27 October 2018

review: Quark Xpress 2018

I don't have a great history with Quark XPress. I used it in the 90s when it was the top page layout program out there, but I preferred other software like Pagemaker and even Pagestream which I had on my still functioning Amiga computer from the 80s. When Adobe's Indesign reached version 2, it had advanced beyond them all and I switched to that and have been using it ever since.

Recently I have had to reacquaint myself with Quark because a job that uses it to produce a monthly magazine. I knew the version at the magazine office was a little out of date and I was appalled at how little the software had changed. Well, the version there is not a little out of date... it's almost 8 years out of date! So glad to say, having a chance to play with the 2018 version, its very much improved. I still don't love it mind you, but it is a viable alternative to Indesign and Adobe's horrible subscription service.

Some of the best improvements are the in the interface which finally looks like a modern application, is much better and more logically organized and has a very nice preview window, something earlier versions lacked and made them very hard to design with. Maybe better still is the way it handles fonts and the typography in general. Also gone is the stupid adobe distiller requirement to make professional PDFs. That thing was always a pain and should have been gone long, long ago.

On the more negative side of things - the interface is improved but still not great to work in. Some things that should be easy, like adding a visible bleed to the document are hidden in weird menus you would not find unless you really look hard for them in the documentation. I hate how Quark handles images, it's the same as always and I don't get why they keep this workflow of basically an image window inside another, one to scale and distort and the other to move/scale the image within. You have to keep switching tools to work within an image. I find it slow to open as well, but even with that there is a huge improvement from the version I use at work.

A giant step forward is the ability builtin to open Indesign files, making switching to Quark pretty easy and while, again, it took a bit of time to figure out, you can break a PDF down into separate elements you can edit directly in Quark after you have imported it. Working at a magazine, there needs to be a way to have many people working on the same project and that is something Quark has always seemed to have an edge with.

 It's not as easy as Indesign and is not as full featured, but its more than up to most tasks and even makes some, like digital publishing easier than Adobe's offering.

So in general if you want to avoid the Adobe scam, Quark is a good way to do that - with one big caveat. The price. While it's available on the Mac App store now on sale for 400$ it's normal about double that for the full version. This is not a competitive price, especially for such an old software that has lost so much marketshare over the years.

Will I use it myself? Not likely, except in cases where the client insists (and pays enough for me to buy myself a licence). Affinity Publisher is still a ways off from releasing a truly usable commercial version but it already outdoes Quark in terms of interface and even some functions. Plus when officially released it's likely to be 50$-60$ with paid updates 3 years apart like their other software which will integrate seamlessly with it. If I had to use it, it wouldn't be the worst thing and I'm sure I'd get used to Quark's quirks pretty quickly.

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