First Look: First Look: QuarkXPress 7

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For much of the last year, Quark has been releasing tidbits about the forthcoming version 7 of its flagship product, QuarkXPress. At the same time, rival page-layout application Adobe InDesign has seen significant adoption among professional designers. Now, Quark has provided a beta version that lets customers see more clearly what QuarkXPress 7 will likely bring to the table when a final version ships later this year.

Taking a page from InDesign

Much of what QuarkXPress 7 adds duplicates features introduced in Adobe InDesign over the least several years. For example, the venerable Measurements palette, which provides quick access to a selected object’s attributes, now offers many more controls than in previous versions, making it as capable as InDesign’s equivalent Control palette.

These added capabilities become evident as you start working with actual objects—causing the palette to display the controls appropriate to the current selection. The result? You can avoid using dialog boxes for most of your work. You can also switch among modes within the Measurements palette, such as going from text formatting to frame formatting without having to change tools first.

At first glance, the QuarkXPress 7 beta looks very much like the previous versions, though changes to the palettes show both usability improvements and the addition of new features.
(Click image to open full screenshot)

Other InDesign-inspired additions include support for transparency, the ability to create drop shadows, style-level ligature enablement, use of color outlines to indicate an object’s layer, support for OpenType formatting, a palette that provides easy access to special characters (glyphs), a menu option to insert special spaces, the ability to open several windows for the same document, a color-proof preview, and the ability to create palette sets (the same as InDesign’s workspaces) so you can save different interface configurations.

In some cases, Quark has advanced these InDesign-derived features. For example, you can set transparency based on the color swatch applied, so you can have different transparency settings for, say, the fill and outline. (Similarly, you can change the transparency of selected text.) By contrast, InDesign applies the same transparency setting to the entire object. And, one-upping InDesign, QuarkXPress 7 lets you select different source and output targets for the on-screen color-proof preview, rather than require you to change the document’s actual color-calibration settings as InDesign does.

Usability enhancements in QuarkXPress 7 beta include grouped palettes and Adobe-like palette menus.

Increased collaboration

Most of QuarkXPress 7’s truly new, unique features involve workgroups, increasing the ability to collaborate.

For example, the new composition zone feature lets you specify an area of a layout that another user can work on—think of it as a frame stored in a separate file that an external user can access and manipulate.

The synchronization feature introduced in QuarkXPress 6.0 (   , September 2003 ) now synchronizes graphics and shapes—not just text—across a project, so changes to one instance are reflected in all. Borrowing a page from InDesign CS2’s new object styles feature, QuarkXPress 7 lets you decide whether to synchronize just the content, just the box attributes, or both.

Perhaps the biggest focus on version 7 is the introduction of job jackets. The idea is that you can specify a whole bunch of attributes—from allowable colors based on the ultimate output device to the permissible text styles. Think of its as a super-duper template that can be used in multiple documents. With a job jacket created, you can run a compatibility check of your current document to make sure it doesn’t apply styles or other attributes not specified in the job jacket. That’s helpful in preflighting a document before output.

A related feature is the newfound support of the Personal Print Markup Language (PPML) format. This format describes all the resources needed to output a document so PPML-aware printers can collect the resources needed, as well as handle repeating elements more efficiently and support personalized output (where information such as name and address) change on each piece. You can export your QuarkXPress layouts to the PPML format for processing by compatible devices.

Little changes here and there

Any new version of a program comes with small changes to existing features, to either make them work better or streamline operations. Several of those kinds of enhancements were evident in the QuarkXPress 7 beta.

The QuarkXPress 7 Measurements palette now offers much greater control over item attributes.

For example, QuarkXPress now provides an option during import to retain any formatting applied to your graphics when you replace a graphic with a new one.

For layout, you now have two ways to lock items: their position (the long-standing behavior in QuarkXPress) and their attributes (the approach used in InDesign).

The Synchronization feature has been renamed Shared Properties and now supports objects as well as text.

For typography, you can now edit vertical positions of characters in kerning pairs as part of changing a font’s kerning table. (You continue to use the baseline shift feature to change this “cross-stream kerning” on a case-by-case basis in your layout.)

And for output, you can now create output styles that contain settings you want to use consistently when printing or creating EPS, PDF, and PPML files. Previous versions of QuarkXPress only let you save output styles for print jobs.

Beta details

QuarkXPress 7 is a public beta, and not a completely stable release. This beta is functional through March 31, 2006; participants can provide feedback to Quark through that date as well. Participants can register here. Although the beta release is not Universal, Quark confirmed that it will be by the end of January. A full release of version 7 is expected during the second quarter of 2006.

[ Former Macworld editor Galen Gruman has co-authored more than a dozen books on QuarkXPress and InDesign, including QuarkXPress 6 Bible (Wiley Publishing 2003). ]

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