QuarkXPress 8 Release Full of Surprises for the Design Professional

Aug 01, 2008 at 03:06 pm by staff

Hmm. QuarkXPress 8 or Acrobat Professional 9? Quark or Acrobat? Acrobat or Quark?

Oh, sorry. I’ve been in a dilemma about which application to review. I’ve had boxes sitting on my desk that contain the just released versions of both applications for the past week.

When I woke up this morning, I was sure I’d be writing a review of Acrobat Professional 9. But I just can’t help but feel there’s something calling me to try out Quark’s latest offering. OK, QuarkXPress 8 (QX8) it is.

When the folks at Quark invited me to their secret preview of QX8 a few months ago, I wondered if they had some tricks up their sleeves. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the preview, but I’ve been keenly anticipating how Quark would respond to the huge chunk of the market devoured by Adobe InDesign since its release almost ten years ago.

As you might know, Quark fell way behind the curve with its inability to release an OS X native version till long after Adobe’s hit the market. Since then they’ve been playing catch-up, responding to features already available in InDesign with each new upgrade. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed. Until now.

Sure, QX8 boasts of such features as Web authoring and Flash creation within the QuarkXPress environment. It even allows folks like me, who do a lot of interactive presentations, to create them directly from QX8. Still, that isn’t what interests me. I’ve got Apple Keynote for that. What I wanted to know was this: How does the QX8 page layout experience compare to InDesign?

According to Quark’s prerelease promotions, the new XPress would make the page-layout and design experience easier, faster and fun. In previous versions, it hadn’t been any of those. I wanted to see how version 8 stacked up.

Are you sitting down? I don’t want you to faint when you read what I have to say. Let’s look at these three elements individually.

Is it easier? You bet. Especially if you’re not already a Quark user. After checking out the new features for about ten minutes, I decided to throw caution to wind and design a page in QX8. With the knowledge gained using InDesign for the past decade (I haven’t used QuarkXPress for anything except testing and training since the early days of InDesign), I clicked on File>New. Within seconds I was creating columns, placing photos and text and manipulating items on the page.

Was it faster? No contest. I knew something was up when I did the full install on my iMac. I entered the validation code (which is about 10 characters too long) and left my desk to get a Diet Mountain Dew from the machine downstairs. When I returned a few minutes later, installation was complete.

The new tools in the QX8 toolbox are much more intuitive than in previous versions. Veteran Quark and InDesign users will be surprised when they first open QX8 and see only eight tools on the toolbar.

A factor contributing to QX8’s speed is something I’ll call the “InDesigning” of QuarkXPress. Many of the features I’ve come to know and love in InDesign are now available in QX8. For example, users no longer have to create a placeholder before placing a photo on the Quark page. Just as in InDesign, Photos and text can be placed - QX8 refers to this as “importing” - right on the page. Once on the page, the Item tool (looks like an arrow) can be used to scale, rotate and modify the contents. It’s actually one step quicker than InDesign because users don’t have to switch tools after placing a graphic on the page.

How about fun? Yes, QX8 is fun. Much like InDesign is fun. And that symbolizes the significant change in this version of XPress. Instead of sticking to the old, Quark way of doing everything, QX8 keeps many of its earlier versions’ best features while acknowledging that it has learned something from the colossal popularity of many of InDesign’s features.

Here’s a rundown of a few of my favorite features in QX8:

- Direct manipulation of boxes and pictures, much like the free transform tool in Adobe applications.

- Control over OPI inclusion when placing photos and graphics, which will cure a lot of PDF problems for QX8 users.

- Ability to place text and graphics directly onto the page, without the need to create placeholders first.

- Bezier Pen Tool is greatly improved, allowing users to create paths in much the same way they’ve learned in Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

- Adobe Illustrator import. Illustrator users will appreciate this.

- Right-click and Double-click features. When I was trying to figure out how to modify an item, I could right-click on it to find many options available without searching through menus.

- Edit an original photo. Much like InDesign, QX8 allows users to move to Photoshop to edit an original graphic or photo with the click of a button.

- Support for PDF 1.6 and 1.7 files.

Has version 8 changed the way I look at QuarkXPress? Yes. For now, it’s no longer a given that publishers should move to InDesign when upgrading their workflow system. It looks like Quark has produced a worthy competitor in the pagination marketplace. Frankly, I’m impressed. I like what I see.

How will QX8 stack up against the next version of InDesign (CS4) when it is released? Only time will tell. But it seems, for the present, Quark has leveled the playing field.

The full version of QX8 retails for $799 (US). Upgrades from $299 (US). Requires Mac OS X 10.4 or Mac OS X 10.5 with G5 PowerPC processor or Intel processor (G4 minimum) and 1GB RAM or Microsoft Windows XP (service pack 2 or 3) / Windows Vista with 1GB RAM.

For more information, visit quark.com.

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