Quark Puts on a Happy Face

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BOSTON--For years, publishing-software company Quark ( www.quark.com, 800-676-4575) had a less-than-friendly reputation. Users of its flagship product, QuarkXPress, grumbled about poor technical support. Customer-requested features appeared to languish in an R&D netherworld. But the company has tried to make amends recently, and at the Seybold Seminars conference held last week in Boston, it practically rolled out the Welcome Wagon.

Foremost in the hostess gift bundle was Web support in old and new applications. XPress 5.0 -- due to ship at the end of the year -- will output image maps, rollovers, and HTML tables. (Print publishers rejoice as well: built-in table support will be available to you, too.) XPress will also convert its style sheets to Web-standard Cascading Style Sheets. A plug-in to export that Web trend du jour, Flash, is in development. Other 5.0 features are up in the air--to cast your vote, go to www.quark.com/products/quarkxpress/wishlist.html. Talk about improved customer service!

In conjunction with Avenue.quark, a new XTension shipping in April and bundled for free with 5.0, XPress will import and export the Extensible Markup Language (XML). Unlike HTML, XML separates content from appearance, making it easier to use the content in print, on the Web, or on display devices like PDAs and eBooks.

Sharing in the XML group hug is eStage (shipping sometime after XPress 5.0), which will facilitate cross-media content swapping for companies, such as catalog publishers, that rely heavily on databases. Quark is also touting eStage as a boon for large sites that pull in or send out content to many sources.

If you're involved in publishing for print and the Web, you've no doubt bemoaned the hassles of sharing content across media. Theoretically, XML can solve this problem, or at least make it less painful. Just don't forget your audience before making the plunge, as many of the Web browser versions now in use can't correctly display XML content.

Quark's whole-hearted endorsement of XML was noteworthy, but the real surprise was a Quark party . In keeping with the company's new (and first-ever) tag line, "The Art of Communication," the party was held at the Institute of Contemporary Art. It was pleasant enough, with a bar, hors d'oeuvres, parting gifts (including chocolate bars), and obscure sculpture, but many a journalist will remember it simply because it was a Quark party, rarer than foie gras at a backyard barbecue.

In contrast, Apple was basically nowhere to be seen at Seybold. Though Steve Jobs still parachutes into the fall Seybold show in San Francisco, the company seems to have abandoned the winter show on the east coast.

Apple's absence from last week's Seybold demonstrates the company's changing focus. Designers were Apple's core during the dark days. The company has since grown to embrace constituents such as iMac-loving consumers and PowerBook-toting road warriors. A more diverse Apple means a healthier Apple, and that's a good thing -- just so long as Apple doesn't take a page from Quark's old book and turn a deaf ear to its publishing customers.

Associate Editor TERRI STONE ( terri_stone@macworld.com ) covers publishing and multimedia issues for Macworld.

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