This Macworld Expo explodes with innovative applications for creative people. There is cool new software for movies, music, 3-D, and Web sites. But the announcements aimed at print designers were mostly limited to incremental improvements of well-established products.
However, that doesn't mean print designers have nothing to look forward to. One of the most promising technologies I saw at Expo, Extensis Preflight Online ( www.extensis.com ), is still in its early stages. I won't describe this Web-based service with the tired term "revolutionary," but "evolutionary" is nothing to sneeze at -- just ask one-celled organisms. Other companies should look to Preflight Online as a successful example of using the Web's strengths to make life easier for print professionals.
Preflight Online morphed from Extensis's traditional desktop application, Preflight Pro. Both incarnations examine files before you send them to print shops and identify items that are missing or could otherwise cause problems. The premise is that when you correct the problems before you send off files, you'll prevent glitches that could cost you money -- or even a client.
Preflight Online doesn't make you upload files to an Extensis site. Instead, you download a small Web browser plug-in to your desktop. That plug-in checks out a file you select and sends a report back to the Extensis servers, which then displays the report in your Web browser. The entire process is fast and easy -- certainly better than resending incorrect files to a print shop via courier or Federal Express. And I especially like the troubleshooting tips you can bring up by clicking on error messages. Too bad the Mac OS doesn't tell us how to deal with its cryptic messages!
When Preflight Online was born, it examined only PDFs. Although PDF may someday be the main delivery mechanism for finished files, many printers still prefer source files. Acknowledging this reality, Extensis will soon extend Preflight Online to QuarkXPress, the page-layout application used most by print professionals. You can explore the beta by signing up at http://beta.extensis.com.
The Web as Workspace
In the past few years, a slew of companies have touted the Web as the new workspace for everyone in the print production process, from paper buyers to clients approving proofs. None of these companies have made a significant dent in the market. Maybe the Web doesn't improve the traditional way of doing business, or maybe the companies simply lacked the necessary advertising budgets. But soon Adobe will enter the ring.
In October of last year, Adobe announced Adobe Studio, a Web-based "creative design network." Its subscription services aim to help you track projects and team members and share files. It will debut sometime before April 2001 at www.adobestudio.com.
I hope Adobe Studio lives up to its claims and becomes something that -- like Preflight Online--you can rely on to remain fit and survive. If not, it may go the way of all evolutionary sidetracks. But print designers will stick around regardless. Who else is going to make the materials advertising all that movie, music, 3-D, and Web design software?