InDesign chips away at Quark's graphics leadership

by Alan Zisman (c) 2002
First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #656  May 21-27, 2002 High Tech Office column

With its newly updated page design program InDesign 2.0, is trying to snatch users away from long-time leader Quark XPress (see last week's column ). Quark, however, is trying to maintain its market share with its long-awaited new version 5.0 (about $1,500, or $450-600 for upgrades from earlier XPress versions).

On paper, the two products have a lot of similarities. They are sold in Mac and Windows versions, add long-needed tools for working with tables and layers and enable users to design for both print publication and the Web.

Mac users looking to migrate to OS X will be disappointed that, unlike Adobe's new product, the new XPress lacks native support for Apple's new operating system. XPress 5 will run under OS X, but more slowly than under the older OS 9. Quark promises the next version will run directly under OS X, whenever that might be released.

Quark's new Web-design tools are more comprehensive than InDesign's. But where InDesign allows users to create a single design and export both print and Web versions, XPress projects must be dedicated to a single use. Text and graphics from a print project have to be awkwardly copied and pasted to a separate Web-focused project.

XPress's type tools are little changed from previous versions, and have been surpassed by InDesign's new features. XPress's user interface, too, offers little change, though this will be a relief to users who have learned on earlier versions. InDesign supports multiple languages within a single document. Quark only offers this to purchasers of their much more expensive Quark XPress Passport version.

InDesign also gets the nod for graphics support. Unlike XPress, it can work with native Photoshop and Illustrator files, perhaps no surprise given their common Adobe heritage. Graphics-heavy documents, either saved or exported to Acrobat format, produce significantly slimmer file sizes in InDesign as well.

Many owners of previous XPress versions expanded the program's capabilities with extra-cost add-in extensions. Some of those features are now built-into the new version, but owners who have invested heavily in third-party extensions should check whether they will work with the new version. While InDesign offers built-in support for Adobe's popular Acrobat PDF format, XPress owners will need to purchase Acrobat (about $400) from Adobe to get that feature.

The new XPress comes out ahead in several comparisons. For example, while both products offer layers, in XPress's implementation, text won't wrap around objects on hidden layers, which can mystify and frustrate InDesign users. XPress provides more powerful features for working with book-length projects. And its Web-design options allow for creation of fancy features such as rollovers and image maps, where different parts of a picture link to different Web pages. (Web pages created with either program will often need fine-tuning in a dedicated Web-page creation application.)

Other points in Quark's favour: Because of its long reign as the standard publishing application, more users are already skilled at using XPress and professional service bureaus are used to working with that program's quirks. While the new version of XPress is inevitably bulkier than its predecessors, it is much faster than InDesign on older hardware.

Users with the need for pro-level page design tools will find the new InDesign offers more power than the new XPress. It will be especially welcomed by owners of new Mac or Windows hardware, adopters of Mac OS X, and graphics professionals proficient in using Photoshop or Illustrator, with which it shares a common interface.

Users of older XPress versions (and there are many such users) may prefer to make the more modest change to that program's new version, or may decide the best choice for now is to stick with what they're currently using.

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