History of the War 

Quark VS InDesign.com chronicles the struggle of encumbent desktop publishing application, QuarkXPress, the king of the magazine, newspaper, catalog, advertising, and all other global print publishing hills since the early-1990s, against the new challenger to all its titles, InDesign, Adobe’s original, from-the-ground-up layout application born of the minds of those who created PostScript, desktop computer fonts, PageMaker, PDF, and, indeed, the concept of desktop publishing itself.

A Brief History of the War

In 1984 Adobe brought the world PostScript, a revolutionary printer language that allowed crisp text and graphics to be output from a desktop computer to a desktop laser printer for an investment of less than US$7,000–a tenth of the industry standard at the time. Teamed up with Apple Computer, who provided the first Macintosh and, under license from Canon, the first desktop laser printer running PostScript, Adobe launched the Desktop Publishing Revolution. It was a launch that would forever alter the very nature of communication around the world.

Building on Adobe’s vision and bold first steps, in 1985 Aldus Corp. debuted PageMaker, the digital equivalent to–and ultimately replacement of–graph paper, X-Acto blade, rubylithe, and paper waxers used throughout the design and publishing world as the only means of assembling a printed page. Running on Apple’s Macintosh computers and AppleWriter printers and creating on screen and printing to paper with Adobe’s PostScript printer language, PageMaker rolled through the publishing and press industries, changing everything.

Released in 1987, QuarkXPress, from Denver, Colorado company Quark, Inc., was PageMaker’s first serious competition for dominance of the burgeoning digital publishing revolution.

PageMaker and QuarkXPress (typically referred to simply as “Quark) battled ceaselessly into the early-1990s. The struggle became known throughout not just the software world but even more so in design, publishing, and press circles as the Desktop Publishing War.

The battle between PageMaker and Quark, each releasing new versions rapidly to trump its competitor with better creative and production features, was fierce. And, the Desktop Publishing War claimed many casualties.

So critical was the role of the layout application in the digital publishing process that every ad agency, design house, book publisher, newspaper, magazine, print shop, and pre-press service bureau on Earth used either, or both, of PageMaker or Quark by 1992. At an average cost of US$800–$1,000 per licensed copy of the products, plus training and time costs involved in switching between them or upgrading versions, choosing PageMaker or Quark was a significant investment for businesses struggling to move out of the old world of X-Acto blades and proprietary typesetting stations into the new frontier of mice and digital soft fonts.

Often such companies spent months wrestling with the decision of which desktop publishing (“DTP”) application to adopt. Choose the wrong one, and compatibility with clients and vendors is sacrificed. For a small business, that would have been–and on occasion proved to be–a terminal mistake.

A Victor Emerges

As a direct result of sloppy coding early on its development, programming mistakes that later made the first desktop layout application nigh impossible to update and improve, PageMaker began losing its footing and Quark pulled ahead. By the mid-1990s Quark had become the industry standard for virtually every publishing-related industry. PageMaker was the all but forgotten loser of the Desktop Publishing War.

Even after Adobe bought Aldus in 1995, PageMaker never mounted a serious comeback attempt against it’s old rival. Adobe had no better luck deciphering PageMaker’s cryptic code base than did its original authors at Aldus. But then, Adobe didn’t really try; PageMaker was only the camouflage for the Aldus acquisition. The real jewel would remain hidden beneath the canopy for several more years.

The Desktop Publishing War was expensive for all concerned. Larger firms that could afford to maintain licenses and personnel trained to use both PageMaker and Quark made it through, but the only other survivors were the companies that had bet on Quark. PageMaker loyalists switched at great expense. Those that couldn’t absorb the direct and incidental costs went out of business.

Since winning the War, Quark had become over confident and complacent. It was ubiquitous, a mandatory tool in design and print production. It was king of every hill, and, without PageMaker at its hip, clawing for the throne, Quark’s pace of rapid innovation slowed and all but ceased. Quark version 4.1 was released in 1996 and remained the current version, unchanged and complete with bugs and problems, until 2003 when version 5 released to industry-wide disappointment.

The Quark Killer

While Quark was resting on its laurels, Adobe was quietly building its secret weapon, the real reason Adobe purchased Aldus. It was a program Aldus had begun developing in the early-1990s when it realized PageMaker could not be built up beyond a limited point. The media would later dub Adobe’s new application the “Quark Killer.”

Code named K2, after the world’s most insurmountable mountain, InDesign was begun by the people that waged war with Quark for years, and finished by the company that was responsible for every major step forward in digital design and publishing since it sparked the Desktop Publishing Revolution fifteen years before.

For many years Quark was sedentary, a sleeping giant atop its cloud-high hill. Now its hill is terribly eroded, the bulk of the mass having been torn out and molded into a new hill beneath InDesign’s rising throne. Though slow to wake over the last few years, the teetering has finally roused the giant.

PageMaker has slipped beneath the mists of nostalgia, but now there is a new challenger to Quark’s absolute supremacy of the world’s printed communications. The newcomer is a sleek, nimble, and sexy challenger quickly building itself into a trendy lovemark. Quark, however, is an established, powerful juggernaut in whose way no previous challenger has long stood.

The Desktop Publishing War of the late-1980s and early-90s was bloody and terrible. Millions of dollars were won and lost. Fortunes were made and bankruptcies wrought. On the line now are billions of dollars and larger fortunes. Should Quark, effectively a one application company, fail to retain relevance in the industry, the company will likely wither and die, bloodied and tattered on a battlefield strewn with the bodies of pre-press service bureaus and newspapers. If the upstart InDesign fails to seize the DTP throne, the impact of the loss will quake Adobe’s very foundations, forever changing the character of the design community’s beloved mentor.

Desktop Publishing War II will be far, far more bloody than the first.

Quark VS InDesign.com is the authoritative correspondent on this war, chronicling every salvo of each battle, seeking to help non-combatants remain off the casualty list and steer a safe course between the fighting.

Stay close and keep your head down.

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