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ISSUE 527: The high-tech office- Nov 30 1999


InDesign finally offers competition for Quark

If you do any work at all with graphics, Web design or page layout, you know that Adobe Systems and its products, such as Photoshop, pretty much dominate the category for professional photo editing.

But while Adobe's PageMaker pretty much created the idea that pages could be designed and edited visually on a personal computer screen, somewhere along the way that product lost the hearts and minds of graphics designers. Now, most professional page design is done with QuarkXPress.

Adobe has given up any hope of redesigning PageMaker to topple Quark. Instead, PageMaker, with its latest version, has tried to reposition itself for the nonprofessional general business market, bundling in a large number of general-purpose templates. The company recently released InDesign, a new from the ground up rethink of how to allow page designers to get the job done creatively and effectively.

Not everything's new. InDesign borrows much of its interface from its Adobe siblings. The palettes are from PhotoShop, drawing tools from Illustrator, and more. The result is a comfortable fit for any long-time Adobe user. But it also borrows from the competition. It uses Quark-like frames, multiple master pages and seemingly infinite precision. It imports Quark documents and even allows ex-Quark users to continue with their familiar keyboard commands. You can also easily create your own customized commands. (It will also open PageMaker 6.5 documents, though users of older PageMaker versions are out of luck.)

But if InDesign is to have any hope of winning over Quark's customers, it has to up the ante. In many ways, it succeeds. Automated functions improve the appearance of blocks of text, for example, looking at a whole paragraph instead of a single line when adjusting word spacing. Master pages can be based on one another -- so changes to one will cause all the rest to change as well. Frames can nest inside frames, allowing a simple way to control complex designs.

A favourite feature is the unlimited Undo/redo command (and hopefully that will show up in the next version of PhotoShop as well). Also nice is the ability, shared with PhotoShop, to have multiple views of the same file. In this case, it means you can work on one page and see how your changes will affect other pages. Text always remains editable, no matter how you flip, stretch or rotate it.

InDesign exports files to Adobe Acrobat PDF format, a common way to distribute complex documents electronically. It also allows you to save documents as Web-friendly HTML. You can't open and edit PDF documents, however.

Still, it has its share of annoyances. The drawing tools, while powerful, are complex. Printing to common LaserJet-style printers removes the advanced printing features. And while the program does a credible job of making it easier to produce creative short documents, it simply lacks the features needed for working on longer documents. For example, there is no tables of contents or indexes. There's no table editor -- though I suppose creative designers don't want to work in any structure that's so prosaic! Unlike Quark, colour trapping features designed to prepare a document for professional printing are minimal.

Adobe designed InDesign to be modular, making it easy for Adobe or other companies to add features. Hopefully extensions will quickly bridge its built-in limitations. More than 35 companies have already released InDesign plug-ins. It won't, however, allow ex-Quark users to use their collection of Quark extensions (aka QuarkXTensions).

The program requires new and powerful hardware. Mac users need to be running Apple's OS 8.5 or later on a PowerPC 604 or better. PC users, on the other hand, need at least a Pentium II processor. Don't bother trying to print to an older Postscript Level 1 printer. And since it's a pro-level product, expect pro-level pricing at around $1,150, though most potential customers will be able to qualify for some sort of reduced upgrade rate. You should be able to find upgrades on sale for less than $500 through the end of the year.

InDesign will certainly prove tougher competition for Quark than PageMaker was. But it may be difficult for Adobe to break Quark's hold on the hearts and mice of its users, many of whom are waiting to see how that company responds with its next generation Quark Xpress 5.0, expected sometime next year. *

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan