Quark's Leap of Faith

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Quark is known far and wide for marching to the beat of a different drummer. Whereas many other software companies aim for a 12- or 18-month release cycle, Quark (800/676-4575, www.quark.com ) took seven years to upgrade the desktop publishing standard QuarkXPress ($869) from version 3.0 to 4.0. And with version 5.0, Quark has stayed true to form: it first spoke publicly about the upgrade in 1999, but it still hasn't announced a firm shipping date--even though the new version is expected on store shelves before the end of the year.

Quark has something to prove with this upgrade. Many customers are anxiously waiting to compare the next generations of XPress and its page-layout competi-tor, the $699 Adobe InDesign (888/724-4508, www.adobe.com ). The forthcoming version of InDesign (it doesn't have a firm arrival date, either) will add inno-vative capabilities such as object transparency to its already impressive feature set. Quark needs to produce an upgrade that will satisfy wavering customers and show them that it has an eye on the future.

XPress 5.0 represents an attempt to do both. This new version adds features--such as a table editor--that longtime print designers will welcome. But it also demonstrates Quark's belief that the future of publishing is inextricably linked to the Web.

I examined a prerelease version of XPress 5.0. At press time, it was still a work in progress and couldn't be tested for reliability or speed; however, I can give you a sneak peek at the most important changes to come.

From Print to the Web

Publishers have long wanted an easy way to publish content in print and on the Web simultaneously. A couple of Quark XTensions came to the rescue. But BeyondPress, from Extensis (800/796-9798, www.extensis.com ), has not been updated in years, and HexMac's HexWeb XTension has been discontinued. And Quark was reluctant, until recently, to build HTML tools into XPress.

The Old Ways So how have print designers gotten their pages onto the Web if they don't use XTensions? Some of them create mock-ups in XPress or Adobe Photoshop and then pass the files (or the printouts) to Web-production people--a process fraught with problems because print designs don't always work on the Web. Other designers have taken the time to learn how to use dedicated Web-authoring tools.

But many designers like the relatively simple layout tools in XPress and feel that Web-authoring programs (and the rules of HTML they're based on) are mysterious and convoluted. Quark is betting that if you're not comfortable with traditional Web-authoring tools, you'll appreciate QuarkXPress 5.0's approach, which lets you use all of XPress's familiar page-layout tools to create an HTML Web page.

The New Web Tools

Web documents and print documents are two separate things in XPress 5.0. Importantly, you can't convert a Web document into a print document (or vice versa). If you need to repurpose a print document, you must create a new Web document and drag text and picture boxes to it from the print file. (See "Make a Web Page in XPress.")

When you open a new Web document, XPress 5.0 displays the Web Tools palette, which offers new tools for defining image maps and placing form elements (such as buttons, text fields, and pop-up menus) on your pages. (See "The New Tools.")

Making Pictures If you have used TIFF images in your document, XPress 5.0 can easily convert them to JPEG or GIF format for you. However, you don't get nearly the control over the process that Photoshop provides. For instance, though you can specify a Web Safe palette for a GIF image, there's no way to optimize a graphic to reduce its file size. XPress 5.0 can convert an EPS image, but the resulting GIF will be based on the low-resolution preview embedded in your document; many people will find the quality of such images unacceptable.

XPress 5.0 does let you create basic rollovers (which cause a different image to be displayed in the Web browser when a viewer's cursor moves over them). However, the rollover image can't be a TIFF or EPS--you must use a JPEG or GIF.

Setting Type XPress 5.0 can circumvent some typographic limitations of HTML by converting blocks of type into pictures--helpful when a headline or logo must look a certain way. This means you can harness all the power of XPress's type tools to set type on a path or kern display text to perfection, and then create a GIF to preserve the results. You don't get that level of control over your type in either Photoshop or Macromedia Fireworks.

However, when you're working with text you don't want to convert into an image, your options in XPress 5.0 are more limited. With text on the Web, you're at the mercy of your viewers: the only fonts they see in their Web browsers are the ones loaded on their computers. You can set the text in your Web page to be 14-point Franklin Gothic, but if people don't have it loaded, chances are they'll see Helvetica or Arial instead.

XPress 5.0 uses your standard document style sheets to create Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)--an extension to HTML that allows you to control basic things such as font size, color, and page positioning. The font-styling aspects of CSS work in version 4.0 browsers and later, though not always consistently. You can either embed the style information within your Web page, or link multiple Web pages to an external CSS file.

The problem is, the application doesn't let you edit the CSS. And unlike most dedicated Web-authoring programs, it doesn't let you choose a desired font set (for example: Garamond, Times New Roman, Times, serif) instead of a specific font. When you designate a font set, a browser "will display the first font that the viewer has installed from that set.

Linking Up One of XPress 5.0's more elegant new Web features is the Hyperlinks palette, which you use to assign links to text and objects on your pages. It keeps track of the links you've used so you can reapply them quickly later. The palette also makes building HTML anchors--links to a specific place on a page--a breeze.

Laying It Out When you export your HTML page, XPress 5.0 tries to re-create your page geometry (the way objects are placed on the page) by using HTML tables; doing this ensures that most Web browsers will display the page correctly.

In some cases--such as when text is placed over a graphic--XPress may also use CSS absolute positioning, which tells the Web browser exactly where to place each object on screen. However, these pages may not display correctly in pre-version 5.0 Web browsers. And unfortunately, you can't choose to not use CSS absolute positioning (to prevent such problems).

Limitations Let's be clear: though XPress 5.0 lets you create Web pages, it has nowhere near the power of Macromedia Dreamweaver or Adobe GoLive. XPress 5.0 won't let you manage a site with multiple Web pages or check for broken links. It has no tools with which to create a complicated site architecture. It won't let you write custom JavaScript into your HTML. In XPress, you can't directly access the HTML code to fix mistakes. And it's important to note that there is no way to open an HTML page in XPress 5.0 to edit it.

Quark has also left out a lot of the functionality found in third-party XTensions--such as the ability to export headlines and stories without their page geometry. While future versions of XPress will surely be sturdier, this one will appeal primarily to people who either create basic Web pages or want to design first-draft layouts in XPress--and who can then leave the HTML tweaking to Web geeks. And we'll have to wait for the final XPress 5.0 to see whether the program produces clean HTML (code without a lot of extraneous information)--a major consideration.

The New Tools Print and Web documents are built with many of the same XPress tools. New features include the Web Tools palette (A), the Layers palette (B), the Hyperlinks palette , and the AppleScript Scripting menu (D). The Colors palette now shows whether colors are spot or process inks, and includes special HTML colors (E) for Web documents.

XML for All

Perhaps one of the most powerful yet subtle new features in XPress 5.0 is its ability to import and export XML files using Quark's avenue.quark software, which will be bundled with the upgrade. (Currently, Quark sells this XTension for $199.) XML lets you separate content from form so you can import the same content into multiple templates and have it look different in each--perhaps one template for print, another for the Web, and a third for a PDF document. (See " Inside XML," October 2000.)

While the XML tools will likely be of most interest to large publishers who have database-driven publishing systems (a magazine with all its content stored in databases, for example), XML will enable even small shops to create e-books quickly. Since this XTension will be included with every copy of XPress 5.0, curious designers and production people will have an opportunity to experiment with XML.

The New Table Tools

Web tools are version 5.0's most radical additions, but you'll also find some new features long awaited by print designers. Building tables in QuarkXPress has always been difficult. Historically, it has involved painstakingly setting tab stops in a text box or with the help of an XTension, but now version 5.0 boasts true table-making tools.

There are two new ways to create a table: drawing a rectangle with the Table tool, or selecting text (typically comma- or tab-delimited text) and choosing Convert Text To Table from the context-sensitive menu. Either approach will get you a basic table that you can format many ways. For instance, you can resize rows, columns, or your entire table.

XPress 5.0 also lets you merge table cells, useful when headings span more than one row or column. You can place either text or a graphic into a table cell, and even rotate the cell's contents. In short, you can do to a table cell anything you can do to a text or picture box. (See "Making Tables.")

Rough Edges What's missing? To begin with, XPress 5.0 cannot import Microsoft Word tables as XPress tables. For the many designers who receive content in this form, that'll be a big pain. Also, you still have to do some formatting manually--such as the common practice of placing a colored tint behind every other row.

These missed little details add up to more time spent futzing. (Some of these features may be more polished by the time the final product is released.)

The New Layers Palette

While PageMaker and InDesign have had Layers palettes for years, XPress users have had to purchase one of several XTensions to get layers. That's why the more complex your documents are, the more you'll like XPress 5.0's Layers palette, which lets you group objects together into named layers that can be hidden, locked, suppressed (when the items are visible but won't print out), and moved in front of or behind other layers.

Say you need to create unique documents for each of ten salespeople. The documents are the same except for some personalized information in one section. You could make one file and put the custom information on a different layer for each person; only the document layers that are visible will print.

Each layer is assigned its own color, and each object on that layer is tagged with that color, which is very helpful when you're working with a lot of layers. Locking a layer is essentially the same as activating the Lock feature for each object on that layer. Unfortunately, Quark hasn't beefed up XPress's Lock feature, so locked objects can still be altered in several ways, including with the arrow keys.

Interface Improvements

Although the Web features, the Table tool, and the Layers palette are the flashiest elements in this upgrade, about two dozen smaller changes have been introduced to the feature set and interface. Many improve on existing features, but some are completely new. The more subtle enhancements may not result in great time savings, but they will certainly be welcomed by users.

Contextual Menus One of my favorite new features is the context-sensitive menu. Control-click anywhere on your document, and a pop-up menu appears with options relevant to wherever you've clicked. For example, control-click on a text box, and XPress gives you options that apply to text boxes (Get Text, Save Text, and so on). Control-click on the rulers for a quick way to change your measurement units from inches to picas. In fact, the context-sensitive menus now provide the only way to perform some functions, such as Fit Box To Picture.

Convenient Color Anyone who has accidentally chosen a spot color instead of a process color (and had to pay for reprinting the film separations) will be relieved that the Colors palette now clearly identifies the two kinds of color. Even better, you can save time by creating new colors within dialog boxes (just choose Other instead of an already-built color). For instance, if you're inside the Modify dialog box and don't see the color you want, select Other to create it on-the-fly rather than leaving that dialog box and opening Colors from the Edit menu.

After hearing from the masses that the Find/Change dialog box was lacking, Quark's programmers added color options; you can now search for (and change) colored text in XPress.

Opaque Boxes In version 4.0, Quark changed the behavior of text boxes: when you type inside a transparent text box, the box's back-ground remains transparent instead of becoming opaque. Some folks love this because it retains the page's look-and-feel while they edit; others prefer opaque boxes, saying they ease editing in a box that overlays a picture or blend. In version 5.0, the Document Preferences dialog box lets you choose between the two methods.

Text Insets In previous versions of XPress, the Text Inset option was applied to all four sides of a text box; if you set it to two picas, XPress would push the text away from all sides of the text box by that amount. Now you can set the Text Inset value for each side individually, which is very helpful if you need to change where text sits in a box vertically but not horizontally (or vice versa).

Character Lists The current Lists feature can create a table of contents by collecting a list of all the paragraphs tagged with particular paragraph style sheets (such as Heading1 and Heading2). QuarkXPress 5.0 goes further, letting you also gather text tagged with character style sheets. You can tag all the company names mentioned in your magazine with a character style, for example, and then use the Lists feature to quickly build an index of them.

Better Books To help people create long documents, QuarkXPress 4.0 made it possible to bundle separate documents into a book, which acts much like one long document. You can use the Synchronize button in the Book palette to force the grouped documents to use all the same style-sheet definitions, colors, hyphenation and justification settings, and so on. XPress 5.0 lets you control which settings get synchronized--so you can synchronize the style sheets but not the colors, for example.

Better Collection For the past eight years or so, QuarkXPress's Collect For Output feature has helped designers to gather documents and linked graphics in preparation for sending them to a service bureau. But because of legal concerns, it has not collected fonts and ICC color profiles. Apparently, Quark's lawyers are finally assuaged, and XPress 5.0 gathers these, too. Hooray!

Improved Indexing Not many people use the Index palette, but those of us who do should be pleased to note that it now sports an Add All button. This means that instead of having to add each instance of a word or phrase separately, you can add them all with one click. And when you hold down the option key, the Add button changes to Add Reversed--very useful when you want to index Jay Nelson as Nelson, Jay.

Printing Progress

The cost of ink-jet printers has fallen dramatically in recent years--so dramatically that almost everyone has bought one. Designers find ink-jets particularly handy for printing out rough copies of their designs. (See " Macworld's Ultimate Buyers' Guide: Printers," August 2001.) The problem is, QuarkXPress has always assumed that users are printing to a PostScript printer, which most ink-jets are not. The results of this conflict--if the document prints at all--are poor color and poor graphics quality.

Quark has finally responded: XPress 5.0 has better support for non-PostScript printers. For instance, it lets you print thumbnails of your document, reduce or enlarge your page image at print time, and--most important--send composite RGB data to the printer instead of the data for the washed-out CMYK colors that so many people had complained about.

PostScript lovers will be delighted to learn that the Preview tab of the Print dialog box is also greatly improved; you can now get a quick overview of what your printed page will look like. Best of all, the preview indicates whether the Page Flip or Negative options have been selected. This should please service bureaus that have been burned by accidentally printing files with incorrect settings.

Better PDF Support

The ability to output PDF files directly from XPress documents--without the help of Acrobat Distiller--has been on many wish lists for years. But last year Quark quietly announced it wouldn't deliver this feature; indeed, XPress 5.0 still requires the $249 Adobe Acrobat package (888/724-4508, www.adobe.com ) to create PDF files.

However, if you need to include interactive elements (such as bookmarks) with your PDFs, you'll be glad to know that XPress 5.0 can automatically generate links from your document's table of contents, index, and any text tagged with a hyperlink.

But in the end, the new PDF export feature isn't as rich as Techno Design's $299 PDF DesignPro XTension ( www.techno-design.com ). For example, XPress still can't translate multiple documents into a single PDF.

The Last Word

Remember that this overview is based on beta software, and that Quark--like most companies--has been known to change interface elements or even add or remove features at the last minute. But this much is certain: Quark is deeply committed to the Web and has embraced HTML and XML.

On the other hand, QuarkXPress 5.0 will not be a native Mac OS X application. Quark promises that the next version (5.X) will be Carbonized, but officials aren't ready to say when it will be released. (They have let it slip that 5.X will accommodate some key customer requests, including multiple undos.) Adobe recently announced that InDesign's next version will be OS X native.

Print Lives Looking down the list of XPress's new features, many print designers may feel frustrated that Quark has invested so many resources in Web tools. Many of us have waited a long time for a built-in story editor, high-quality screen previews of EPS and TIFF images, multiple undos, transparency, footnotes, and more. (And many of these features are already available in InDesign.) As it stands now, XPress 5.0 is plainly an evolution, not a revolution, for print publishers who don't need to repurpose content for the Web.

Look to the Future The publishing world is at a crossroads. Will designers upgrade to XPress 5.0 or choose the next version of InDesign? Will XPress 5.0's Web tools satisfy, or is Quark already too late to enter the Internet market? These questions will be answered in the months to come, after Quark and Adobe release the final versions of their new products. But one thing's for sure: this will be a fascinating time for publishing.

Contributing Editor DAVID BLATNER is the author of The QuarkXPress 4 Book (Peachpit Press, 1998) and the upcoming Real World QuarkXPress 5 (Peachpit Press), and he is a coauthor of Real World Photoshop 6 (Peachpit Press, 2001). You can find him at www.moo.com.

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