InDesign's Future Is Now Transparent

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When it comes to InDesign, Adobe has been very tight-lipped about what features we'll see in future versions of the page-layout application. So, when upper management previewed the as-yet-unannounced version of InDesign during a Seybold Seminars keynote address in Boston last month, even some Adobe employees were stunned.

While there are still many tools that Adobe isn't talking about, the company has unveiled a number of very impressive features, including full transparency of objects, import and export of XML, a built-in table-making tool, and long-document features such as table of contents and indexes.

The folks at Adobe are quick to point out that they haven't made any product announcements, and that these features are simply destined for some future version of InDesign. But it's pretty obvious that we'll be seeing these tools in the next version of the application.

Adobe has been careful not to divulge a shipping date. However, given the company's history of product updates, a new version of InDesign could be out by the end of this year or early 2002. And anyone who was less than exuberant about InDesign 1.0 and 1.5 will have much less to complain about when version 2 rolls around.

The Future Is Clear

The most impressive feature in the coming InDesign update is object transparency. It lets you change the opacity of anything on your page -- text, boxes, or pictures. The new Transparency palette also has a Mode menu, a la Photoshop and Illustrator 9, from which you can choose Multiply, Screen, Overlay, and other blending commands. While this may seem like a somewhat frivolous feature, it turns out to be exceptionally useful in a production environment. For example, you can ghost back, or make partially transparent, a portion of a photograph -- perhaps to place text over it -- simply by placing a semitransparent white box over the image.

InDesign will even have a Feather feature, so you can soften the edge of that white box -- pretty amazing for a vector-based program. Of course, the box is still based on vector outlines, so when you change the size or shape of the box, the soft edge adjusts, as well. Adobe also demonstrated automatic drop shadows.

InDesign 1.X lets you import native Photoshop documents, even if they contain layers. The next version will go even farther by recognizing transparency in the Photoshop file, even if it's feathered or antialiased. This has a shocking implication -- you won't need clipping paths any longer. If you want a silhouette of a toaster on your page, just use Photoshop to make the background transparent; InDesign does all the hard work of making it blend into whatever you place it on top of. You can even change the opacity of the toaster after you place it.

Taking the Long View

While InDesign 1.X is perfectly reasonable for one-page ads, many people have had trouble creating longer documents with it. Adobe took notice and will add a number of long-document features that include indexing, table of contents, and multiple-document "books."

Like QuarkXPress 4, the next version of InDesign will build a table of contents based on style sheets in your document, and then automatically create hyperlinks for you when you export a PDF file. David Evans, Adobe's senior evangelist of cross-media publishing, made a cryptic remark at Seybold that InDesign will be able to automatically update the table of contents when the document changes. Evans didn't show or explain this feature, but one could infer that Adobe has learned a lot since its acquisition of FrameMaker, the king of long-document publishing.

Evans also alluded to InDesign's robust scripting infrastructure when he noted that a database could automatically build entire multidocument books on the fly. Even better, InDesign will include a Hyperlinks palette to add additional "hot links" in your documents (based on the same interface as Adobe Acrobat). These links will function in exported PDF and HTML files.

Setting the Table

One of the most-requested features in publishing over the past 10 years has been a table-making tool for page-layout applications. Quark has announced that it would include such a feature in QuarkXPress 5. Not to be outdone, Adobe decided to include one in InDesign, or at least it plans to. While Adobe barely showed any table features in its demo, Evans quipped, "Let's pretend just for a minute that InDesign had the world's most powerful table-making capability built into it. I just think that'd be fun."

Evans then demonstrated how InDesign could import XML from a database (or tab-delimited text from Excel) into a table, where it would be automatically formatted. The table dynamically grew to fit the text, but there was more information than could fit onto one page. Evans then showed how InDesign could link table data across page breaks, just like linked text frames. He finished up by making the table semitransparent, a gratuitous nod to the power of the underlying graphics model.

Moving Data In and Out

Some IT managers have been troubled by Adobe's seeming indifference toward Extensible Markup Language, or XML -- a language for tagging the structure of content, rather than just what the content should look like. The times, they have a-changed, as Adobe announced that all its products would be XML-aware, including the next version of InDesign. You'll be able to import and export document content as either XML or SVG (scalable vector graphics, which is also based on XML).

Adobe's tagging interface, while still pre-beta, appeared simple and elegant, just like applying paragraph style sheets with a Tagging palette, and without requiring a premade DTD, or Document Type Definition (which Adobe rightly figures most people don't know about and don't want to know about).

Adobe also demonstrated how easy it will be to export an InDesign document to standard eBook formats, such as reflowable PDF, while retaining bookmarks, hyperlinks, and document structure. Missing was any discussion of export in the .swf, or Flash, format, which Quark also demonstrated the following day at Seybold in QuarkXPress 5.

I Want It Now

After a deluge of criticism for InDesign 1.X's Print features, Adobe has reworked the Print dialog box to be much easier to navigate. The result should surely please service bureaus; you can even get a list of all the print settings in one long list, for an at-a-glance overview.

Always looking toward the future, Adobe says the next version of InDesign will be fully Carbonized, running natively in OS X to incorporate the operating system's multithreading and protected memory, as well as its unfortunate throbbing buttons and Aqua scroll bars. Adobe hasn't announced any specific hardware or software requirements yet, but it's assumed that InDesign will still run in older versions of the Mac OS.

InDesign's Transparency palette will let you change the overall opacity of both text and pictures on your page. InDesign can also read the transparency in native Photoshop files, so here the car's window is more transparent than the rest of the image.The next version of InDesign will have long-document features, including automatic tables of contents based on paragraph style sheets. Note the automatic drop shadows behind the Japanese double-byte text (the English version can open Japanese files).

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