Quark Enters the Land of OS X

Quark has moved cautiously down the road to OS X, but its journey will be over when QuarkXPress 6.0 debuts (800/676-4575, www.quark.com). The company won't comment on a release date, but I expect that you'll be able to buy the new version of XPress within six months.

I explored a prerelease version of QuarkXPress 6.0. Though it's not appropriate to evaluate a beta version's reliability or speed, I can give you an in-depth look at XPress's new features, from the most striking (such as its OS X code) to the least (such as its As Is printing feature). This version of the publishing mainstay is clearly a significant and innovative upgrade: layers and Aqua and syncing? Oh my!

We're Not in OS 9 Anymore

It seems as if everyone, from production interns to Steve Jobs, has griped about Quark's slow journey toward OS X. Now Quark is committed to OS X in a big way -- on the Mac, XPress 6.0 runs only on OS X 10.2 or later.

It's Aqua, Man Longtime XPress users should have no trouble with the transition; Quark has maintained the program's general look-and-feel while making it fit OS X's Aqua interface standard. Few dialog boxes and palettes have changed beyond donning a blue and gray, rounded-corner skin.

But all is not the same. To comply with Apple's user-interface guidelines, Quark added two new drop-down menus to the main menu bar: XPress and Window. Go to the XPress menu for commands such as Preferences and Quit. The Window menu is the new home for many common commands that once resided in the View menu, including Bring All To Front and Show Style Sheets. Also new is a Layout menu (more on that later).

Quark's efforts to comply with Aqua standards have resulted in a Measurements palette that's 30 percent larger and dialog boxes that take up even more screen real estate than those in earlier versions.

Core Technologies XPress 6.0 doesn't take advantage of OS X's Quartz graphics-rendering technology, which could allow transparency and other special effects. However, it does use protected memory, and you no longer have to worry about allocating RAM.

Upgrading XTensions One side effect of the OS X migration is that all XTensions must be rewritten. While some third-party developers, such as A Lowly Apprentice Production, expect to release software upgrades soon after XPress 6.0 ships, other developers, such as Extensis, are still deciding whether, or when, to convert software. If you rely on an XTension to get your work done, be sure to ask the developer whether there will be an upgrade.

Manage with Multiple Layouts

OS X support would be enough to convince many XPress users to upgrade, but getting more features for your software dollars is nice, too. (Quark hasn't yet announced how much it will charge for version 6.0, but it has said that special promotions will be available for recent purchasers of version 5.)

When you launch XPress 6.0, the first new feature you'll encounter is also the most important one: Layout Spaces, a handy way to keep track of multiple related documents.

Putting It Together Managing related files has always been difficult. Say you're creating a corporate identity package, with a business card, an envelope, stationery, and a Web site. In earlier versions, each piece of the package would have to be a separate file, but Layout Spaces lets you combine them in one file, called a project -- even though the pieces may have different dimensions, orientations, and output methods.

Projects make managing the pieces much easier. Of course, using the Layout Spaces feature also brings some risk: if a project becomes corrupted, you lose all the documents in it.

Making Space Every file you create in XPress 6.0 has at least one layout space. The New Document dialog box is now called New Project, and it allows you to name the first layout space and choose whether it will be a Web layout or a print layout.

You can add a layout space at any time by selecting Layout: New, and you can make a copy of a layout space by choosing Layout: Duplicate. To convert a print document into a Web document, just choose Layout: Layout Properties.

Switching from one layout space to the next is like choosing a workspace in Microsoft Excel: each layout space has a labeled tab at the bottom of the document window. Click on a tab to jump to that layout or choose Next, Last, or Go To from the Layout menu.

Converting Files Opening a document created in an earlier version of XPress converts it into a layout space within a new project. To combine multiple XPress 4 or 5 documents in one XPress 6.0 project, create a new layout space for each document, switch all the documents to View: Thumbnails mode, and drag the pages from one document into another.

Text Synchronicity

Multiple layout spaces are an obvious change in your XPress experience, but they can also affect your work in subtler ways. Perhaps you have a project in which one layout space is a business card and the next is an envelope. Both contain the company's mailing address. The logical next step is to relate the text so that changing it in one layout changes it in the other -- freeing you from having to update each instance manually. That's exactly what XPress's new Synchronize Text palette lets you do.

To create this link between two or more text boxes, place the cursor in one text box, click on the first button in the Synchronize Text palette, and give the text story a name. Then drag the story's name from the palette into as many other text boxes as you want.

Although text is linked, attributes such as font, size, and leading are not. Because the synchronized text boxes can be on any page in any layout of the project, you can apply text formatting appropriate for print in one place and formatting for the Web in another. You can break a text box's link to the Synchronize palette whenever necessary.

You can't synchronize graphics, text that has anchored objects, text on a master page, or even portions of a text story -- it's either all the text in a text box or nothing. And while you can synchronize text across multiple layout spaces, you can't synchronize text across separate files.

Change Your Mind Again -- and Again

How many times have you made a few changes to a design and then decided that you liked it better before? XPress 5 had only one undo level, which didn't affect many actions, such as importing a picture. In version 6.0 you can undo as many as 30 changes. (Each undo takes extra memory, so you can reduce the number XPress remembers via the Preferences dialog box.)

Two pop-up menus at the bottom of the document window display your most recent actions; one shows actions you can undo, and the other shows actions you can redo. This isn't as elegant or powerful as Photoshop's History palette, and menus aren't descriptive of each action (they may display "Picture Box Change" ten times in a row). Nevertheless, this feature is useful when you need to undo a number of consecutive steps. XPress can undo even if you save a document (though it clears its memory when you close the project).

You can choose from three redo keyboard shortcuts: 1-shift-Z (as in Photoshop), 1-Y (as in Microsoft Word), and 1-Z (which allows only one redo action).

You can now undo more actions, including text and picture import, text linking, and edits to your style sheet. However, you still can't undo many others, such as adding and moving guides, and changes that you make to a master page after returning to a document page.

High-Quality PDF Files

Creating PDF files has become a crucial aspect of an efficient publishing workflow, whether you're circulating a low-resolution PDF proof among a workgroup or sending a high-resolution PDF to an output provider for final printing. However, making PDF files from XPress has always required Adobe Acrobat Distiller.

Of course, in OS X any program can write PDFs, but because you can't control image compression and font subsetting, these files are unfit for most professional work.

Instead of relying on OS X or Distiller, Quark licensed Global Graphics' Jaws technology for creating high-resolution PDFs. When you export a PDF file (File: Export: Document As PDF), XPress writes PostScript and then converts it to a PDF file. You can add automatic bookmarks, retain hyperlinks created with XPress's Hyperlinks palette, and control image compression at export. You can neither save PDF styles (groups of settings) as you can in Distiller nor ensure the quality of the PDF by exporting in PDF/X format.

Full-Resolution Preview Spares Your Eyes

XPress users have long known that they couldn't trust the quality of images viewed on screen or printed on ink-jet printers without PostScript support. Vector EPS artwork (such as that from Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia FreeHand) was jaggy; Photoshop images, pixelated. No more: XPress 6.0 has a Full Resolution preview.

The Full Resolution preview feature replaces the bitmap-only Enhance Preview XTension of earlier versions. Like that XTension, Full Resolution works by writing preview files to a cache folder on your hard drive. You can force XPress to delete old pre-view images after the cache reaches a certain size -- for example, 200MB.

This preview feature has some limitations. There's no way to turn it on for an entire document (though that could be a precaution, because each additional image slows down XPress). Also, vectors can be rasterized only as high as 800 ppi.

Working the Web

The folks at Quark had a great idea: Give designers a way to parlay their knowledge of XPress into the ability to design simple Web sites. However, XPress 5 didn't offer enough Web tools to attract many users. XPress 6.0 adds a few new Web features and improves XML handling.

Cascading Menus The flashiest addition is the ability to create cascading menus that pop up or down as you mouse over them. You can specify color, size, behavior (such as a target URL), and even submenu entries. But to see the cascading menus, you have to export HTML and view the page in a browser.

New Rollovers XPress 5 had features that helped you create basic rollovers (images that change when you hold the cursor over them). Version 6.0 lets you create two-position rollovers, where holding over one item affects an image elsewhere on the page. For example, when you pause over a list of product names on the left side of a page, a picture of each product can appear in an area on the right side. To see the two-position rollover, you must export the HTML and open the page in a browser.

Font Families XPress now lets you specify a list of alternate font preferences, so if the people viewing your Web page don't have your preferred font, you still have some say over what font they do see.

What's Missing XPress 6.0 has no real site-management tools (though it does now let you specify more than one folder for your images). You can't import the HTML code that you exported. There's no method for creating automatic next/previous page links, such as Gluon's WebXPress XTension provides (though there is now a shortcut for creating hyperlinks to a specific page in your document).

You may find that XPress 6.0 offers enough features for you to build an entire -- albeit basic -- site. However, you'll likely want to open those pages in another HTML editor for final tweaking.

Set Better Tables

While the Table tool in XPress 5 let you create basic tables, its implementation was half-baked at best. For example, table cells and grid lines were always an opaque color -- even tables in Web documents couldn't have a background of None. XPress 6.0 addresses some of these concerns and offers two new tabular bells and whistles.

You can now convert table cells into a group of individual boxes placed anywhere on a page. This might be useful when you need to save your document in the XPress 5 format (if you first convert the table into boxes, you won't lose XPress 6.0-only features). You can also link from one text cell to another, even when the cells are in different tables -- helpful when you have more text than can fit in a single cell.

XPress 6.0 won't let you set up automatic alternating tints for rows and columns, or import tables from Microsoft Word documents (InDesign does both). Plus, XPress 6.0's ability to link table cells is no substitute for InDesign's ability to flow a table across multiple pages.

Incremental Improvements

Quark has also made a number of small improvements to XPress. If you create complex pages with lots of design elements, you may appreciate layers that truly lock. Previously, locking a layer would turn on the Lock feature for each item on that layer, and you could change or delete those items. Now you can't even select items on a locked layer. (Note that the Lock feature itself has not changed; individually locked items are still unprotected.)

The Layers palette also lets you quickly select all the items on that layer through a context-sensitive menu -- handy when you need to make a global change to objects on a particular layer. The Print dialog box offers a new Layers tab, which lets you determine which layers will print (hiding layers in the Layers palette accomplishes the same thing).

Unless you've been trying to print color XPress files to a PostScript RIP as composite color (rather than letting XPress create the separations), you'll probably miss one other small but important improvement: XPress 6.0 lets you print or export pages to PDF or EPS with As Is or DeviceN color. As Is simply lets you leave colors in their original space. DeviceN includes both composite color and separation data for In-RIP separations (separations produced by the printer's PostScript interpreter).

Activate Now

Quark has long tried to reduce software piracy. After years of complaints, Quark finally stopped requiring a hardware dongle for versions of XPress 5 sold outside of the United States. With XPress 6.0, the company introduces a new protection system. After you install the software, you have five days to activate it via a telephone call or the Web; if you don't, it turns into a demo version that doesn't save documents and prints pages with a watermark.

Activation is not registration, and activating the software does not send any personal or identifiable information about you or your computer to Quark. However, it does associate your software's serial number to a unique code based on your particular hardware configuration. If you change your hardware (install RAM or buy a new computer), you have to reactivate the software.

Wish List

It takes time and resources to add features, and no software company can include all the features they want in every release. Although the shipping version of XPress 6.0 may be different than the beta I explored, it seems likely that some items on my wish list will remain there. For example, the beta doesn't support automatic fractions and true small-cap styles in OpenType fonts. I'd also like a way to make drop shadows from within XPress (other than buying an XTension), to embed fonts in EPS graphics, and to put guides on layers (or even position them precisely).

The Last Word

QuarkXPress 6.0 is a major upgrade, complete with significant features such as Layout Spaces, multiple undos, and the Synchronize Text palette. Yes, we wanted an OS X version of XPress sooner, but it's impressive that Quark has made such progress only 18 months after XPress 5 shipped.

However, if the beta is any indication of how the shipping version will work, we should be prepared for an inelegant interface -- one that looks as if it had been shoehorned into OS X. Quark's age also shows through its clunky Starburst tool and a hyphenation and justification system that hasn't produced better type since 1990.

Nevertheless, XPress users may breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the fact that they can ditch Classic mode at last and enjoy the benefits of OS X.

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