Pro File: Taking Flight

Markzware got its start churning out free Quark XTensions from a Mac Plus. Under co-founder and CEO Patrick Marchese, the company has grown into a pioneer in the field of preflighting software. As Markzware prepares an OS X-native version of its flagship FlightCheck application, Macworld spoke with Marchese about the history of his company, his plans for the future, and what OS X will mean for print and Web publishers.

Q: How did Markzware begin?

A: Markzware was incepted around 1989 or 1990, with my partner Ron Crandall. He's still with Markzware as Chief Technician and Engineer... The way it really started is around about 1988 I wanted to find a job, and because I was freelancing for about 4 years typesetting and doing type for all the local printers in the Anaheim and Orange County [California] area. And that started to get a little bit old because the economy was starting to have a big problem, and I just wanted to say... learn more and work in an environment that was high-tech as well. So I got this job in Long Beach with... a newspaper that was competing against the Daily Racing Form. The horse racing newspaper. And it was four color, and we had this tabloid that was 40 to 80 pages, produced daily, where we took the charts and graphs from the East Coast and converted. We had an automatic layout scheme where the publication was put together very, very quickly, and Ron was working there and was a part of that. And that's really where I met Ron... We got a call after I was working there about six months. The guy said, "We have some bad news and some good news. The good news is, you don't have to work today. The bad news is, we just sold out to The Sporting News . And so, Ron was without a place. Well, he was without a job, he was without money. I had this mobile home, and he needed a place to stay, and I just offered him a room at my place in exchange for some projects that I needed, that I had ideas on for Quark XTensions since the Quark XTension API was just released around that time. And so, Ron and I exchanged ideas on what we actually wanted to do. And I said, "I want to be a software publisher." And he said, "Well, you know, I would like to create software. I've done it before in the past and maybe with this Quark stuff, we can actually create a cool, needed product and get it to market." And so, we started working on this XTension called X-State. It's still for sale by Markzware. We don't sell very many of them, but basically, it's a project management extension. And we learned a lot through that whole development and then started providing freebies on AOL. We had a one- or two-feature function extension that we would produce and just upload them on AOL, CompuServe, and there were a couple others.

Q: So, it was not boxed, it was purely digital?

A: Absolutely.

Q: Could you consider that a shareware project?

A: It was more than shareware--it was freeware. We weren't requiring anybody to pay anything. We just wanted to see how...

Q: If there was a market?

A: Yeah, exactly. See the market and to see how many people downloaded our products. And you were able to do that. I think you're still able to do that on AOL, quite easily. And when we started to see two, three, four thousand downloads of our product, we really became quite excited, actually. And you know that's how people started to know about Markzware.

Q: Who came up with the name?

A: I think actually, at the very beginning, we were maybe a different name. But Ron and I, we came up with CrandallWare, CrandallMark, VonMark... you know, all kinds of stuff, and we just ended up with Markzware.

Q: We're talking about 1989 now?

A: Yeah, yeah, it's definitely in that area and that's when I got hired by Foote, Cone and Belding... A headhunter found me, and I got this secure job, and Ron was still not working. He was programming XTensions for me.

Q: When he was programming XTensions, was he programming on a Mac?

A: It was a Mac Plus with an extra megabyte of RAM.

Q: Was that your first Mac?

A: That was my first Mac. With the Laser Writer Plus.

Q: And an external 800K floppy drive?

A: Yeah, extra 800 and we used the RAM disk for, you know, say flash memory... That was really cool back then. With no hard drive.

Q: It was slow. I remember that.

A: Yeah. Brother. And to think that we were doing Macromedia stuff back then on that thing. I couldn't believe it. I did flying logos on that and stuff like that... So at Foote, Cone and Belding... I had the latest version of Quark on my machine. And other people couldn't get into my jobs... I was saving it as the latest version and these other guys that needed to edit ads couldn't get into it and my boss said, "Quit causing trouble, if you don't get this file so that other people can use it, you're pretty much fired." So I went over to Ron and I mean, I really, literally, was on my knees at his apartment door and I asked him, "What do you know about Reverse Engineering?" And, he said, "Oh yeah, I used to do that. I had one project in '82 or something that I did." And I said, "Well, this is my dilemma." And he said, "Well, give me a couple days and I'll let you know if I can do it or not." And anyhow, he called me up the second day and said, "I got it"

Q: That was the first, essentially the first real product that you had which was a reverse plug in, right?

A: That was called MarkzTools.

Q: MarkzTools, which to this day, people still use.

A: Absolutely... So, then we thought, well, maybe another XTension would be a good idea. A lot of people had PageMaker documents. PageMaker was the rage, of course, that's what started the whole revolution. People wanted their documents to be converted into Quark. And so, we created this PageMaker-to-Quark XTension.

Q: Was that freeware as well?

PM: The PM2Q XTension was something that we decided to sell, similar to the X-State XTension. And X-State actually started to bring us a little bit of money. We were very, very surprised. I couldn't believe the first $500 check that I received in the mail. Markzware's office, our first office, was a 6-by-4-inch mailbox that we had at Mail Boxes Etc.

Q: The first "virtual office"?

A: Yeah, it really was just unbelievable. And we started receiving all kinds of mail, and this thing started getting packed, and I needed to buy a bigger P.O. box there, and, oh boy, it was really something. I had lunch with Ron, to show him the $500 check. I just couldn't believe it. I was so excited.

Q: What came next?

A: MarkzTools. That really became a popular product right out of the gate, and within a couple of years...now we're at 1992 or so. We have these three products out. And by knowing QuarkXPress, by way of knowing MarkzTools, and knowing PageMaker, with our PageMaker-to-Quark XTension, and other product management ideas--and also, through my responsibilities at Foote, Cone and Belding, which was to show people that this little CX could actually create high quality type--we're starting to create ads on the Macintosh that were high quality newspaper and dealer ads that were for BusinessWeek and Forbes and Inc. , and all of that. So I was very careful and prudent that all of the items were just so. I made sure there were no problems with missing fonts or low-res images, and all of this quality control...I was doing it all by eye and by hand. Essentially I was selecting each object and doing a command-M and looking at every single possibility of the attributes to make sure it was correct. Because if there was anything wrong with any of the ads going to press, resulting in an error, one way or the other, it was definitely my job. And it would only take one error. A lot of money at stake, and I was under a whole lot of stress. I would go to work at seven in the morning, and I would leave oftentimes anytime between 9 and 11, 12 o'clock or more. It was quite intense in those early days to prove to this organization that this wonderful machine, the Macintosh was able to do the job of these very extensive typesetting machines.

Q: So you were already aware of the term "preflight" at that point. And you were essentially doing a version of it as well by eye on every document that went out from your office.

A: Right. But they referred to preflight in terms of postscript. And I was preflighting these files by eye within the applications themselves. So I went to Ron one day and said, "Do you think there's any way that we can create this all-encompassing eyeball that would look not only at Quark files from the outside, but other file types as well, like Photoshop and PageMaker?"

Q: Checking for color space, like CMYK?

A: Yeah. Because I used elements from all these other applications, like illustrations in Illustrator, imported into Quark, and EPS files out of PageMaker, and so forth. I just wanted to have this easy application that would quickly give me a report on anything wrong.

Q: Your motivation at that point was really only to make your job easier and not necessarily to sell it?

A: Absolutely. It was one hundred percent my need. That was when we started to spec out this product. I asked Ron, in general, after a couple of conversations, "How long do you think it will take?" And he said, "Two years." So I responded, "OK, I have time." I really needed this product. And we started thinking, well, maybe other people might need it as well. And so, I took it to the 1994 Seybold [trade show]...we were working on it through 1993, and in '94, we had a very rudimentary beta. And I was at the QuarkXTension booth showing this standalone application.

Q: Was Quark very big at Seybold back then?

A: The only thing that I know is that Quark offered us this very small booth, and I thought, what the heck, I'll spin for it, and we'll see if there's anyone out there who might look at this product and might like it. And people like Sandy Bozak, and Kevin Nathanson came over to the booth and checked this thing out. And their eyes popped out, and then other people did as well. I had all kinds of traffic at this little booth. The other XTension developers were wondering who in the heck I was, and what's this thing all about. So I gave the report back to Ron, and we agreed that we had to work full-force on this thing and get it to market as a real product. And so we began working feverishly until we announced the final release at the 1995 Seybold San Francisco show.

Q: So your regular job at Foote, Cone and Belding was a sort of testing ground for your products?

A: It really was. I wanted to actually use [FlightCheck], but my boss wouldn't allow me. He said, basically, "do your own stuff on your own time." But we did have a great relationship, and I did give him first-rate quality work all the time I was with them. But then Ron and I started to work more and more on off-hours, and we started testing it on our own time... Again, we were very, very small, and at this time I was working out of my apartment. I had a two-bedroom apartment, and I decided to kick it up. My father had died in 1993, and I put my inheritance money 100 percent into the business. I quit my job in January of 1994, and I thought, we're going to make 100 percent go. And if it goes, it goes. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I'd slept in my Mustang before, and I'd been through hard times before, but it looked like this was going to be a good time. But you just don't know until you roll the dice. And so at the 1995 [Seybold] show, we sold $80,000 worth of Flight-Check at, like, $199 dollars a pop. And I knew then and there. We were right next to Kai's Power Tools, and they were doing gangbusters of business as well. I knew that at that point we had it.

Q: A big difference from that original $500 check.

A: Yeah. That was in 1995. And from that point on we were full time Markzware.

Q: What was your full product line then? You had your freeware, MarkzTools, and you had FlightCheck.?

A: We didn't actually ship the product out until December. This was pretty scary. There were some bugs in the product, and I was just saying, "Ron, now come on already."

Q: So his original prediction of two years was not that far off.

A: He was right there. It was definitely two years. Actually it was more than two years. And we needed to get these products out. At my apartment, we had the garage as the shipping department. I had my bedroom as the finance department, and I had three salespeople. Actually, one of the things that made us successful was that in that apartment, I had three ISDN lines coming in. And they were pretty expensive in those days, but I needed those ISDN lines for speed. And that enabled us to do e-mail, and all those other things. So I had three salespeople, and a secretary. Basically, they were friends and relatives--anyone I could get. It was really hard to find people to help me out. And we were hustling to ship this product out. The first Flight check box was like a bread box. It was that large. I'd meant it to double as a [point of purchase] so that people could stand it up at print shops, and grab literature or CD's. Actually, in those days, it was actually a diskette. And we were faking people out because there were CD cases with the floppy disk inserts in them. Then we started to revise it a little. In that box, we had a poster, a t-shirt, the product itself, whatever we could put it that. Our customers definitely got more than what they expected.

Q: And that was the original flight-checking software for QuarkXPress.

A: Not just for Quark. It was for other applications as well. It was a stand-alone that checked PageMaker, FreeHand, and Illustrator files as well.

Q: And what does FlightCheck check today?

A: It checks all those I've mentioned, as well as FrameMaker, Creator, PDF and postscript, on both Mac and PC, Corel Draw, Word, and any and all of those types of apps.

Q: Do you think online preflighting is a stronger market than desktop preflighting? Do the two go hand in hand, or is one exclusive of the other, in terms of workflow?

A: I believe that preflighting really should be at many points of the workflow, starting with the designer--starting really, with the inception of the product. FlightCheck and MarkzNet can work together, absolutely. When we first came out with FlightCheck, the print shop that did our large boxes said, "I really love this product, and I'd love to give it to all of my customers out there, but there's one problem: if I give it to them, then they might go to my competitor down the street. So my value is lost, and I can lose my customer loyalty. What I'd like to do is lock in my customers somehow. And if you could do that then you'd have yourself a number one product." And really that's what MarkzNet is meant to do. It's meant to give the power of preflighting to the hands of the publisher or printer or anyone who's receiving files so that the person who is sending the file to them will adhere to their rules and no one else's.

Q: So the publisher can tweak or customize the rules to fit specific machine needs or preferences?

A: They can tweak the rules to conform to however they want to receive files, whatever the preflighting rules may be for that digital press. So they can create rules globally, or per customer. MarkzNet is architected so that the client will always be able to send their files to the print shop that provided them with the MarkzNet client. The client application has an embedded URL that will only go to the provider's shop. So what technically happens is the rules that are on the printshop side zips over to the local desktop, and then the job is compared to the rules very quickly, and an HTML page will come up to the user letting them know what the error is, based on those rules.

Q: Are you employing XML at any point in this procedure?

A: No. It's very basic. It's just text. It's what we call our True File Spec, or TFS. And right now it's just ASCII format text. But we can repurpose into an XML format for inclusion in other back end uses.

Q: So XML doesn't present any problems at all with your applications?

A: No, not at all. XML is just a tagged format. We're not checking the quality of the XML, or the DTD's or any of that stuff.

Q: Have you geared your product up for OS X?

A: Yes. Our MarkzNet product works with OS X server and we plan to have a client compatible with OS X very soon.

Q: Your preflighting works with InDesign?

A: Yes. Version 1.5 right now. And we're working on compatibility with 2.0, and we're watching how it takes to the marketplace. And typically we include compatibility based on how popular the file type is.

Q: So in a sense, you have to wait and see what settles in the market. Now QuarkXPress 5 is not OS X-compatible. It runs in Classic and in Mac OS 9, but Quark says the next version will be OS X ready.

A: Yeah, we'll see. We're developers for Apple and Quark. We just came out with a QuarkXPress 5-compatible extension, PM2Q. It's out as we speak.

Q: At this point, what is your preeminent product?

A: It's still FlightCheck.

Q: And how does it relate to online preflighting?

A: We're putting online capabilities into our next version of FlightCheck where people will be able to quickly and easily collect and send, for instance, to wherever they want to. FlightCheck is currently at version 4.3.

Q: But you're talking about the next version.?

A: Yes, I'm speaking about the 5.0 version. There may be a 4.5 release, but 5.0 will sure have a completely different interface and be MarkzOne-compatible. And that means it will have the same look-and-feel and same interface across platforms. Right now we've been having problems between FlightCheck for the Mac and for the PC where they don't conform to the same feature set. The interfaces look different.

Q: Is that because of a different development team?

A: Yes. There are two different developers working on Mac and PC. But now with 5.0, we'll have a consistent look and feel.

Q: And you're working with OS X on the Mac?

A: Absolutely. You bet. This version will be OS X-compliant as well as compliant with several other applications. It will be Carbonized.

Q: Does OS X allow for new features that haven't been previously available?

A: Yes. OS X and its PDF layer--the Quartz engine lends itself to a lot of additional features.

Q: Is OS X a positive development for publishing, or does it have some drawbacks?

A: I think for Web publishing, it's a great positive. And I hope for offset and print publishing, it will be a positive as well. There's going to be a lot of confusion out there with Web designers who are used to designing for the Web trying to convert their knowledge to print. And OS X currently does a lot more for the Web, in terms of PDFs, so we might have a little bit of confusion there. If I know [Apple], it's going to do everything it can to keep with its core constituency--and show how OS X can work for magazines, newspapers, and traditional print media.

Q: Have you ever thought of doing a product for the Web?

A: You mean for preflighting Web sites? There are a lot of products out there on the market that are free. We've considered it but haven't focused on it since we're concerned with print. Right now.

Q: Do you think the print industry and traditional media is the long-term bet?

A: Absolutely. I think that if the dot-com debacle is any indication where the print world will go. We can look at the failure of dot-coms in a number of ways. But you can see the advertising down on the Web, and it's down across the board, but overall people like to have that tangible tactile product in their hands. They like to feel it... and high quality print at that. And I think with the digital presses and other products coming out real soon like Heidelberg's next press with higher and higher quality...

Q: Preflighting becomes more and more important?

A: Yeah. You might have 500 different images for 500 different people that are going to have a run of five hundred. And all those images are going to need to be correct, and very quickly.

Q: Where does PDF support fit into future Markzware products?

A: PDF is really important, and a lot of people have gotten the wrong impression about Markzware, that we don't comply with PDF files at all. And that's not so. Hopefully, in the future, we'll be putting that rumor to rest, because Markzware is focused and concentrated on PDF files and creating solutions for Acrobat, and all of that. There are a lot of people not knowledgeable about how to create a PDF file. We want to create products to help them out.

Q: So you have something in the works?

A: Absolutely. We are definitely going to be creating products in the future for PDFs. You should be hearing about it by the [September 2002] Seybold show if not sooner. By the way, you mentioned OS X. This is one of my dreams--and I don't know if it will ever come true--but if preflighting could be built into the OS, I think it would be a lot better. Then the applications that are compliant with the OS would have to write their preflighting function calls into a standard preflighting engine.

Q: Are you making an offer here?

A: Sure! No, well, I'm just thinking that it would make things more compatible for all. Maybe I'm just single-minded, but it would make it easier on a company like ours, where we're reverse-engineering file formats--we could do it from the start. The applications would have to adhere to this standard that would already be built into the OS.

Q: So you're not saying this from a purely commercial or self-serving point of view?

A: Things would be easier. We'd get more consistency across the board in terms of preflighting technology. It would free us up to do better work.

Q: We never really went into your recent situation with Extensis concerning preflighting online.?

A: Markzware has a patent on this thing we call preflighting. And so I can't tell you a whole lot about the situation with Extensis, but I can say that a patent is a double-edged sword. And sometimes I've thought to myself it would be better to be on the side of the defendant than on the plaintiff. It's great to have intellectual property, but it costs a lot of money maintaining it. And if you don't protect or maintain your intellectual property, it gets lost out there. Right now, for instance, many people are using the term Flight-checking as a general quality control term for what preflighting should be.

Q: And FlightCheck is the name of your product?

A: Right. So now people who use the term FlightCheck when they mean preflighting are technically in violation of trademark. We took Extensis to court in terms of their product, PreFlight Pro, and it came out shortly after ours, and when you look at both of them, and you understand that we have patent on stuff, we essentially had to take them to court.

Q: So you did take Extensis to court, and it has been settled?

A: Actually, that isn't the correct term. We sued them. We didn't take them to court. We sued them, and it has been resolved to everybody's satisfaction.

Q: And the Extensis product is still online?

A: Yes, it's still being marketed.

Q: Were there any changes in the product?

A: Early on, they had to change the name of their product, but that wasn't a result of this. That was just marketing. But primarily, it was a settlement. I don't think I can go into details. But I wanted to give you basically an overview.

Q: What's your relationship with Extensis now? Do you talk?

A: Yes, we talk. As a matter of fact, they recently asked for a couple of our products to make sure they were compatible with QXTools, so I sent them the products. I like Joe Schorr, and I like the Extensis team.

Q: So you work on your compatibility with their products as well, like Suitcase 10.1?

A: Yes. Even though we just came out with FlightCheck 4.3, the new version is going to be killer.

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