Itâ€™s the most powerful, most feature-packed version of QuarkXPress ever built, they said. It stimulates creativity and inspires organic work, they claim. They said it will revolutionize publishing. Quark VS InDesign.com goes deeper into QuarkXPress 7 than anyone before to see if they were right.
Before you plunge in, you should know that there are a few things missing from this review. Beta software, by definition, is not ready for release. Before it is released, bugs are fixed, features are added, and, sometimes, features are removed. Reviews of pre-shipping products are a bad idea in general because readers tend to make purchasing decisions based on reviews, and if shipping products differ from the reviewed beta, it can cost someone money. Consequently, Quark VS InDesign.com has a policy of reviewing only full shipping, retail software. That means no pre-release or beta versions and no trial software–even if itâ€™s supposedly feature complete. If weâ€™re going to give you an opinion you might factor into your buying decision, then we have a responsibility to only evaluate and opine about the exact product you might buy, as you would buy it.
So, if the policy against beta reviews is such a hard line rule, why are you now reading a review of the QuarkXPress 7 public beta? Because, beta though it may be, QuarkXPress 7 is important. Whether to use XPress or InDesign is a crucial question for publishing and design workflows all around the world. Itâ€™s a fundamental question for billion dollar publishing empires, and, in many ways more importantly, itâ€™s a sink or swim question for the smallest creative studio. In lean times and highly competitive creative industries, revolutions have to be anticipated and taken advantage of the moment they begin to build momentum. And, if a crucial technology is on the decline, as XPress has been the last four years, signals of its demise are even more important to those whose livelihoods depend in some way on that technology. XPress 7, even in beta, is important to our readers because, if itâ€™s the wave of the future, they need to be riding on top of it. And, if itâ€™s a falling stone, they need to know to get out from under it.
XPress 7 is important, and thatâ€™s why I reviewed it in beta. Because itâ€™s in beta, you must remember that everything below–the good, the bad, and the ugly–is subject to change before the product ships. And, because the product is beta, there are a few things missing from this review.
First, there is nothing about native Photoshop PSD document import and effects, although this represents some of XPress 7â€™s most talked about selling points. I didnâ€™t write about them, because they arenâ€™t there; the current public beta of XPress 7 does not contain a PSD import filter. When the beta was released in January 2006, Quark acknowledged that PSD import was absent from the program, which is why it–and any features predicated on it–is absent from this review. You wonâ€™t find a review of Quarkâ€™s Web features either. This was a decision I made because of the lack of PSD support; I want to cover a complete Web creation workflow, and PSDs are typically part of that workflow. You also wonâ€™t find performance statistics here. Except in two key instances, I donâ€™t mention how long it took XPress to perform different tasks or well it performed on the computers with 1GB of RAM versus those with 2GBs. While I did measure XPressâ€™s speed under various conditions, that data is effectively irrelevant. More so than anything else, performance and response speed change throughout the beta cycle. It would be a disservice to you, the reader, if some statistic I mentioned about the betaâ€™s performance influenced your decision to purchase a shipping version that performed differently..
For thirty days I put the XPress 7 public beta through its paces, building or recreating real world projects representative of what most people expect to do with a desktop publishing program–and a few things they shouldnâ€™t expect but will do anyway. Except as above, I tried to cover in depth every new and updated feature of XPress 7. Consequently, this is a very long article–even for me. Iâ€™ve organized it with multiple headings to help you read what interests you while easily jumping over what doesnâ€™t. If youâ€™re unconcerned with the details, youâ€™ll find my conclusions and buying advice on the last page.
Letâ€™s start with first impressions, then weâ€™ll get into the nitty-gritty of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the QuarkXPress 7 public beta.
That New Quark Smell
Upon initial launch, the truly astute will note the new Composition Zones Tool on the toolbox. Other than that new 16×16 parcel of pixels, XPress 7 looks exactly like XPress 6.5. Looks are deceiving.
The XPress user interface has always been a double-edge sword for Quark. It hasn’t changed significantly since version 3 in the early Nineties, leading many users to describe it as "tired," "out of date," and even "decrepit." Regardless of the new features added with each release, the static user interface is as much responsible for consumers’ belief that Quark doesn’t innovate as the average half decades between full version releases. On the other hand, the lack of major changes in the user interface and most often used features equate to instant proficiency–if you were productive in QuarkXPress 3, 4, 5, or 6, you can start cold with XPress 7 and be just as productive.
Quark is once again betting on familiarity to grease the upgrade path. While that decision will ease the transition for those who find themselves forced to upgrade, retaining the 15-year-old user interface will undoubtedly cost Quark market share among those who equate interface changes to feature innovation.
If your testing of the XPress 7 beta stops at opening the application and creating a new blank document, then all you will see is the same old XPress. Don’t stop there.
Start working with XPress 7–create a box or line–and youâ€™ll get your first whiff of that musky-sweet new Quark smell.
The Measurements Palette
As ever more functions and options are incorporated into applications, software makers are increasingly challenged with finding places to hold the necessary controls. No one will argue that, as valuable and convenient as palette-accessible options are, palettes are quickly becoming too numerous and unweildly in the average application.
The XPress solution to control clutter has historically been variable content–or context sensitive–dialog boxes like Modify, whose selection of tabs holds several times the number of controls in the same space through the use of tabbed panes. The selection of tabs in the Modify dialog changes according to the currently active tool and selected object or objects. Dialog boxes, however, have an inherent limitation: When theyâ€™re open, you canâ€™t access the layout or select objects. The versatility of palettes is that they are always onscreen, enabling simultaneous access to controls and objects. Of course, that leads to palette bloat.
Context sensitive palettes, like the XPress 6.5 Measurements palette or Illustratorâ€™s or InDesignâ€™s Control palette, compromise by presenting different controls based on current tools, tasks, or selected objects. Although efficient to a point, these solutions have never gone far enough. In InDesign, for example, the Control palette presents character and paragraph control options only when the Type tool is active, but, as any InDesign user knows, control over text formatting can also be exercised when text frames are selected with the Select or Direct Select tools–but not with the aid of the Control palette. Character and paragraph controls are hidden from the InDesign Control palette until the Type tool is selected. There isnâ€™t a way to change Control palette modes manually, which is the only thing holding the Control palette back from completely replacing several floating palettes.
XPress 7 bridges the gap between the applicationâ€™s idea of what controls are relevant and the userâ€™s. The Measurements palette is still context-sensitive, but you can now manually change between any of its nine completely different modes on the fly through tabs at the top of the Measurements palette.
By default, the mode tabs bar is hidden, appearing only when the mouse rolls over the palette. I liked the tabs so much I set them to always show with a simple right-click on the Measurements palette title bar, which, incidentally, is another way to toggle the visibility of the other floating palettes.
All the most common tasks, formerly only available in the Modify and Attributes dialogs, are now distributed through the different modes of the Measurements palette. The ability to change text box insets, change frame borders, and adjust runarounds all on the fly, without time-consuming dialog boxes, are phenomenal productivity enhancements. If your layout experience is limited to XPress, the ability to see your objects and the entire page as you do things like set and change tab stops will have you grinning like a Cheshire cat.
If youâ€™re worried about fingers programmed through years of XPress suddenly fumbling without the need to constantly press CMD+M (CTRL+M) for Modify, CMD+SHIFT+F (CTRL+SHIFT+F) for Formats, and CMD+SHIFT+T (CTRL+SHIFT+T) for Tabs, rest easy, friend: The dialogs are still there, and the keyboard commands havenâ€™t changed. Theyâ€™re just no longer necessary.
How much could Quark possibly improve something as straight forward as Space/Align? Youâ€™d be surprised.