Quark Xpress was the unchallenged leader of the digital page layout market during the 1990s. Adobe introduced InDesign in 2000, hoping to upstage it, and Quark (Xpress’ publisher) lost a lot of ground in the face of a product that was far cheaper with more features. After two uninspiring new versions that have failed to destabilise Adobe’s dominance, Quark looks to be serious about clawing some market share back with the release of Xpress 7.
With a slick new look and a greatly reduced price tag of around half the old price, everything about the new Xpress seems to say ‘trimmed of fat’ and ‘contemporary’. So with the market approach turning a new leaf, does the product follow suit?
Xpress 6 introduced some intriguing new features that Quark has been smart enough to build on. The most robust was to make the application project-based rather than individual layout-based, allowing a whole team to work on a single document. The synchronisation tools have been broadened and strengthened considerably, and their most exciting component is Composition Zones. In a large layout with many departments such as advertising, editorial, picture retouching, etc, the art director or job manager can assign areas that are editable by only certain users.
Xpress then produces files from the central layout that contains only the content each user should be changing. Composition Zones can be saved within a single project file or externally as a file that can be accessed from anywhere – even over a network. As each user then updates their Composition Zone, the master copy is updated with their changes, regardless of who else is working on the same artwork.
Composition Zones is just one of the improvements to the collaborative workflow tools, but the fact is most graphic artists work alone or in a small studio. Few Australian ad agencies or publishers have so many large, disparate departments, so Xpress also needs to impress individual users. The large number of small improvements brings Xpress almost neck and neck with InDesign but doesn’t quite surpass it.
One such addition is the ability to make image-level corrections from right within Xpress. Even after you place a Photoshop graphic file into an InDesign document you can’t make basic colour tweaks without returning to Photoshop itself, but Xpress gives you a whole suite of adjustment tools to correct your image without having to return to Photoshop.
There’s also a host of small productivity tweaks, most of them welcome. Palettes are no longer as rigid as they once were. They now fold into each other in sets you can save for later use, depending on which toolbars and palettes you use the most.
At first glance, the measurements palette also looks as it has for over 10 years, but roll your pointer over the top edge and you’re presented with a small row of buttons. Selecting one changes the interior of the measurements palette to reflect all the attributes of the tool you need – from text to frame control, clipping path to image rotation and everything in between.
The ill-advised web design tool is still present, unchanged since version 5. It’s still very unlikely to pose a threat to the major HTML applications such as Dreamweaver and with a haphazard approach to the principles of web development it should be avoided.
Dropping the price around $1,500 was bound to attract serious attention back to Quark again. Winning back apathetic customers now comfortable with InDesign will be a new battle for the company, but the feature-set and value for money of Xpress 7 is levelling the field again. It’s the best value update for Xpress since the heyday of the mid nineties when Quark ruled the page layout world.