We’ve been hearing a rumor the past few weeks. Quark VS InDesign.com doesn’t normally trade in rumors—that was the job of the late ThinkSecret.com—but this particular rumor has been gaining momentum, and it fits with facts we already knew. Moreover, the rumor, once a whisper, is now being spoken aloud in some rather public places, by some rather public people.

QuarkXPress has always been synonymous with desktop publishing. Along with Photoshop, it helped launch and define the industry and change the way printed materials are created and published all around the world. However, nothing in either the software or desktop publishing industries is forever. After nine years of bloody battle with competitor Adobe InDesign, it appears Quark might be ready to throw in the towel.

The rumor is this: In the coming days, certainly by the end of First Quarter calendar 2008, Quark, Inc. will announce a total migration of its flagship product QuarkXPress from a desktop publishing application to an enterprise-level server publishing solution client. In other words: Quark will discontinue selling individual copies of QuarkXPress for use on standalone desktops. To continue using QuarkXPress beyond version 7.3, the rumor goes, will require utilizing QuarkXPress as a network client to an enterprise-grade publishing server such as QuarkXPress Server or Quark Publishing System.

Yeah, yeah. You’ve heard it all before, haven’t you? Next we’ll tell you Quark is selling out to Adobe, right? Although Quark declined to return our phone calls requesting an official response, this particular rumor has some traction.

Writing on the Wall

This rumor has been communicated to us over the past year on separate occasions by three confirmed Quark employees, two other anonymous sources claiming to be Quark employees, as well as several representatives of other companies that do business with Quark. Most recently—and most loudly—the rumor was given voice from the podium of the Des Moines, Iowa InDesign Users Group meeting Tuesday, 19 February. According to sources present at the meeting, Jim Maivald, InDesign XML guru extraordinaire, conveyed the substance of the rumor as fact to attendees and other speakers.

Depending on your point of view, all of those spreading the rumor may be easily discounted as misinformed. In fact, we would have scoffed at the whole thing had it not matched up with information we already knew and certain well established facts.

In November 2006 Raymond Schiavone took the reins as Quark CEO. Schiavone’s last position was that of CEO at Arbortext, Inc., a company that began as a desktop software company but which Schiavone transitioned out of the desktop market and into enterprise publishing systems.

Even more compelling are Schiavone’s own statements. In a September 2007 interview with Quark VS InDesign.com Schiavone admitted to telling Quark senior staff: “QuarkXPress has lost against InDesign. That fight is over.” In the same interview he went on to qualify the statement by saying: “What I meant by that is that we’re not going to compete with Adobe. I don’t want to be someone else’s company. I want to be our own company. There are other things that are our strengths that Adobe doesn’t [do]. That’s a losing proposition to be another person’s company. I want to focus on innovation, not replication.”

QvI: What are some of those innovations, those “strengths that Adobe doesn’t” have?

RS: While I can’t give you specifics because development is underway, I can tell you that we are making enhancements to our server-based enterprise products and developing new products that will comprehensively serve the digital publishing needs of our current and potential customers and expanding capabilities in our QuarkXPress product. You’ll be hearing more about all of these initiatives next year.

Quark VS InDesign.com publisher Pariah S. Burke, interviewed by his own publication, responded to Schiavone’s statements with a prediction that Quark would complete a move to an entirely server-based publishing systems company by the time Quark released version 9 of its 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. [Schiavone’s] 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…

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.

Burke adds:

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.

If the rumor is true, if Quark will anounce in the next few days or weeks its departure from the desktop market, Burke’s predictions will be coming true much sooner than he feared.

Pariah S. Burke is a design and publishing workflow consultant with Workflow:Creative, the author or co-author of four design software books, a freelance graphic designer, and the publisher of Quark VS InDesign.com and Designorati.

Jeremy Schultz is a graphic designer and is the owner of his design firm, Jeremy Schultz Artist, specializing in graphic design, web design and illustration.