Upcoming QuarkXPress 9 Emphasizes Digital Publishing

Expected in April, the latest version of QuarkXPress allows users to publish to digital devices in a variety of formats.

When it comes to layout and publishing software it's a two-horse race between Adobe's InDesign and Quark's XPress. While Quark led the field for many years, InDesign has slowly but steadily increased its market share to the point where XPress is now a distant second, forced with each release to try to catch up with the capabilities of the latest version of InDesign. The upcoming release of XPress would seem to only reinforce this trend.

The current version of InDesign positions it within a robust and growing Digital Publishing Solution that Adobe has been relentlessly assembling, geared to the needs of magazine, book, newspaper and retail catalog publishers — those who traditionally made up the core of Quark's customer base. The announcement of XPress 9 indicates that XPress will finally provide users with digital publishing capabilities in April, although some elements of this won't ship until up to 90 days later. Six months from now the next version of InDesign won't be that far away, so is Quark's initiative too little, too late?

First among the new digital publishing functionality is the ability to export to the popular ePUB format, commonly used for text-based eBooks in such online stores as Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble NOOK and Amazon Kindle. XPress 9 includes a new Reflow View that is said to allow designers to configure content so that it reflows when exported to ePUB and other eBook formats. That's a good first step but hardly breathtaking. Version 9 also provides direct support for the free Blio eReader, which might be of value for those wishing to reach that niche.

More interesting is App Studio, which apparently will provide a "dedicated design environment" within QuarkXPress 9 for creating content for the iPad, including video/audio players, slideshows, scrollable regions, Web overlays, pop-up windows, buttons, and hyperlinks. Designers can use this to create apps and distribute them through the App Store. This sounds promising but Quark indicates it may not be available until July. Until then Quark will configure a "starter" iPad app with a customer's logos and colors, and "enable the enrichment of QuarkXPress content" before publishing it as an app. Not too inspiring.

Beyond digital publishing, version 9 emphasizes functionality geared to speeding the design process. Notable here is Conditional Styles, which allows designers to automatically style content based on styling rules; a new Bullets and Numbering feature to make it easier to format ordered and unordered lists, as well as complex multi-level outlines; a Callouts feature that enables boxes and groups to move automatically with text, under the designer's control; a wizard for creating or modifying shapes such as waves, polygons, stars, spirals and corner effects; the ability to import and automatically build grids of images with a variety of layout options; more control over the linking of text boxes and stories spanning multiple pages; a Story Editor that provides a word-processor-like view within QuarkXPress (something PageMaker had in 1989); and a more efficient way to clone design elements.

QuarkXPress 9 for Mac and Windows is expected to be available in April and will be priced at $799, with the upgrade set at $299. More information is available on the Quark site.