Yes, while we’ve been waiting (and waiting), Quark has actually been doing something. The fruit of this labor is QuarkXPress 6.0 — finally a Mac OS X–native XPress. In fact, it runs only on OS X 10.2 and higher. This move should let designers at last switch to OS X–only environments, leaving behind the unsavory alternatives: the inconsistent screen redraws of XPress 4 and 5 in OS X’s Classic mode, constantly booting between OS 9 and OS X, and forgoing OS X completely to use XPress 4 or 5 without bother.
But does XPress 6 offer anything more than OS X support? And does it provide a reason to stick with XPress (and not jump on the momentum-gaining Adobe InDesign bandwagon)? The answer to both questions is yes.
QuarkXPress 6 has several significant enhancements: multiple undos and redos (it’s about time!), the ability to synchronize text across a layout, built-in PDF creation, the ability to convert print layouts to Web format and vice versa, and the ability to have multiple layouts with different specifications in one file. Each of these welcome additions makes XPress more capable and more flexible.
XPress 6 also brings improvements to some of the many features introduced in version 5 — for example, rollover and menu capabilities for layouts destined for the Web and several refinements to table and cell formatting. Many, if not most, XPress users skipped version 5 for various reasons and are still using version 4; for them, the switch to version 6 will be an even larger upgrade, adding cell-based table creation, Web-page creation, support for transparent backgrounds in exported PDF files, and layers.
Of course, since so many designers didn’t upgrade to version 5, a file-format issue will likely arise. XPress 6 can’t save files in version 4 format, though it can save version 5 files. (It can open files created with version 3 and later.) If you upgrade, all your colleagues and contractors will have to switch to version 6 on OS X or at least move to version 5 on OS 9.
And you’ll need to replace all your XTensions with version 6–compatible ones. This includes updaters for DiamondSoft’s Font-Reserve and Extensis’s Suitcase font managers. Until they’re available, you can’t automatically activate fonts in XPress 6. Any time a document uses fonts not already active, you’ll have to quit XPress, activate the fonts in your font manager, and then relaunch XPress. (FontReserve users may also have to deactivate and then reactivate fonts so XPress 6 will see them. On my system, XPress didn’t recognize previously activated fonts until I did so.) Expect smaller plug-in developers to wait until adoption trends are clearly positive before they invest in software revisions — many never bothered with version 5 XTensions. A Lowly Apprentice Production, Badia Software, Em Software, and Gluon plan to release version 6–compatible XTensions by this fall (some should be available by the time you read this). Extensis says it’s considering updating its once popular utility kit QX-Tools, which it hasn’t updated since XPress 4.
What’s Not New
Quark has made very few enhancements to the core typographic, item-creation, graphics, and basic layout tools — it seemed to avoid even obvious, overdue changes. XPress still doesn’t convert two hyphens into an em dash as you type, let you create print styles from within the Print dialog box, import Microsoft Word and Excel tables as tables, offer automated fraction building, allow drop-cap text-formatting settings as part of a paragraph style, or integrate the Starburst tool’s preferences with the standard Preferences dialog box. (InDesign doesn’t do some of these things, either.) This version would also have been a good opportunity to bring in item transparency for the creation of sophisticated drop shadows and overlapping objects, keeping XPress’s artistic layout capabilities level with InDesign’s.
Version 6 often feels and works like the same old QuarkXPress — this is good for longtime users, whose workflow will be largely unaffected. Though XPress 6 conforms to OS X’s interface standards and therefore introduces a few menu changes, the functional interface is the same, with only the “skin” updated to the cleaner, lighter Aqua look.
That the interface retains its essential Quarkness is not an issue. But XPress 6 lacks complete support for a key modern Mac OS technology: the OpenType standard and its wider selection of characters and glyphs. Sure, you can use OpenType fonts in XPress 6, but you can access only the basic Western European characters. This was a foolish move. XPress was the first layout program to offer professional typography; now that the OpenType standard is in place, extending a font’s uses and capabilities, Quark should have embraced it. Adobe included it in InDesign 2, which makes its omission from XPress 6 seem even more unwise.
Like version 5, XPress 6 doesn’t ship with a printed manual (which costs $50 extra and was unavailable for review). A 676-page PDF version is included on the installation CD, for those people inclined to print it out or page through it in Acrobat or OS X’s Preview app. For me, reading a manual on screen is difficult, especially because it obscures the application I want to use. The less-intrusive help integrated with Apple’s Help Viewer is adequate for refreshers and quick explanations.
All in all, XPress 6 is a very familiar program with several new features that will appeal to specific groups of users. But if you don’t use those features, XPress will feel very much unchanged.
No More Documents
The most significant, and most easily ignored, change in XPress 6 is the use of the project metaphor. Documents as we knew them no longer exist: projects take their place. A project can hold as many as 25 layouts; in turn, each layout can have separate page settings (its size, whether it’s a spread or single-sided layout, its orientation, its margins, and so on). A layout can be for print or the Web, and a project can contain both types. At the bottom of your project window are now a series of tabs that let you switch between layouts.
Unfortunately, you can’t view multiple layouts from the same project at the same time. To move elements between them, you have to do the old copy-paste or cut-paste routine rather than the simpler drag and drop. Also, spell-checking and auxiliary spelling and hyphenation dictionaries work only within a layout. You can’t spell-check or find and replace across an entire project or easily use the same auxiliary dictionary across a project’s layouts. And many tools work only in the current layout, so you can’t update fonts and images across all layouts in a project, or copy or apply master pages across layouts. (But colors and styles defined in one layout are available in others — go figure.) These divisions among layouts are much too stringent.
If you don’t use the full capabilities of projects, you’ll be none the wiser — you could have just one layout in each project and treat it as a separate document, just as in previous versions.
Boilerplates without Pain
The other major new feature — synchronized text — is also mostly a win. It lets you designate one text box as a master story and then apply that story to other text boxes, placing the same text in them. (You can have several master stories, for multiple boilerplates.) If you change the text in any of them — even those in other layouts in your project — they’re all automatically updated. Anyone who’s had to edit legal mumbo jumbo across a set of marketing materials will jump for joy. But text is the only aspect that’s synchronized, not the text’s formatting, so you can format the boilerplate as needed in each location.
The ability to synchronize text eliminates a lot of tedious work, but Quark should have taken synchronization further. You can synchronize only complete text boxes and paths, not snippets of text within a box or story. So you can’t use this feature to synchronize product names across marketing materials, a hyperlink address across a PDF file, or other variable text. And you can neither synchronize across project files nor synchronize text that includes embedded graphics (since you can’t synchronize graphics, XPress 6 can’t handle text that includes them).
Better Web Capabilities
Version 5 introduced Web-page–creation capabilities, but you couldn’t convert a print document into a Web one, or vice versa, so there was no reason to create Web pages in XPress 5. But with XPress 6, you can convert your print documents into decent Web versions; add elements such as rollovers, using graphics from your print layout; and then refine those pages in Dreamweaver or another HTML editor designed for Web pages and Web-production workflows.
The XML creation, editing, and tagging capability, little-changed since version 5, remains awkward and mysterious. It’s not worth the trouble of figuring it out.
Quark has added print-level PDF export to XPress 6 by way of Global Graphics’ widely used Jaws PDF-creation technology, which can remove the need for rival Adobe’s Acrobat Distiller software. You can set output attributes similar to Distiller’s, but you can’t save those settings for future documents (as Distiller can), and you can’t take advantage of the new PDF/X print-production format.
Designers who need native Adobe PDF-export capabilities can use Distiller with XPress 6. If you use Distiller’s watched-folder capability for automatic PDF conversion, XPress 6 lets you specify a destination folder for PDF files.
The implementation of multiple undos and redos is an important, long-awaited enhancement. You can undo as many as 30 actions, and you can even pick an action from a menu at the bottom of the document window, skipping past intervening steps and undoing them all. But the undo descriptions are brief, so several actions may have the same labels. A nice touch is the ability to set the redo keyboard command to the Adobe standard (1-shift-Z), the Microsoft standard (1-Y), or the single-undo standard (1-Z). And if you lock or unlock a layer, XPress 6 forgets all its undo and redo actions.
The final significant enhancement is the new high-resolution preview. Now you can import images at full resolution, to get a realistic look at them even when you zoom in; high-res previews are also helpful with meticulous mask generation. You can turn this feature on for specific images, and you can disable it for entire projects and then re-enable it. But there’s a catch: it works only if you register the software with Quark (Quark sends you the required XTension after you register). And by registration, Quark means “full name and address” registration, not the new activation feature that simply ties your copy of QuarkXPress to your Mac so someone else can’t use the same software on another machine. (While I have no objection to software activation to prevent piracy, I do object to Quark’s approach. It forces you to call customer support to reactivate if you upgrade your Mac — even if you just install memory, a graphics card, processor upgrades, or a new hard drive — more than five times. XPress should be smart enough to know that you haven’t installed it on a wholly different Mac.)
The rest of XPress 6’s changes are largely refinements to existing features. For example, there’s finally a Paste In Place command, which puts a copy of an item in the same location on the destination page as on the original — perfect for copying across pages or layouts. The Quark CMS color-management and Fraction/Price preferences now reside with the rest of the preferences (the Starburst settings still don’t). You can now use the controls in the Print dialog box’s new Layers pane to completely lock entire layers, prevent a layer from printing, or allow a locked layer to print. And exception dictionaries now work across platforms, so you can share them with Windows users. The table feature introduced in version 5 has the most refinements. For example, you can now link text cells, group table items, remove gridlines between cells, and more finely control the formatting of cells and their contents. But InDesign’s table feature is much more powerful — XPress is still clearly behind here.
You can’t get around the fact that adopting XPress 6 means adopting OS X. Many publishers would also have to upgrade to G4 or G5 Macs and to newer software, such as font managers. Perhaps the costliest component in a publishing operation, the font library, is no barrier to switching, as OS X supports the same font formats as OS 9.
If you can live with some problems in screen updating, XPress 4 and 5 run at decent speeds in OS X’s Classic mode. When you switch to XPress 6 on OS X, you’ll find that some operations are faster and some are slower. File-oriented activities, such as opening project files and running Collect For Output to copy all files related to a project into one directory, take a few seconds longer. But switching views and some find-and-replace operations are a bit faster. The performance feels comparable to XPress 5 on OS 9 and OS X.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Once you get past the “it’s about time” reaction to QuarkXPress 6.0, you’ll start appreciating its enhancements. They’re worthwhile for any XPress-based production shop, and Quark’s upgrade pricing is easy to stomach. Version 6 does a good job of extending XPress’s capabilities without complicating its core strengths. For example, XPress has not succumbed to the palette-itis that infects Adobe’s products. Could XPress 6 have offered more? Yes. Does it offer too little? Not at all.