Quark is trying really hard to lose customers

Dogpatch San Francisco

There once was a time when Quark XPress was the gold standard of design software. The Quark loyalists (and I was one) wouldn’t go near a competing product even for a favorable interview in Communication Arts. Adobe kept on putting out «Quark Killers» with new features in PageMaker and then Indesign, and even pulled a Microsoft by including Indesign in the Adobe Creative Suite for less money than the price of Photoshop and Illustrator together. Essentially they paid their Photoshop and Illustrator customers to install Indesign. And still it didn’t get used.

In the meantime, Quark dilly-dallied around and took forever to release a version of XPress that would run on OS X. Essentially this forced their customers to make a choice: run XPress in Classic Mode (essentially hobbling your computer) or don’t even run a workable version of the Operating System. Finally version 6 came out and many of us were very excited to see what we could do with an OS X native version of Quark XPress.

One of the advancements of OS X was to finally move away from Apple’s utterly moronic old font management system. For each typeface on your system, there was an unintelligible set of files, one screen font, one metrics font, one… I don’t even know. It was even stupider than the forty different files that you needed to run a PostScript font on Windows, and that was pretty darn user-unfriendly. But Apple’s design decision to make the user take these individual files and pack them into a font «œsuitcase» made everything worse, because now there was no way to tell what could be wrong with a font that didn’t print right or didn’t show up where it was supposed to. It was all completely FUBAR.

OS X as well as Windows 2000 began to support OpenType, which stuffed all the data from either a TrueType or a PostScript font in one cross-platform file. The advantages of this were plentiful: first, it’s the same file on Macs and Windows machines, so you know that the font data is the same. If there’s any difference in rendering from platform to platform, it’s the fault of the OS, not the font.

The next advantage of OpenType is that it supported both the encoding types of TrueType and PostScript. Theoretically, you can convert from either of the old font formats into OpenType and have exactly the same font information. Some of us that are more picky might carry on the arguments about bicubic versus quadratic bezier curves, but the average user doesn’t have to, and we can all use the same file format.

Finally, OpenType supports an «alphabet» of over 65,000 characters, whereas PostScript and TrueType kept us limited to 255. While this may sound like plenty for a language with only 26 letters, consider that the total set of letters you may want to use will include both capital and lowercase, numbers, and a variety of punctuation marks. Add accented characters (for your résumé) and international characters (have you ever traveled from Austria to Rußland?) and you run out of your 255.

This is a great boon to designers, who have used even more characters to represent «advanced» typographical marks. Many people don’t care if inch marks ("…") are used instead of quotation marks (“€œ…”€) but a professional dealing in typography should. In the old days before Unicode and OpenType, we had to use multiple fonts to hold all the characters in a single typeface. Now, we only need one.

But Quark XPress’s 6.0 (as well as 6.1 and 6.5) version supported OpenType in a very non-meaningful way. Yes, you could use OpenType fonts, but the characters in Quark XPress files were still limited to the 0-255 range. So anyone that went to get OpenType versions of fonts was out of luck if they wanted access to the advanced characters.

Quark’s official response was that OpenType was a conspiracy to destroy design, and that real designers would choose Quark XPress over OpenType.

Unsurprisingly, even us diehard Quark loyalists tried Adobe Indesign. I went out and bought a copy, anticipating that I’d need to know Indesign if I ever wanted to get any design work again.

But I am still a Quark loyalist. Nothing would make me happier than to keep on using Quark XPress. I’m willing to put up with a lot, including having paid for a version of the software that was so completely useless that I couldn’t even do my own résumé with it. It says a great deal about my attachment to Quark XPress that I’d even bother to go to the Quark.com website to find out how much they want for an upgrade from my useless, hobbled version (6.5) to the new 7.0 version released a few months ago that finally permits access to the full range of characters in an OpenType font.

Quark still subscribes to the theory that any information about its business practices is proprietary and none of anyone’s business. This apparently includes pricing. Without logging in with a password and entering your serial number, it’s impossible to find an upgrade price for their product on their website.

I went through the hassle, and they want $250. That’s a lot less than the $750 they’re asking for the full version, but it seems like a lot of money for a bugfix, especially after making me jump through their hoops.

Some people will say that Indesign is finally Adobe’s Quark-killer. The rest of us know that the real Quark-killer is Quark.


Well, nice article and probably one of the better, more objective Quark vs InDesign rants I have read. Quark Xpress has lost allot of customers, especially in the last three years. But, I still get Quark Xpress documents on over half of the printing jobs that come through my department.

Quark Xpress has operated with some arrogance and stupidity. If you or I were running Quark, they would still be king of the hill. But I'm not sure they aren't king of the hill anyway. Of all the pages going through printing companies, Quark Xpress has a higher page count than Adobe InDesign. It looks like InDesign will actually take the hill now because of all the new up and coming designers adoption of InDesign as their tool of choice. Nice article, come visit sometime.