21 October 2005

[design] Layout War II: Why QuarkXPress Has To Answer The InDesign Challenge-Kelby Explains It All

When I started learning Graphic Design, one of the first technological aquaintances I had to make was an application known as QuarkXPress.

A "layout" application, in the creative trade, is one of the designers most valuable tools, allowing a single designer to import textual and graphical content from a variety of sources into a file (for this reason I sometimes term QuarkXPress and its competition Adobe InDesign aggregators), lay them out as they will, and set and style type with incredible accuracy and flexibility–something that, before PageMaker and Macintosh created the 'desktop publishing' discipline in the 1980's, was the province of whole groups of people.

Adobe and Quark are, as every designer knows, the two giants of the design industry. There are many other purveyors, but just as the professional mechanic can be distinguished from the shade-tree mechanic by the presence of a "Snap-On" toolkit, the professional (or professionally-slanted) designer and layout artist can be deduced by noting that they use XPress or InDesign instead of, say, MS Publisher or even Adobe PageMaker. It is all but certain that any professionally-produced publication–from newspapers like The Oregonian and national magazines like Time and Newsweek to humble local and community newspapers–
were produced using QuarkXPress (and, increasingly, Adobe InDesign).

That this market-tussle is joined is, therefore, of interest to just about everybody who thinks about print. The layout application is the bridge between the creators and the publication you read over your coffee in the morning.

Quark's checkered past in the design world is a matter of history, and since I've commented at length about at length myself, I'll not recap it yet again. Suffice to say at this point, because of its own company strategy, past attitude, and apparent corporate culture (I'm hardly a Quark insider despite my activities at QuarkVSInDesign.com) Denver's Quark, Inc. is in a vulnerable position, and one it never thought it would be in; playing catch-up. They've changed thier public style and approach because they understand that thier complacency has starved the goose that lays thier golden eggs. Adobe's InDesign may not have the majority of the installed base yet, but it does have major mind-share now, and that will translate into an installed majority soon enough if Quark remained complacent.

Thus came the improvements; Mac OS X nativity, the price cut (XPress is still available at a lower price of $699 versus about $1100), the new logo and attentive public image, the addition (via XTension) of image tweaking and native Photoshop file import, the release of the 6.0-6.5 update as free to registered users.

XPress is now a better program but still has to do feature catch-up to Adobe, and still has a legacy of negative impressions to conquer.

Writer and Photoshop god Scott Kelby had the right of it from the beginning–back in 2003, which seems an eternity ago (QuarkXPress was still in a non-Mac OS X native version 5, and InDesign was in version 2-not quite yet the Quark Killer, but held great promise). What follows is a reprint of his editorial from the Jan/Feb 2003 issue of MacDesign magazine that was handed to me by an instructor at PCC when I said I was looking to equipping myself with a professional's tools. Its title, "Big Trouble In Page Layout Land" carries the tagline "How QuarkXPress has become the "Aldus PageMaker" of the 21st Century", which may strike some as quizzical, but he explains it.

This article is a key to understanding why Quark is where it is still, despite the price cuts, the retooling of its public face, its delayed arrival as a native OS X application and expanded feature set, and why everyone is looking to the still-unreleased QuarkXPress 7 to make it or break it. I still keep a copy of the column tacked to my wall, but for this post, I read out as a public service Scott's 2003 editorial for MacDesign, in full, with gracious permission from Chris Main, managing editor at Layers Magazine (which is the current incarnation of MacDesign).

Without further ado, then, Scott Kelby.
Big Trouble in Page Layout Land
How QuarkXPress has become the "Aldus PageMaker" of the 21st Century

by Scott Kelby, In The Mac Lane
MacDesign Magazine, Jan/Feb 2003
© Layers Magazine, used with permission.

If you read the subhead above and said to yourself, “Aldus PageMaker? Isn’t it Adobe PageMaker?” then it’s time for a quick history lesson. (On a personal note, I can’t believe that I’ve reached an age where I can now tell stories of how things “used to be.” Sad, isn’t it?)

PageMaker (the page-layout application now owned by Adobe) was originally developed by Aldus Corporation, and along with Apple’s LaserWriter (the first Adobe PostScript laser printer), these two started what’s now called (by old geezers such as Wilford Grimley and me) the Desktop Publishing Revolution. Back then (in the mid 80s—BHT [Before Hammer Time]) everybody, and I mean everybody used Aldus PageMaker. As with almost all groundbreaking graphics applications, for years it was only available for the Mac, but eventually Aldus decided to put their focus on creating a Windows version of PageMaker.

Unfortunately, at the time Aldus was focused on creating a Windows version of PageMaker, another Mac-only application, QuarkXPress, was starting to make inroads into the page-layout market by focusing on high-end typographic controls. Years later, when Aldus changed their focus to adding “long-document” capabilities to PageMaker, Quark found a way to extend the capabilities of QuarkXPress’ power using XTensions (their name for add-on plug-ins that could be created by third-party developers to work seamlessly from within QuarkXPress). So, in short, while Aldus was distracted with Windows and long-document capabilities, QuarkXPress pretty much pulled the rug out from under them.

By the time Adobe bought Aldus Corporation, PageMaker’s decline was in full swing, and the perception that “QuarkXPress is for pros; PageMaker for amateurs” was so ingrained in the design community, even Adobe’s major improvements couldn’t overcome it, and to this day, although Adobe PageMaker still exists (at version 7.0), it’s primarily seen as a Windows-based, small-office, layout program for creating newsletters, flyers, etc. It comes with loads of pre-designed templates because they know “if you bought PageMaker, you’re not a professional designer.”
QuarkXPress had won the war. Adobe knew it so they set out to create a new high-end page-layout application from scratch—a “Quark Killer,” that would complement their complete dominance in image editing (with Photoshop) and vector-based drawing applications (with Illustrator).

When Adobe introduced InDesign, it fell short of the “Quark Killer” many had hoped it would be, but it certainly was a promising first release. InDesign 1.0 included some high-end features that Quark didn’t offer, including tight integration with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
When version 1.5 was released, it was a major improvement on version 1.0, and it introduced more new features, but it still didn’t “kill off” Quark. Even though it now nearly matched QuarkXPress feature-for-feature, and offered some cool features that Quark-XPress didn’t, it didn’t convince very many longtime QuarkXPress users to jump ship, especially in the prepress world where QuarkXPress is firmly entrenched.


Why am I telling you all this? Because history has begun to repeat itself. For the past few years, Quark has been focusing on adding Web-design features to QuarkXPress, so users could take Quark-XPress documents and convert them into “Web-ready” documents. And QuarkXPress 5.0 actually does offer more advanced Web features than even the latest version of Adobe InDesign.

Here’s the catch: If Quark had come out with these features three or four years ago, it would’ve been a huge boon to Quark, but unfortunately, Quark delivered these high-end Web features after the “rush to the Web” had pretty much passed. Now, designing for the Web isn’t “the hot new thing;” it’s a regular part of a designer’s life. In addition, while Quark was focusing its energies on bringing
Web features to its page-layout application, Adobe was focusing on making InDesign Mac OS X-native, and adding even more features aimed at high-end layout professionals. I can’t believe I’m about to say this (because I had my doubts that it would ever happen), but with InDesign 2.0, Adobe has actually “PageMaker’d” Quark.

Although Quark, Inc. is a privately held company and doesn’t release official sales figures, the word on the street is that sales for the Mac version of QuarkXPress 5.0 (Quark’s latest release, which STILL isn’t Mac OS X-native), have been pretty abysmal. Adobe, however, has some sources to help them figure out how InDesign 2.0 is doing against QuarkXPress 5.0 (e.g., sales from big retails chains, Mac mail-order houses, and channel distributors). In Adobe’s most recent meeting with financial analysts (in October 2002), they shared sales data (compiled by NPD Data) showing that new unit sales in North America for Adobe InDesign 2.0 had actually outsold new unit sales of QuarkXPress for most of 2002. Certainly, some of that is new Mac OS X users wanting to use all Mac OS X-savvy programs. Even worse for Quark, word on the street has it that a Mac OS X version of QuarkXPress is still a long way away, with its earliest arrival being summer 2003, only two years after the release of Mac OS X.

So while Quark was focusing on other areas, Adobe InDesign 2.0 has leapfrogged it—not only in features, but 2.0’s Mac OS X-compatibility has become the biggest evangelist for converting QuarkXPress users to Adobe this market has ever seen.
Ask anyone running Mac OS X how they like using Quark-XPress 5.0 running in Classic mode. They’ll tell you: Working in Classic is absolutely brutal. But that’s only part of the reason why we switched the entire production of Mac Design Magazine from QuarkXPress 5.0 to Adobe InDesign 2.0. We love the way InDesign 2.0 “feels.” For example, ask anyone who’s used Mac OS X for a few months what it feels like when they go back and use Mac OS 9.2. It feels “outdated and old-fashioned.” That’s exactly the way QuarkXPress 5.0 feels to us. It feels like “yesterday’s page-layout program.” It feels like PageMaker.

InDesign 2.0 looks and feels like a modern page-layout application, and that must be having a major effect. I talk to more and more designers, even those still using Mac OS 9, who are switching to InDesign 2.0. MacNet.com named Adobe InDesign 2.0 its “2002 DTP Product of the Year” and wrote “Adobe created the DTP product for the 21st century, leaving thousands of professionals wondering what was so special about QuarkXPress anyway?”

It appears that Adobe InDesign 2.0 has finally become the “Quark Killer” that many people dreamed it would be. And while Quark is racing to play catch-up to InDesign 2.0, you can be sure that Adobe is already well under way with development of InDesign 3.0.


Although this is all great news for Adobe, there’s a downside. Because there still isn’t a Mac OS X-native version of Quark-XPress, many professionals who are still using QuarkXPress haven’t upgraded to Mac OS X, and that’s hurting Adobe’s sales of Photoshop 7.0, the first Mac OS X-native version of Photoshop. These designers are waiting for Quark’s Mac OS X version before they upgrade to the Mac OS X-native version of Photoshop.

Not only has Quark’s bad decision-making hurt Quark and Adobe, it has hurt Apple in a big way too, because these same designers are waiting to upgrade to Mac OS X until QuarkXPress becomes native. Quark is essentially “killing the market” and at the same time, they’re killing themselves—making the same mistakes today that Aldus did with PageMaker years ago. Quark could have been first-to-market with a Mac OS X-native version, and kept Adobe in the catch-up position, but instead it “pulled over” and let InDesign drive right on by.

If Quark doesn’t pull a major rabbit out of their hat—and soon—I predict you’ll see Quark quietly start to go away until someone finally buys them out and slaps their name on it (something like “Macromedia XPress,” or “Microsoft XPress”), and before you know it, it’ll be another “Windows-based small-office layout program for creating newsletters, flyers, etc.”

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