If you're a big-time player in the publishing market and plan to attend the annual Seybold Seminars conference, there are two things you're required to bring: the promise of a shiny new product and a lot of tea leaves.
The two most-recognized names in publishing software-Quark and Adobe-offered plenty of both as they took the stage at last week's conference to outline their vision of the industry's future. But while both agree that enabling publishers to quickly move content from one media format to another is likely to lead the next wave of publishing, Adobe and Quark offer vastly different predictions on how this technology will be used.
Adobe envisions a future in which media-rich content is automatically and instantaneously output to as many platforms as possible-including eBooks, PDAs, cell phones, the Web, and print. In contrast, Quark unveiled a different strategy during its keynote on the last day of Seybold that focuses on collaboration, rather than media distribution.
"We don't give a damn about showing a movie on a cell phone," said Quark CEO Fred Ebrahimi, responding to Adobe's earlier keynote. "I think that's a stupid idea."
Instead, Quark is putting its money on the future of collaborative publishing, envisioning a design process that speeds workflow and enables several publishers-and perhaps even customers-to quickly repurpose content to any format they need.
Quark Discovers the Web
There is one point on which Quark and Adobe adamantly agree: the Web is where it's at. Both companies see the Web as the foundation upon which their future publishing workflows will be built.
That's not earth-shattering news to users of Adobe's page-layout program, InDesign; after all, version 1.0 included several Web features. But for QuarkXPress customers-and there's a lot of them out there-Quark's newfound appreciation for the Web may come as a surprise.
To help designers move more easily from print to the Web, Quark has added a host of new Web tools to the upcoming QuarkXPress 5.0. The goal, the company says, is to let designers use the same program and tools they're already familiar with for print layouts to produce Web pages.
Based on a public demo of the yet-to-be-released version of QuarkXPress, when you start a Web page design in XPress, you can drag and drop elements directly from a print version of the page and even use the same style sheets. Because print and Web formats are not compatible, the program will automatically convert TIFFs and EPS images into JPEGs. Likewise, XPress will convert fonts-such as those used in fancy headlines-to a graphic when it exports the finished HTML file. The program will use cascading style sheets to position elements on the page and includes tools for making rollovers, hyperlinks, image maps, tables, forms, and pull-down menus. You can even import animated GIFs and, when you're done, preview the page in your browser. Quark is also adding a slew of new export options including PostScript, PDF, HTML, XML, SVG, and Flash.
Collaboration Is Key
Quark's vision of the future doesn't stop with building Web pages in XPress. Quark plans to release an entire publishing system built around the power of the Internet.
Positioning XPress 5.0 as the authoring tool for designers, Quark touts its Quark DMS digital media system as the second piece of the puzzle. Quark announced that it is adding a Web interface to Quark DMS, letting anyone with the right authorization use their Web browser to view any asset-an image, story, or complete layout-on their system and download it for use in their design. If several people are working on different projects that rely on the same content, for example, they can always access the most-current (or previous) versions of that content without having to trade files back and forth. Users would be able to collect all the assets they need in a "media basket," and then simply download the files to their workspace.
To complete the new suite, Quark is adding server technology. The Active Publishing Server (APS), which will run on OS X Server, is being billed as a collaborative publishing tool. It allows users to create publications and Web pages on the fly. Using their Web browser, designers or customers can see a Quark template on the server, add information to a specified field, and immediately download the resulting document.
Quark envisions its APS system as the perfect tool for print-on-demand services such as business cards, catalogues, and ads. For example, newspaper customers could submit classified ads over the Web. Then, their information would automatically be placed in the templated Quark file and sent back to the customer for review.
But moving to the Web may not be as easy for Quark as adding Web tools to its traditional print-layout program. Quark will have to prove that it "gets" the Web. Unlike Adobe-which has already built a reputation for Web publishing with professional tools such as GoLive and LiveMotion-Quark is heading into a completely new territory.
Ebrahimi says he recognizes the challenge, but thinks that users will be sold when they see the final product. "We've had our best minds working on this technology for more than three years," he added.
The biggest test of XPress 5.0's success is likely to be the quality of HTML generated by the layout program. Web designers are notoriously antsy about letting a design program write code for them.
To ease these concerns, Quark says the HTML generated by XPress 5.0 will be HTML 4.0-compliant and will meet the standards put out by the World Wide Web Consortium.
Still, Quark does not envision itself as the end-all to Web publishing. "No one application is going to solve everything," Ebrahimi conceded. He envisions Quark as the starting point for moving designs quickly from print to the Web. For building complex Web designs-or even looking at the HTML-most designers are still going to need a professional Web-authoring tool.
But that may not always be the case, Ebrahimi added. And he hinted that it's not inconceivable that Quark may look to purchase or partner with a Web-authoring tool maker in the future.
Timing Is Everything
But with all the talk about the future, the most pressing question remains unanswered: When will XPress users actually have a copy of version 5.0 in their hands? After all, Quark began teasing the public with the promise of the new program more than three years ago.
Quark says the long wait is due to the company's dedication to release a product that is stable and free of serious bugs. It wants to avoid the mistakes made with the release of Quark 4.0 when complaints about work-crippling problems with the program came flooding in from irate customers.
"We've done our share of stupid things. This has made us more humble than before," Ebrahimi said. "We shipped 4.0 too early and it just wasn't ready. We will never do that again." The CEO says Quark will release the program when its beta testers say its ready. That may be in six to nine months, according to rough estimates from a few other Quark representatives.
(As for an OS X version, Quark officials remained vague. An OS X-native update won't arrive until a couple of months after XPress 5.0 ships.)
XPress's pending arrival raises the question of just whose future the publishing industry is likely to encounter first. Adobe is remaining just as reticent about announcing a firm release date for its own workflow solution, including the release of InDesign 2.0. In fact, it's quite possible that neither InDesign nor XPress will hit the market until the beginning of 2002. And considering the volatility in the Internet world, that may make any discussion about the future of the publishing industry little more than guesswork.