QuarkXPress 6.0 Review

by Kevin Slimp, August 2003

QuarkXPress 6.0 Review

QuarkXPress 6.0 looks eerily similar to earlier versions of this favorite application.
For those who have been patiently awaiting the long-anticipated release of the latest incarnation of QuarkXPress, there is good news and bad news. The good news, for Mac users, is that QuarkXPress 6 runs natively in OS X. On the Windows platform, the application now runs on Windows XP.

QuarkXPress is the last of the major applications used by professional designers to run natively in Macís newest operating system. Pagemaker users could argue that their application also lacks an OS X native version. The difference is that Pagemaker is no longer marketed with the professional designer in mind. With the introduction of Adobe InDesign more than three years ago, Adobe made the decision to gear Pagemaker toward the office newsletter market. The fact that Quark took two or three years longer than other applications to complete the move to OS X only increased anticipation about the new release.

Now for the bad news. While QuarkXPress 6 runs very smoothly in OS X, there is an unnerving lack of new features. When I opened the latest version for the first time, I immediately went looking for features like soft drop shadows, feathering and transparencies: features which have been available for some time to InDesign users. Also missing are many of the text features available in Adobeís product. While the lack of new features is disappointing, some users will feel comforted by the familiar feel of version 6. With few new features, there is a very short learning curve.
Not that there are no new features. Users will especially appreciate the ability to synchronize text within QuarkXPress documents. This makes it simple to change every instance of a particular phrase in a document or between several documents. For text that frequently changes, this can be a real timesaver. Version 6 includes the ability to export files directly to PDF, but PDF-savy users will set their preferences to export these files directly to postscript rather than take chances with the export filter. A long-awaited feature which has appeared in version 6 is multiple undos. You can now undo up to 30 actions using new buttons that appear at the bottom of the QuarkXPress desktop. Layers have also been improved, with the ability to lock layers so no changes can be made. You can also make changes to all items on a layer through the layers palette.

In addition to those already mentioned, there are a couple of missing features that stand out. Itís still not possible, without purchasing a plug-in, to embed fonts in EPS files exported from QuarkXPress. I canít think of another program used by professional designers which doesnít include this capability. There is also limited support for OpenType.

Newspapers who currently use QuarkXPress - and that includes most - will be forced to make important decisions in the near future. Apple has all but abandoned support for OS 9, and with QuarkXPress finally making the move to OS X (it wonít run on earlier operating systems) it doesnít make sense for Mac users to wait too much longer before upgrading to OS X. The move wonít be cheap. Upgrading to version 6 of QuarkXPress ranges in cost from $199 to $499 ($199/US for owners of version 5, $299/US for version 4). Updates must be purchased for each individual machine.

Version 6 has a built-in feature which makes it almost impossible to run the software on more than one machine. Unlike Adobe, which allows users to install its software on a desktop and laptop (as long as both arenít being used at the same time), QuarkXPress 6 will only install on one machine. The full version sells for around $900 (US) from most vendors.

QuarkXPress has been a favorite in our industry for a long time. As I speak at newspaper conferences, I usually ask the groups about their preferred software. Normally, about 70 to 80 percent of attendees respond that they use QuarkXPress for their pagination. The other 20 to 30 percent are split between Pagemaker and InDesign.

Newspapers will have to decide among several options. Do they want to upgrade to the new version of QuarkXPress, including an upgrade to OS X or Windows XP? Is now the time to make the move to Adobe InDesign? Should they stay where they are and hope that the lack of support for OS 9 doesnít cause too many problems over time? Thankfully, I donít have to make these decisions for them. For myself, I made the move to OS X and InDesign some time back. Most reviews Iíve read - and Iíve read a lot - comparing InDesign 2.0 and QuarkXPress 6.0 give InDesign a decisive nod. With a new version of InDesign (3.0) not too far away, it will be very interesting to see how market share changes in the coming months.


Kevin Slimp is director of the Institute of Newspaper Technology, a training program for newspaper professionals throughout the U.S. and Canada. His past articles can be found at www.kevinslimp.com. He can be contacted at articles@kevinslimp.com.