If you’re a professional publisher or designer, chances are you put food on your table by using QuarkXPress, Adobe Photoshop, and perhaps Adobe Illustrator. For quite a while, Adobe has wished you’d switch to an all-Adobe diet, but the company’s page-layout program, PageMaker, has failed to attract high-end publishers. That may be about to change. Macworld got a chance to work with a prerelease version of Adobe Systems’ (408/536-6000,
) newest and brightest hope for taking back the page-layout crown. The programcode-named K2 and now officially known as Adobe InDesignis expected to ship this summer with an estimated street price of $699. From what we saw, InDesign promises to at least give professional publishers pause to think, and may offer them a real alternative to QuarkXPress for the first time in years.
Let’s get one thing straight: InDesign is not an upgrade to PageMaker. Adobe will release PageMaker 6.5 Plus this summer at an estimated street price of $499. This refocused application will be chock-full o’ wizards, templates, and clip art and will be aimed at the (mostly Windows) business and consumer markets. So what is InDesign? It’s a brand-new page-layout program, built from the ground up. (Notably, it will work only with Mac OS 8.5 and later, to some users’ chagrin.)
The first thing you’ll notice is that this is clearly an Adobe programfrom the familiar Navigator palette to the layout of the Tool palette. As you look more closely, though, you’ll also observe elements of PageMaker and QuarkXPress, with a strong dash of Illustrator too.
Some PageMaker traits are absent. For example, you lay out InDesign pages much as you do QuarkXPress designs, on a large pasteboard. InDesign’s Control palettecommand central for making changes to items on your pageis broken down into three palettes: Transform, Character, and Paragraph. It also lacks PageMaker’s ability to alter every setting in the palette using keystrokes (although it contains more settings than the one in QuarkXPress). PageMaker’s long-document features such as indexing are also missing.
InDesign does appear to have some of the flexibility that PageMaker users have always crowed about. For example, the program lets you place text and graphics on the page with or without drawing a frame first. Still the big news is not how similar this program will be to PageMaker but how it might meet, or exceed, the features designers have come to know in QuarkXPress.
It’s the Little Things
InDesign doesn’t introduce many new big-and-flashy features to desktop publishers. Where it appears to shine is in attention to small but important features, removing many of the frustrations that have long plagued users of both PageMaker and QuarkXPress. (For a more complete list, see the sidebar “Ten Great Features.”)
A simple example of InDesign’s attention to detail is the program’s unlimited number of undo’s, which will free you to experiment with designs as you can in many other apps. Similarly, InDesign lifts some other barriers that QuarkXPress users have learned to work around, such as the inability to anchor a box outside a column of text or to move a box past the edge of the pasteboard. InDesign will even spare you the hassle of having to choose whether a frame is for a text block or a picture: frames are always generic until you put something in them.
A Tamer of Troublesome Text
InDesign’s text features will appeal to designers and production people tired of the drudgery of manual copyfitting and kerning. The Multi-line Composer feature can calculate hyphenation and justification settings by examining an entire paragraph (or as many lines as you specify), instead of just a single line, to create better-looking text. In the process, it notably reduces the amount of manual tweaking necessary and will be especially helpful if you’re trying to avoid multiple word breaks in a design with awkward text wraps. Similarly, the program’s Optical Kerning feature does its best to find optimal character spacing, even if you’ve mixed different type sizes and faces. The program’s text-linking features are also quite well designed.
A Clear View
Taking a cue from Photoshop, InDesign will offer one feature that will probably become a favorite of many desktop publishers: the ability to open multiple views of a document. This means that you’ll be able to zoom in on some type you’re formatting in one window while seeing how your changes affect the page design as a whole in another window.
A Whole New Approach
You can’t really see the most revolutionary aspect of InDesign, a feature of the program that ensures its future competitive potential: it’s almost completely modular. That means most of the tools and features will be based on plug-ins and shared libraries. At first glance this is pretty dull news, but it has several important effects.
Powerful Plug-in Possibilities
Third-party plug-in developers will have an unheard-of amount of power to create new features and change existing ones. Don’t like the InDesign interface? Change it. Need to connect the program to a mainframe database? No problem. Have your own proprietary hyphenation schemes? Greatplug ’em in. In fact, many QuarkXPress XTension developers have already started developing for InDesign, including Extensis, a lowly apprentice production, and Em Software.
Adobe will be able to update existing features (and eradicate the inevitable bugs) quickly. You’ll even be able to set a built-in preference in InDesign to check periodically for new updates on Adobe’s Web site and download them automatically.
Just about everything in the program can be automated with AppleScript (on a Mac) or Visual Basic (in Windows). The ability to automate tedious and complicated tasks in QuarkXPress has long been one of the program’s key advantages for professional users.
The Big Switch
All of this sounds great, but the real question is, will QuarkXPress users make the switch? Adobe certainly is going to try to make the process as painless as possible.
As a longtime QuarkXPress user, I was immediately pleased by InDesign’s customizable keyboard shortcuts. The product will ship with a complete set of shortcuts that match the ones in QuarkXPress, making the transition between applications much less time-consuming. Similarly, many of InDesign’s dialog boxes and menu items will be comfortably familiar to QuarkXPress stalwarts.
Perhaps most important, InDesign will be able to open QuarkXPress documents (from versions 3.3 and 4.0) and retain the majority of the documents’ formatting, so you won’t have to re-create your templates from scratch. Of course, it’s still too early to tell just how well the program will do the conversions.
On the other hand, some of InDesign’s features may be confusing to QuarkXPress users. In general, the program’s illustration features appear to be similar to those in QuarkXPress 4.0, with the important exceptions that you won’t be able to put text on a path and there are only basic merge features for combining multiple paths. But some of the ways these features are implemented may trip up Illustrator-ignorant users. For example, there are Stroke and Fill boxes in the main Tool palette, which will make little sense to some people since this is a page-layout program. The version we looked at also defined and applied colors in a way that will be unfamiliar to people who live and breathe QuarkXPress. For instance, the current beta version of InDesign doesn’t support the building of multi-ink colors (inks that are a combination of other spot-color inks), an easy task in QuarkXPress.
The Last Word
If you’ve worked in publishing for a while, you remember when PageMaker and QuarkXPress would periodically leapfrog each other in features and usability. Those were exciting days when we all had a lot to look forward to each time a new version hit the shelves.
It doesn’t look like InDesign 1.0 will represent a quantum leap over QuarkXPress 4.0 when it ships, but the program will offer some exciting new features that will raise the bar for page-layout pros. Multiple undo’s, the ability to display high-resolution vector EPS graphics at any magnification, and powerful typographic controls will whet the appetite of PageMaker and XPress users alike. We’ll have to wait for the review to see who will be victorious, but one thing is clearthis summer Adobe will be back in the fight.
DAVID BLATNER is the author of
The QuarkXPress 4 Book
(Peachpit Press, 1998) and coauthor of
Real World Photoshop 5
(Peachpit Press, 1999).
Ten Great Features
1. EPS Display
You will be able to magnify an EPS file and see its contents instead of viewing only an inexact bitmapped preview. (In fact, you won’t even need to save previews with EPS files anymore, which means smaller files.)
2. Typographic Controls
InDesign will be able to apply hyphenation and justification based on a whole paragraph rather than just line by line. Plus, optical kerning and optical margin alignment (even better than hung punctuation) will help you create great-looking type.
3. Character Styles
The ability to apply styles at the character level is quite powerful. QuarkXPress 4.0 lets you do this, but in some ways InDesign will offer greater control.
4. Bézier Paths
Although drawing Bézier curves for lines and frames is fun, the ability to copy or drag paths from Illustrator and then edit them is truly useful. InDesign will also recognize embedded clipping paths in images or create them on the fly.
5. PDF Support
The rumor that InDesign’s internal file format would be Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) isn’t true. Nonetheless, InDesign will offer extensive support for PDF, including the ability to read and write files without the help of Acrobat Distiller. This is great if you need to place PDF files in your document or do minor edits, but don’t expect to reconstruct an entire PDF document.
6. Language Support
InDesign will ship with dictionaries and hyphenation rules for most European languages and will even be able to set the language for a single word in a paragraph. In addition, it will be Unicode compliant, so you can open files from the Japanese version of InDesign (although you won’t be able to edit the text fully).
7. Nesting Objects
You will be able to paste a rectangular text box inside an oval frame, place that group inside some text that has been converted to paths, and then still go back and edit the original text or text box with the direct-select arrow tool.
8. Guides and Grids
You will be able to quickly build a grid of guides on your page, or even place or position a single guide numerically.
9. Consistent Imaging Model
Because Adobe is building the same imaging model into all its programs, you should get significantly more-consistent color and screen display among Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. You will also be able to place Illustrator and Photoshop files in your documents without first saving them as EPS or TIFF files.
10. Better Master Pages
You will be able to quickly turn a document page into a master page, and even build master pages that are based on other master pages (so a change on one master page can ripple through several others).