerplates). If you change the text in any of them, even those in other layouts in your project, they are all automatically updated. Anyone who's had to edit the legal mumbo-jumbo across a set of marketing materials will jump for joy. But text is the only aspect that's synchronized, not the text's formatting, so you can format the boilerplate as needed in each location. The ability to synchronize text eliminates a lot of tedious work, but Quark should have taken synchronizing further. You can synchronize only complete text boxes, not snippets of text within a box or story. So you can't use this feature to synchronize product names across marketing materials, or a hyperlink address across a PDF file, or other variable text. Neither can you synchronize across project files, nor synchronize text that includes embedded graphics (since you can't synchronize graphics, QuarkXPress 6 also can't handle text that includes them). Better Web capabilities
Version 5 introduced Web-page creation capabilities, but you couldn't convert a print document to a Web one, or vice versa, so there was no reason to create Web pages in QuarkXPress 5. But with QuarkXPress 6, you can now convert your print documents to decent Web versions, perhaps add some functionality such as rollovers using graphics from the print layout you have on hand, and then refine those pages in Dreamweaver or another HTML editor designed specifically for creating Web pages and supporting Web-production workflows. Sure, QuarkXPress lets you create Web standbys such as menus, specify basic cascading style sheets (really a preferred font list), set up single and two-point rollovers, selectively convert text boxes' contents to graphics, convert all graphics to a Web-supported format, of course add hyperlinks, and preview your pages in a browser. But you're still limited by a finite page size, and you can't create templates, create real cascading style sheets that specify complete formatting, create frames, work with JavaScript, switch to an HTML code view, and so on. (You can now link to other pages in your layout.) The XML creation, editing, and tagging capability, little-changed from version 5, remains awkward and mysterious. It's not worth the trouble it takes to figure it out. More refinements
The implementation of multiple undo/redo is a long-awaited major enhancement. You can go back as many as 30 actions, and even pick an action from a menu at the bottom of the document window, skipping past intervening steps and undoing them all. And a nice touch is the ability to set the shortcut key for redo to the Adobe standard (Shift+c+Z), the Microsoft standard (c+Y), or the single-undo standard (c+Z). But the undo descriptions are brief, so several actions will have the same labels. And if you lock or unlock a layer, QuarkXPress 6 forgets all of its undo and redo actions. The final major enhancement is the new high-resolution preview, which imports images at full resolution so you get a realistic look at them even when you zoom in, and for exacting mask generation. You can turn on high-res preview for specific images, as well as disable it for entire projects and then re-enable it. But there's a catch: the feature works only if you register the software with Quark (Quark sends you the required XTension after you register). And by registration, Quark means the full "tell me your name and address" registration, not the new activation feature that simply ties your copy of XPress to your Mac so someone else can't use the same software on another machine. While I have no objection to software activation to prevent piracy, I do object to Quark's approach. It forces you to call customer support to reactivate if you upgrade your Mac - even if you install memory, a graphics card, processor upgrades, or a new hard drive - more than five times. It should be smart enough to know that you haven't installed it on a wholly different Mac. And there's finally a keyboard shortcut for Paste In Place, which puts a copy of an item in the same location on the destination page as the original - perfect for copying across pages or layouts. The rest of QuarkXPress 6's changes are largely refinements to existing features. For example, the price/fraction and colour-correction preferences now reside with the rest of the preferences (but the Starburst settings still do not). You can now completely lock entire layers, as well as prevent a layer from printing or permit a locked layer to print while you're in the Print dialog box by using the controls in the dialog box's new Layers pane. And exception dictionaries now work across platforms, so you can share those with Windows users. The Tables feature introduced in version 5 has the most refinements, smoothing out some rough spots. For example, you can now link text cells, group table items, remove gridlines between cells, and more-finely control the formatting of cells and their contents. But InDesign's tables feature is much more powerful and flexible - XPress is still clearly behind on this important function. OS changes
You can't get around the fact that adopting QuarkXPress 6 means adopting Mac OS X. For many publishers, that will mean upgrading their Macs to G4 or G5 models and upgrading other software, such as font managers, if they're using older versions. Perhaps the costliest component in a publishing operation, the font library, is no barrier to switching, as Mac OS X supports the same font formats as OS 9. Support for OS 9 apps is falling by the wayside app by app, so you'll have to switch to Mac OS X sooner or later, and after some adjustment, you'll find it's a much more comfortable environment to work in than Mac OS 9 ever was. The InDeisgn question: Is it time to jump ship?
It means something that the hubbub online and at conferences preceding this QuarkXPress release usually came down to, "Is this the time to abandon QuarkXPress and move to InDesign?" Many users seriously doubt Quark's commitment to them, and InDesign 2 offers a functionally equivalent alternative for bread-and-butter publishing. Although there's a lot to admire in InDesign, many designers will remain more comfortable in QuarkXPress and see no reason to switch. And why learn a new approach and interface at this point? After all, QuarkXPress today is not an abandoned product as PageMaker became in the early 1990s, giving professional users no real choice but to move to QuarkXPress. At the very least, QuarkXPress 6 lets you defer the decision to switch for another few years. Each offers functions that the other doesn't. While equivalent, these two powerhouses are not yet equal. QuarkXPress exclusives
• Projects may contain print and Web layouts, as well as multiple layouts with different page settings • Support for Hexachrome colours • Automatic backup and file-versioning • User-defined stripes and dashes • User-defined underlines • Boilerplate text can be synchronized across text boxes and paths • Text-box background goes opaque when editing to aid display when text is superimposed on graphics • Text can flow between tables and text boxes, as well as among cells • Web-specific tools, such as forms, lists, radio buttons, rollovers, and CCS • Ability to designate which text boxes converted to graphics during Web export • Fraction-building tool that works for any font or combination of numerators and denominators • Halftone adjustments for individual images and image contrast controls InDesign exclusives
• Multi-line text composition • Optical margin alignment • Optical kerning • Menu for inserting special characters easily • Support for OpenType font attributes • Custom text strokes • Imports native Illustrator and Photoshop files, with transparency • Multiple views of the same document possible • Drop-shadow and feathering effects for objects • Eyedropper tool for colour and text-format sampling • Neat transparency settings for page objects • Excel and Word table import • Tables that flow across pages • Ability to base one master page on another • Sensible palette sizes
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