PAGE 4: Quark: ‘No Comment’
Ray Schiavone talks about QuarkXPress 8, competing with InDesign, and Quark tech support returning to the U.S. He hints at Quark going public, but then ducks the big questions. We have what Schiavone said, and what he didn’t.
QvI In the next two questions you asked about QuarkXPress 8, and then you jumped to QuarkXPress 9. What was that about? Did you get satisfactory answers to all three questions?
PSB Not really, no. The questions were an opportunity for Schiavone to blow Quark’s horn and excite QuarkXPress users for the future. I don’t feel that he did that–other layout applications have been a single code base for going on 10 years, and, more importantly, the market had already been told that XPress 7 was built as a unified code base. The fact that XPress 8 will be one, internationalized product is not a new concept. Many QuarkXPress and QuarkXPress Passport users thought they’d have that in 7, so a promise to get it in 8 is likely to elicit more of an “about time” reception from customers than it will a “yahoo!” reaction.
I inquired about XPress 9 because it’s a critical question to ask.
You see, in the software business–particularly with big, complicated code base products like any product from Quark, Adobe, Microsoft, and so forth–there are product roadmaps. Developers look at proposed features and identified bugs, and they evaluate the amount of work involved to implement any given feature or bug fix, the demand for the feature or severity of the bug, and how much time they have before development milestone and product release deadlines. Then the developers determine whether a particular feature or bug fix can be implemented in the next release, or if it has to wait until a later version.
For example, say the QuarkXPress development team is looking at adding a new feature to interface QuarkXPress with systems at Starbucks via an always-on, bi-directional SSH connection. In some future version of XPress, you’ll be able to choose your favorite Starbucks beverage in the XPress preferences, and then click a button on the new Deadline Tools palette to order that beverage delivered to you from the nearest Starbucks. Assuming that Starbucks has its infrastructure in place and is ready to proceed with the partnership, the question for XPress developers is whether the have time to get the feature into XPress 8. If not, they move it down the roadmap to XPress 9, 10, or later, depending on the amount of work, time, and need for the feature. This is how most major software development works.
The reason I asked about XPress 9 was to get Schiavone on record saying that there is an XPress 9 on the roadmap. If he declined to answer that very straightforward question, it would have given rise to doubts about Quark’s commitment to the future of XPress–something I’m still not entirely sure about, at least, not in terms of XPress staying a desktop product.
QvI In the next several questions you seemed to be following two threads: enterprise-grade software and whether Schiavone has plans to take Quark, Inc. public or sell it. Let’s talk first about the enterprise software questions. You mentioned Schiavone’s extensive and immediately previous experience with enterprise-grade products from Arbortext, Inc. and General Electric Corp. subsidiaries, and; the fact that he transitioned Arbortext from a desktop software company (like Quark) into an enterprise systems provider. What were you trying to draw out of Schiavone?
PSB Although most of the U.S., Canadian, and Japanese markets have favored InDesign for several versions now, as does a large portion of design, publishing, and production in the U.K., QuarkXPress continues to be very popular throughout Europe, South America, and Africa. InDesign is favored on freelance and small business desktops on those continents, but QuarkXPress still owns the majority of large publishing and production workflows. Australia is a hot battlefield. Adobe’s Creative Suite, which includes InDesign, sells well Down Under, but Quark is waging a successful counter offensive by saturating the educational market through a strategic partnership with Scholastic.
No matter where you look, though, the writing is on the wall: Quark is steadily losing desktops to InDesign. And, it isn’t just fighting for the desktop anymore.
Server and workflow products that incorporate or run atop XPress are antiquated and have been lagging behind changing publishing needs around the globe. Quark’s own enterprise- and server-grade products, as well as third-party partner systems, are losing to InDesign-based workflow systems like SoftCare’s K4 and K2. When Adobe completes InDesign’s transformation into a fully scalable, FrameMaker-like SGML publishing platform, InDesign will become a juggernaut Quark may never be able to turn.
I believe Ray Schiavone’s plan is to use the greater agility inherent in Quark’s smaller size to head off Adobe’s domination of enterprise publishing. No, I don’t believe that Schiavone intends to take Quark down the same road he steered Arbortext, moving fully out of desktop and into enterprise. Eventually, yes, but not today. On the contrary, I think Schiavone cares a great deal about desktops at this crucial stage in the game. He needs them. The desktop is his gateway to the enterprise, and, just like Microsoft and Adobe before him, he needs desktop software to sell and leverage his new enterprise products.
I think QuarkXPress will continue to have utility on its own, but its primary role will be to function as a desktop client for an as-yet unrevealed enterprise-grade suite of systems.
XPress 8 will be the first stage, I predict. It will have few new features designers really want, but will offer greater scalability and automation important to managers of large publishing workflows. It, and Quark CopyDesk 8, will offer tight integration with XPress Server and new enterprise systems Quark will announce over the course of the next two years. Although Quark will hope to see their new systems adopted–and will promote those adoptions at least as loudly as Adobe touts migrations to K4–Schiavone knows that major publishing workflows don’t change rapidly. His realistic goal for the XPress 8 generation of products will be to make the market take notice of Quark again, to open a dialog with large workflow managers who will help refine Schiavone’s vision for XPress 9.
By the time XPress 9 and its matching systems do release (probably less than 12 months following the release of version 8), QuarkXPress will be little more than a client application. All the real power will reside on the server-side systems. More importantly, by abandoning the so-called “feature war” with InDesign, Quark will create a lopsided conundrum for potential users–you can have near total automation of your publishing and production, with output to print, PDF, PDF/X, HTML, XML, and everything else you can think of, but without certain creativity, composition, and proofing features the competition will have had for generations.
Ultimately, I believe the average small-office, home-office user of desktop publishing systems will completely forget about Quark before QuarkXPress 10 because Schiavone only cares about small and medium sized businesses now; once they’ve fulfilled their purpose as stepping stones to enterprise, Quark will have no further use for them.
I also think QuarkXPress 10 won’t be desktop software at all. It will be a server-hosted, instance application, which isn’t feasible for SOHO and small studios. Similar to the way QuarkXPress License Server functions today, companies will purchase blocks of licenses. But, instead of installing the XPress software on users’ systems and letting the License Server manage the number of concurrently running copies, users will log into their workflow systems and use a copy of the QuarkXPress client that actually runs on the application server rather than their local computers. The change from desktop to server-hosted, I believe, will begin in earnest with XPress 9, which will have a desktop installable as an aid to assist Quark customers in transitioning to the new server-based software. Beginning with XPress 10–or 11, if the outcry is great enough–the individual installation version will be removed. Companies that can’t afford the hardware required to run such a setup will be unable to use XPress.
After 2012, I don’t think Quark will care too much about desktop users because it won’t offer products to them.
QvI And, to your questions about taking Quark public or selling it?
PSB That’s easy: I think the Ebrahimi family, who currently own Quark, lock, stock, and barrel, want out. I’ve suspected that for a long time now. I must say, though, that I always thought they’d simply sell the company. I didn’t think they’d look for an IPO–and I do believe that’s what’s going on.
Twice Schiavone made it a point to intimate that the company may go public during my telephone interview with him. He was very careful to word everything else exactly the way he wanted to say it, so I have to believe that he intended to convey to me that his goal is to take the privately-owned Quark, Inc. to the stock market. And, it makes a great deal of sense.
By the end of his direct involvement with Quark, Fred Ebrahimi was no fan of QuarkXPress customers anyway, and the rest of the Ebrahimi family has also reportedly gone hands-off of the company. They want out of managing Quark, and they can do that–while still earning income from it–by opening the company to other investors. In fact, I’d be surprised if Schiavone wasn’t already given a percentage of ownership. If the Ebrahimi family wants out entirely, then the way to cash out with the biggest payoff is after a strong initial public offering.
Mark my words: Simultaneous to the real (not initial) enterprise product offerings (probably shortly after XPress 8 ships or around the time 9 is released), Schiavone is going to lead Quark into an IPO.
There you have it. The best interview answers Ray Schiavone can muster after nearly a month with the questions, and the backstory behind the questions. I expected more from the company that says it isn’t the same old Quark, with the same old arrogance.
If all the “no comment” responses are any indication, I’m apparently once again frozen out of official channels at Quark. That means I’m back to getting all my information about Quark from other sources–talkative employees, vendors, and partners, leaked memorandum, unwitting official admissions and omissions, deductive reasoning–you know, all the same sources that have enabled me to report, analyze, and predict the activities of Quark for 5 years now while Schiavone’s and Guthrie’s predecessors considered me persona non grata.
I’m broken up about it. Really.