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QuarkXPress has had a rough ride of late. Adobe’s aggressive roll-out of DTP-rival InDesign, coupled with a relentless commitment to pile on advanced DTP features, has meant layout artists have been caught up in the InDesign hoopla. Switching to InDesign has become a case of not if, but when – even Digit has migrated.

A major reason for the migration wasn’t just designers getting their mitts on features such as transparency, OpenType and Mac OS X support – part of the reason was Quark itself. We’ve scratched our heads in disbelief at Quark’s past behaviour – ponderous upgrades, poor customer relations, and an unwillingness to bring some of the cooler aspects of DTP to the package has helped usher in InDesign.

So the surprise release of a public beta of QuarkXPress 7 – Quark’s must-succeed response to InDesign’s growing momentum – shows a complete about-face. A more open, committed Quark is pitching an upgrade that not only mixes in the vast majority of InDesign’s features, but adds many more that could prove invaluable for the designer. Transparency, OpenType, PDF/X standards, JDF, high-resolution previews – they’re all present in version 7.

When Adobe announced that InDesign would beat QuarkXPress in the race for a Mac OS X native version, it offered a huge boost for InDesign. This time, Quark has the advantage, pledging that version 7 – slated for a Q2 release – will work natively on Apple’s new Intel-based Macs. This is a huge boon, as non-native software has to work in emulation on the new machines, with tests showing a 50 per cent slowdown. Suddenly, Quark is the DTP poster child for Apple’s move to Intel – but is it really time to kiss and make up with Quark?

 border=0 />The public preview release is incredibly stable and feature rich. Quark has added a raft of crowd-pleasing features, including transparency, better image-editing tools within the application, the ability to import native Photoshop files complete with background transparency, OpenType features and glyph palette, advanced tables with running headers and footers, all backed with a redesigned graphics engine dubbed XDraw.
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For creative users, features such as transparency and OpenType get the most interest and comparisons with InDesign. On the transparency front, QuarkXPress edges out InDesign, allowing any item that can be assigned a colour to become transparent – meaning a frame, box, and the content can all have different transparency settings. You can set gradient blends to fade to transparent, and work with alpha channels and custom masks too. 
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Some of the lesser features are quietly impressive: the option to set runarounds for drop shadows will be welcomed <BR>
by InDesign users, and you can synchronize shadow attributes across a project. Disappointingly, version 7 lacks blending modes for transparency outside of supported PSD documents.
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OpenType support isn’t quite as extensive as InDesign, and the glyph palette is nigh-on identical, but it ticks enough boxes to be worthwhile. There are other timesavers, too, such as the ability to embed fonts in EPS files, create ligatures on-the-fly, and the retention of picture attributes when replacing images. A Proof Output option under the View menu offers live previews of different colour spaces, such as in-RIP separations, although some settings had no effect in this beta version.
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