Price: 779 . 279
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.
Of note is the addition of Item Styles. Here you can select an item, such as a box with a frame, tint and transparency and save it as a style to the Items Style palette. Double-click an Item Style to edit it, and the result is a giddy array of attributes you can control. We didn't actually tick off every one, but its fair to say that you can set a value for practically any element that could possibly affect an item. From frames and runaround, to picture scale and opacity, you could design an element from the ground up without leaving the dialog box. This addition is Quark back to its best – a high level of control hidden away until you need it. Couple this with shared composition zones and the collaborative nature of version 7, and small design teams will find this a valuable addition.
There are more features than a preview can realistically cover – such as enhanced PDF support including to Ghent Workgroup workflows and Unicode support throughout – but its worth noting that Quark has also hammered the nail on the Passport version. The new release includes support for multiple languages in one package, with a Plus version promising support for Asian language and additional typographic control to cater for Asian-specific layout. Quark says that version 8 will sport a new document format that ends reflow when documents created in different language versions are opened, though we couldn't test this in the preview release.
We also couldn't test output or speed – the preview code was slightly buggy and slower in some processes, such as PDF output – than version 7. Of note, we had no problem downsaving to version 7. Once we get a final version, then we'll be putting it through its paces to see if it can earn its production chops.
So, the million dollar question. Is this a significant upgrade and one that could stem the flow of users to InDesign and even woo former defectors back into the fold? To be honest, it's too early to tell. Preview code being what it is, we can't offer any judgement over its integration into a real world production workflow, and that's a vital element of any rating we could give. But – and it's sure to raise eyebrows and trolling by InDesign fans – it does aim squarely at InDesign's usability advantages. In some cases, it almost a homage. It takes some of the better elements of InDesign and integrates them into an interface that strives to keep tools and workflow simple, and trim palettes to a minimum. Whether that's enough, we'll just have to wait until we take the full release of version 8 for a comprehensive test drive.