QuarkXPress has long ruled the electronic publishing world, particularly among Mac users. But Quark faces
growing competition from Adobe’s InDesign product, especially after Adobe released an OS X-native version of its page-layout application this year. With an OS X-savvy version of QuarkXPress still in development, Macworld spoke to Quark’s Juergen Kurz about the decision to release QuarkXPress 5.0 without native support, his views on InDesign, and Quark’s vision for the future of desktop publishing.
Q: What’s your position at Quark?
A: I’m vice president of product management. That means I’m responsible for all of the products we develop and bring to market, and I report to [Quark CEO] Fred Ebrahimi.
Q: Because Quark is so prominent in the Mac market, I’m assuming your personal computer is a Mac.
A: I have a wonderful Titanium [PowerBook] in front of me, a 500MHz PowerBook, with OS 9, but I’m moving to OS X because I want to make sure that as we’re slowly getting more mature OS X builds, I can start testing and hacking into them.
Q: Tell me a little about your background.
A: Before I came to Quark, I was a heavy user of QuarkXPress. I was working in production and as a graphic designer as well as art director.
A: In a German publishing company. I’m from Munich. So I do love to look at these tools, whether it’s XPress, or new versions of Photoshop. I try to get a good idea of what’s going on. Obviously I need to see where everyone is going with those sorts of things. Just so you know, even though QuarkXPress is largely known as a Mac product, we do have quite a significant number of Windows sales, so that’s gone up.
Q: Where would that be, in Europe or the U.S.?
A: Actually, in the U.S., it’s been stronger.
Q: Quark has received some criticism for not coming out with QuarkXPress 5 for OS X. Was that a conscious decision, or was it a production issue?
A: Basically, when we started out doing the final release cycles, we had a significant beta-test program. The OS X platform was not actually ready at that time. It had just started shipping. So we decided to get [version 5.0] out the door. We started building a parallel OS X build, and we did a lot early on. But from a production perspective, for our customer base, [and because of] some of the significant changes in the [OS X] print engines, we had to get a 5.0 release out and work full speed on a native release. And we feel that with [the upcoming Jaguar update], which has a lot of changes that start making it look like a very professional printing engine, . . . [OS X] is getting ready for prime time, and we’re getting ready for prime time, too. Our customers really want a quality app, and they have very high demands, specifically for the print issues. That was our only concern. And the product is starting to look pretty good.
5.0 has been shipping [since February]. And we haven’t had any significant bug reported form the market, which is a very different from 4.0. I haven’t read one single [negative] word about the quality of 5.0. I know that people should expect that, but we’ve really done a good job with it, and you know we’ve sold tens of thousands of product into the market. It’s out there heavily entrenched already in the print workflow. And we’re pretty proud of that. We want to have the same quality in OS X, and you should expect that.
Q: Can you trace the sales to upgrades, or are they new buyers?
A: I’d have to look at the latest lists, but certainly we have a number of upgrades. Still, there are a lot of new users buying QuarkXPress.
Q: Do you see Adobe InDesign as a coming threat?
A: I look at it a little bit differently than most people. Coming from the actual world where you’re using it to put out a magazine, or catalog, or newspaper, there’s a different question, which is “How does the technology provided by Adobe disrupt the current way you publish?” And if you look at the current way you publish, the tool that will disrupt publishing will be a tool that can publish into electronic as well as printed format equally well. I remember the day my boss threw a package at me — which wasn’t any Adobe product, by the way. We got a layout package and he asked me to test it. He asked me, “Can we put this into the workflow, and will it give us a competitive advantage? Because I’m getting this product for free, and QuarkXPress costs quite a lot of money.” And I said I’d take a look at it. And at the end of the day — and I was using QuarkXPress 3.32 at the time — it wasn’t really giving me the productivity advantages. And when I looked at all of the different equations — the XTensions, the work invested — even taking it for free, it was more expensive in the long run.
Q: Yeah, when you have to do a press check and things aren’t right, that’s when costs add up.
A: That was my argument. Now, “disruptive” to me is if InDesign or any other tool came along and did what I considered to be the future of publishing, then that would be different. If you look at publishing there is a specific enhancement at the top that can still be made. There’s a reason why I was very happy with QuarkXPress 3.32 already. When I looked at 4, at first I thought “do I need to upgrade?” and yet with 3.32 I could still do a great magazine.
Q: I think a lot of people, myself included, had a lot of problems going with an upgrade to QuarkXpress 4 because I found 3.32 stable, and frankly, putting text to outlines was just as easy to do in FreeHand or Illustrator. I didn’t feel as though folding those features into the application was going to make that much of a difference to warrant an upgrade. And so Quark 4 did have a slow upgrade path.
A: So you see exactly the same point I’m trying to make. Even XPress 3.32 was very mature. XPress 4 is better, it has more features, we fixed the bugs we had at the beginning. And 5.0 starts adding what we believe the future of publishing is, and what I believe an important aspect of it is.
Q: What is that important aspect?
A: If I look at the current publishing environment, just talking to former customers, and the customers we now have, the reality today is that you want to have a tool that you can use to publish into multiple media environments.
Q: So you’re calling this “disruptive technology,” but disruptive in a positive sense? A new paradigm, as it were?
A: Yeah. You suddenly have paradigm shift where you don’t look at print publishing and Web publishing, and e-book publishing as disconnected workflows, but as workflows you can connect to one another from a content perspective, and then you can output them into different media. There are, of course, limitations that a print documentation or a Web document has — with a print document, the limitation of the page size. Let me compare QuarkXPress with Photoshop and you’ll see where we’re going with the product. A few years ago, Photoshop — and I love Photoshop by the way — had a very interesting path. When you looked at Photoshop, what you saw was a great tool that got a lot of new features like layers. And when the Web came along… you remember that when Macromedia started having image editing tools, a lot of people thought that Photoshop was going to vanish, and new tools that were Web-ready were going to make the stuff.
Q: Xres, LivePicture — tools like that, you mean.
A: And you know what happened. Basically people had a passion for the product, and Adobe did an extremely good job of adding new capabilities to it. And there’s no arguing today that Adobe’s done a good job with that. And the same is true for Illustrator. Those two tools are used for both print and multimedia. We feel that if you look at electronic publishing, and the Web specifically, and the print authoring environment, they’ve been treated as completely different processes. I do feel that if we can give our users that additional capability in an environment that they are actually comfortable with, just like Photoshop users who are now used to making Web- and print-ready images, they can grow into this new media space quite successfully. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
Q: There was a product from England that did take a Quark-like interface and turned it toward Web media production.
A: I remember that product.
Q: It’s called Freeway.
A: Exactly. If you look at Macromedia Dreamweaver, it was remarkable to see graphic designers working on an XPress page, make a screen shot of it, and Dreamweaver had a specific feature…
Q: Dreamweaver 2 had the tracing layer feature, where you could use a Quark document’s layout as an underlying template.
A: So you see there’s a demand for this. And we’re moving in that direction.
Q: I think that might be an arguable point — whether there was demand for that type of feature, or whether they were trying to create a demand, or interpreting something as a demand. In my own experience as a designer, we never once repurposed a specific brochure that way into the Web. It was always ground up using elements that we have in a project because the Web and print are different animals.
A: Being a graphic designer, what made me come to Quark is actually a product called QuarkImmedia. And I tried to test the concept of using a print graphic designer, because I was interested whether, with the same tool, they could create interactive projects based on the background of a graphic designer and based on the knowledge that these new tools would give them interactivity in producing sound, video, etcetera.
Q: That was the heyday of the CD-ROM.
A: Right. And we all know what happened. I was interested whether they could conceptualize this new media, these new tools, just leave the print design and repurpose some of the concepts, maybe color schemes, things like that, for a different media. And they could. I was fascinated by these people who could achieve this very quickly. They couldn’t use Director, by the way.
Q: Who could? Lingo.
A: [laughs] But they could use Immedia immediately.
Q: I remember Immedia had a GUI that had a flow chart and you would apply different transitions and different capabilities and reactions, as it were, on that flow chart.
A: Exactly. When I look at that, I really feel…that’s where our strategy for QuarkXPress is really focusing on. Of course continuing to support new features for the print environment. That’s the environment we’ve come from, and we want to continue to be the best product there for outputting production-type of heavy work. But the same is true that we want to become the best tool for repurposing content with different layouts for different media using the same tools…
Q: From the same source document.
A: Now we’ve done a first step with that with XPress 5.0, and we still have a ways to go, obviously. I think we’ve done a very important first step for introducing a paradigm of Web publishing into QuarkXPress 5 and continue to add more features and more concepts that will really very efficiently and with high quality allow people to repurpose their content and republish it.
Q: Let me ask you a technical question then. I was playing with a demo you had online. And it said, “Download these various types of catalogs and brochures for the Web aspects of Quark 5.” And I noticed when I downloaded these files onto my hard drive that it was in a proprietary format. Is that correct? It was not an HTML document.
A: There are two things on the Web site. One is the actual export into HTML and one of them is the XPress document with the actual content in it we’ve created [for] when a graphic designer wants to learn how we can create these types of pages and open them in 5.0 and start exporting them.
Q: But when you finally export them they’re standard HTML?
A: HTML 4.0, basically.
Q: I was wondering about the quality of the code. Because a lot of Web designers who don’t know print are very geeky about the quality of the code and the clarity of it. And that is where GoLive originally had some problems because in its early versions it had some proprietary tags. Are there proprietary tags in the QuarkXPress code, or can it read anything I did in Dreamweaver, for instance, and bring it into a Quark document?
A: If you put your stuff together, you export your HTML, you should have no problem opening it in Dreamweaver and adding specific, more advanced features.
Q: Is it reciprocal? Will it be reciprocal so that the changes will be effective within the Quark document so that I can go back and forth?
A: That’s kind of what we’re working on for the future.
Q: I don’t want to get too feature specific on this, but I think that’s a big concern for people who are maybe looking at QuarkXPress 5.0 and saying, “Well, maybe this is an all-in-one product I can use.”
A: The next question, then, is where we see the vision of where we’re going. One is, of course, providing tools for media independent publishing, and the other is that we really feel we’ve invested a lot into the issues of today, which are workflow issues. And what we’re doing is introducing a product called Quark Active Publishing Server into the market. It’s going to be renamed, but it’s where we have XPress’ capabilities running in a server, so you can, for instance, have an XPress document and, through some Web server technologies, you can upload it. Let’s say you’re working with a client as a design studio, you can have somebody on the other side, maybe the client, editing specific parts of the XPress document while you preserve the identity and the design richness that you’ve outlined for specific media. So we’re working on some very interesting concepts. One of the things I’ve realized is that if you look at the way I did publishing with XPress a few years ago, it looks very much the same. In reality, XPress is used as a desktop tool, but it’s really always part of a workflow, where different content from different contributors from different people that need to proofread it, check it, etcetera, are part of a creation process.
Q: That’s where you came out with CopyDesk.
A: And now we’re putting this server in place where you can actually have the ability to edit XPress documents in a Web browser. So that’s really interesting and fascinating technology.
Q: Since it is a future product, is this particular technology going to be more in line with the OS X release?
A: Initial release [of Quark Active Publishing Server] is still based on OS 9, Classic, and Windows NT. The next one, absolutely. This team is drooling over OS X because OS X has all these server capabilities that OS 9 doesn’t have. So yeah, absolutely. That’s going to be a fantastic product for OS X.
Q: When is the OS X version of XPress going to be released?
A: We’re going to have something out to the print shops relatively soon. If we get the print stuff to work well, the other stuff is obviously just as important from the user and interface perspective. But I can’t make a prediction.
Q: You’re not worried that Adobe InDesign, because it is OS X native, is going to make inroads into your market share?
A: No, honestly, you know as a publisher that publishing isn’t doing as well because of advertising being down, and if you want a tool that just does what you can already do, and you do a feature-to-feature thing, it’s going to be tough to succeed. So like I said, if InDesign grows into what I said is what we believe the future of publishing is, then I’ll reconsider that. But currently, I don’t see that. It has features where they excel, and others where the other has a little of an advantage…
Q: It has a great integration with the other Adobe products.
A: Certainly, and we have some Web features that they don’t have. But I think we have a better XML story that’s more proven in the market space to exchange content than they have now.
Q: You mean avenue.Quark. Is that still available?
A: That’s built right into 5.0, and, in fact, we’re making lots of enhancements, continuously making enhancements to allow XML-based workflows as well. So to answer your question, do I feel that we have to have an OS X product? Yes. Like I said, I’m just upgrading to OS X myself. But the real question to me is we have to give our users absolute confidence that they can use [an OS X-native version of XPress] in the real world. That, in part, is what we did with 5.0, where we had a public release where over 350,000 people downloaded the product and gave us feedback. We’re going to do a similar type of test. So to answer your question, I’d love to ship it tomorrow, but we want to pound that product like we did with 5.0.
Q: You came under a lot of fire for 4.0 because it didn’t live up to…
A: We cannot discount quality. We will provide an upgrade path from a financial perspective for people so that they can safely transition and help test. No doubt. But from our perspective, the number one thing is quality.
Q: So you’re looking toward the Jaguar release.
A: That’s kind of our goal… We know that that operating system [will have] a serious print engine for the first time, and hopefully we can get some of the bugs that we’ve been talking to Apple about, and to make sure that it’s top quality. But then from then on, it’s just a question [to our users] of “Guys, tell us, is it ready or not?” For us, we are dedicated to this platform. This stuff is already working to a large extent, and now a lot of the stuff we’re investing heavily in is the print engine of XPress and the print engine of OS X.
Q: Let me just go back over one point I brought up earlier. Now, if I’m a Dreamweaver user, or GoLive user, and I use that specifically for my Web stuff, is there an inducement for me to switch over, or even integrate the Quark into my workflow? And what would that inducement be?
A: Let me put the answer in two ways. One is that if you have print documents that need to be repurposed, content into the Web, I would specify absolutely you could use XML to basically transition the content into GoLive or Dreamweaver and just have a more efficient process. Two, if your graphic designers do a lot of design for both print and Web, they may want to do that quickly because they have the content in print, do the concept, share that concept, and then export that concept to Dreamweaver or GoLive where they may then do the finishing touches. I don’t believe right now that we’re competitive in terms of the features. A Dreamweaver user won’t downgrade to XPress for the Web features. Don’t get us wrong. We’re not making that claim at all right now. I’m saying that someone who uses XPress and has to do print and Web delivery can do that very easily. And somebody that needs to work in a more complex workflow can get, either through HTML or XML, the content into a database or the appropriate authoring environment quickly. Now, there are some specific features that are coming up on the Internet, that only a very rich authoring environment can actually support, such as SVG.
Q: Do you think SVG has a future? You don’t think it was overshadowed by Flash?
A: I think both. And Flash is the same example. XPress actually will shortly be able to export…SVG and Flash is not an issue for us. Because we have a rich vector-based authoring environment and we can export into those things. That, Dreamweaver can’t do. So for those kinds of workflows, interactive workflows that render vector objects into Flash or SVG, that’s going to be an interesting workflow.
Q: Let me get more mundane. How about PDF output? Have you improved the integration of PDF output from Quark?
A: Yes, certainly, although we’re still using Distiller.
Q: I think once you’re in OS X, you won’t have to use Distiller, because PDF is part of the Quartz engine.
A: Only for the low resolution PDF creation, that’s true absolutely. For high resolution compliant with PDFX standard, for print publishing, I would say that we will be working in the future on having that native output ourselves. But when that is, it’s a matter of quality. And actually, PDF workflows work pretty well with Distiller anyway, so our customers have a very safe way to complete their projects right now.
Q: So it’s similar to XPress 4, where you say, “publish as PDF” and it launches Distiller for you.
A: We have a PDF XTension 2.0 so you can export hyperlinks and other things from XPress documents, so you can have automatic linking, and things like that. So there are some features in there that we’ve put to enhance your PDF export. And, of course, you can always import PDF into XPress, and you have no issue in placing those. Those are real issues, real productivity issues.
Q: And this was not available in 4?
A: We had a 1.x release in 4, but we’ve enhanced it quite a lot with the 2.0 PDF filter.
Q: Many current users have asked what will make them pay that much for an upgrade. What is the main feature that will make a user want to upgrade if they’re happy with the OS 9 version or not even getting an OS X version?
A: First of all, we had a wish list on our Web site of ten items that the customers expressed that are now in the product. Enhanced PDF support, HTML support, and so on. Tables, layers.
Q: I believe that Extensis QXTools did have Quark layers.
A: Yes, two or three XTensions had them in the past.
Q: But now you don’t need them.
A: They’re part of the product.
Q: Where do you see Quark going in the next two years or so?
A: Clearly, we’re the leader in desktop publishing. From our perspective, at least. We understand [desktop publishing] as being print and Web, and so obviously we have a growth path to go into more Web-specific and electronic publishing media. We want to continue our leadership on the desktop. But the other thing most people don’t know is we’re actually the leaders in workgroup publishing as well. Which is what you probably know as the Quark Publishing System. There’s actually over 850 systems with large customers that are using our workflow solution, 60,000 users a day to produce pages. Newspapers, magazines specifically. Now we’re moving into the next arena, which we call enterprise publishing, which is basically content management. Media independent solutions on top of content management.
Q: This is where your server-based side comes in?
A: This is server-based. We’re selling that to large customers because it’s based on scalable databases like Oracle. But our vision is that ultimately, every single user — and we’ve got over two and a half million business partners alone — needs to be connected through a server based system in the future, QPS being one example, to be able to collaborate effectively on the production and the quality of content distributed to customers and business partners. Our goal is to tie workgroup, desktop, and enterprise publishing together so that users that are creating, designing, and proofreading or the users that are working on a desktop application like Photoshop or Word can use Web-based technologies to collaborate on content. We’re proving that the ability to edit XPress documents lies in the Web browser. Our vision is to make the Web services a reality to connect all these users together.
Q: So that they can collaborate in real-time?
A: Our difference with Adobe is very clear. Adobe offers Adobe Studio, with a portal that attempts to have people collaborate on projects. We believe that we’ll still be a tool for technologies and a solutions provider, but that we will find partners, or our customers will buy those things to host it for their customers, or use it themselves. We don’t believe everyone will go to Quark.com to collaborate, we believe that there’ll be a Macworld server somewhere where you can check in your document and then there will be an editor somewhere in Australia that contributes a story right there in the Web browser.
Q: Similar to Zapwerks’ Siteyard product?
A: I think there are a few companies trying it. Our competitive advantage is quite clearly that we have over two and half million customers. I think we have customers running our servers at their site. One company can have many people contributing on a workflow. But the real new thing is not just media independent publishing, but geographic independence. Which means anybody anywhere who has access to an Internet console can access and contribute content.
Q: I think there’s an interesting implication if this is truly successful. When we think it may make things more cosmopolitan and international, I think it might actually have the opposite effect. That when you’re hunkered down somewhere in the middle of nowhere and you’re reporting things, it lends a sense of provinciality. You don’t have to leave home.
A: That’s absolutely true.
Q: And that strikes me as an unexpected by-product of this technology.
A: Ideally, a publisher wants to get the best content contributors they can get, and often that’s difficult. Just as you can’t get the best graphic designer to move from New York to Denver.
Q: And you see Quark as a force in getting us to that place.
A: This is where our energy is focused. And XPress is an important part of that. QPS as a server and Quark DMS, which is a secure content manager, tie together to make different solutions for vertical markets. And we know that we’re on to something there.
Q: You’re getting positive response from your customer base on this?
A: Absolutely positive response. Using the Internet to collaborate on projects at the same time, with a live document in real-time is the most significant challenge to be met with the future of publishing. It’s something you just could not do before with XPress as a desktop product.
Q: So the OS X version of your product won’t be taken to the marketplace until it’s bulletproof?
A: We have to do that. You can expect that from us. Again, one of the most important things for Quark is producing quality software and protecting our customers’ workflows, helping them be productive. We’ve been in professional publishing for well over a decade, and we’ll continue to be absolutely dedicated to the creative community. We’re not goofing off into all kinds of different directions. Of course, there are new challenges we need to face, media-independent publishing being one of the foremost, and making that a reality from a cost and quality perspective. I think the publishing community will be very fond, as we are, of the product we’ll release in OS X and very proud of the quality of QuarkXPress 5.0.