• Price: 779 . 279

  • Company: Quark

  • Pros: Revamped, cleaner interface; adopts many conventions from InDesign; native Illustrator support; extended language support.

  • Cons: Some overdue fixes still to be addressed; current users may find interface and usability challenging; preview version suffered from some slow performance.

Quark's application philosophy behind version 8 is sound, especially in light of InDesign CS3 and Adobe's increasing focus on making its applications – Flash, in particular – appeal to developers as well as designers. Quark is pitching version 8 as a pure design and layout tool. Unfussy, uncomplicated, with no need to delve through legions of menus and palettes to get at tools and features. It's certainly capitalising on the perception that Adobe has thrown everything into InDesign CS3, and is in danger of drowning designers in palettes.

Quark is also making hay with its recent, more fired up upgrade pacing – especially on the Mac. While Adobe caught Quark napping with the move to Mac OS X, Quark was the first to release a native Universal version for Intel Macs and offers a stable experience when run under Mac OS X 10.5. InDesign CS3, on the other hand, is struggling to fully convince when running on Leopard, with reports of crashes and bugs from frustrated designers.

For Quark then, the timing is spot on, but can version 8 build on the strides made by Quark with its current release?

Fire it up, and the first step change is the interface. Quark has added a Welcome screen – similar to InDesign's – that provides for quick document creation, as well as previous projects so you can dive back in, plus hints and tips and – promised for the shipping version – live online information feeds.

QuarkXPress 8's interface (top) is slimmed down and stylistically different from version 7's.

To say the interface is minimal is a bit of an understatement. It adopts the dark-grey palette of Mac OS X 10.5 and has a neat collapsable palette structure for organizing colours, style sheets and layers. The main Tools palette has been pruned – a move designed to simplify the interface, though this will throw long-time users. Tools now feature a Selection, Text and Picture tool, as well as a Pen, Line, Table and Zoom tool. And that's it. Tools for linking boxes, for example, are hidden as fly-outs. It's certainly streamlined, but you can't help the niggling feeling that the icons are all a little too large and slightly comical, ditching the plain icons of previous versions.

Quark has ditched the separate content and object selection tools, and also separate containers for text and images. Now, containers can switch seamlessly between the two types and, if you double-click on a type box, then you'll start editing the type itself. If you're working on a picture, then the new Picture tool can resize, crop and scale images inside the container with a live update.

Any image outside the frame is shown as a faded-back preview, and you can grab some overly large image handles, even if they are located outside the container. It's very similar to working with InDesign – and the addition of an Option-drag feature to duplicate content only works to further cement the feeling that Quark has found some degree of inspiration from its DTP rival. Option-drag also caused a few issues, when instead of duplicating an object it reverted to its other role and panned the page around.