• Price: £1,095 plus VAT, upgrade £328 plus VAT.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 6 out of 10 We rate this 6 out of 10

It’s been a long time coming. Years have passed as Quark has slowly, achingly, ponderously, and now finally delivered version 5.0 of the world’s most-popular DTP package. Since its announcement last century (seriously – it was first announced in March 1999), not only has Quark teased design professionals with numerous previews, but also it seems as if the entire world of DTP has changed. Now, DTP artists are presented with PDF workflows, print-to-Web design, and tight integration with other applications for creating XML publications, or simply pushing the boundaries of print design. Unfortunately, the new version of XPress simply hasn’t marched convincingly towards the bold new horizons of DTP, with the upgrade to version 5.0 proving too little, too late. DTP heavyweight Which is a desperate shame, as XPress is in an enviable position. It first burst onto the scene in 1987, and today roughly 90 per cent of the world’s commercial publications are produced using it, as well as the vast majority of newspapers. It rapidly unseated PageMaker as the DTP touch-carrier and, thanks to its intuitive interface and layout methods, has remained the prime package in any publishing toolbox. The horrible delay for the upgrade is, to some extent, understandable. Not only has the DTP landscape altered – creating a demand for a huge number of features, such as Web output – but Quark learnt a lesson following the initial version 4.0 release in 1999. It was so buggy that the company spent the following year releasing fixes, and said it wanted to ensure XPress 5.0 was perfect before releasing it. However, you’d have thought that the company might have found time in those three, long years to deliver more than the handful of new features that have been added. Adobe has released three versions of InDesign in the interim, and each has a new features list that should make Quark positively blush with embarrassment. Headline features in XPress 5.0 include Web-design tools, the ability to create and use tables in layout, the addition of layers, new export and print tools, integrated XML features, and hyperlink abilities. There are numerous enhancements, too, such as better previewing and print-output options, more Collect For Output options, improved spell checking, a find-&-replace feature that now can be applied to styles and colours, and polished long-document support. There are many plus points in the new version that I’m sure will mean XPress retains its dominance this time round – the trouble is, they were largely present in the previous version. The interface and application are as nippy as ever – much more so than InDesign – and the familiar shortcut keys, palettes, and controls have either remained the same, or evolved so slightly that designers who like their changes in small doses will feel right at home. It’s also extremely stable, and has yet to crash on me. Output, both print and Web, is absolutely spot-on, and you sidestep the compatibility problems with repro houses than you’d encounter with InDesign. This is no bloatware application – it feels trim, uses few system resources, and long-time users will have little to worry about. That’s not the same for XPress newcomers, however. Despite the price – a whopping £1,095 – Quark decided that a printed manual would be a wasted extravagance, as would tutorials, or even a printed keyboard-shortcut guide. Instead, you’re presented with a 650-page PDF manual. You can buy a bound manual from Quark’s Web site – for £62 – but that only conjures up the words salt, rubbing, and wound. Creating Web pages Quark is heralding the update as “Media-independent publishing takes off”, however one look at its Web tools, and you have to wonder where the final destination is. Version 5.0 adds a range of Web tools to the palette, and you can create a Web document by choosing a new Web page from the File menu. The tools themselves are basic, but functional. Not only can you use all the layout tools and tricks from XPress – such as text and picture boxes, guides, rules, style sheets, text-on-a-path, and so on – you can also deploy forms, buttons, tables, imagemaps, and more as you design the page. The result is, admittedly, some of the best HTML I’ve seen. You can quickly create a Web page in the exactly same way as a printed page – meaning print designers with Web leanings will feel right at home. It took me minutes to create a page in XPress that took an hour in Adobe GoLive – simply because I could layer graphics and text, and work as I would on the printed page. Other Web tools include the ability to create rollovers, plus comprehensive page-properties, such as variable-width pages, add hyperlinks, and set background images. There’s also a hyperlink-management palette – where you select an object and then quickly assign a link. Once done, XPress will export everything, automatically converting images. Again, you can set options such as conversion types (JPEG, GIF, PNG) from the Modify dialog, just as you would with previous versions of XPress. Quark’s reason behind adding Web tools is sound: it allows users familiar with the layout tools to use them to create decent Web pages. However, some frustrating flaws mar it. You can only save a QuarkXPress page as HTML from within the Web-layout mode – and you can’t export a print page into Web layout. There’s no way to save a standard XPress page to HTML, even though the Web-layout mode uses the same tools and is running in the same application. InDesign does this without blinking. Worse still, you can’t import HTML pages. This means if you wanted to convert a print document into a Web page, or open a current Web project, you can’t. You’ll simply have to create the entire thing again. Disastrous. Other new-media output options include XML and PDF – both increasingly vital to publishers looking to cut repro costs or output documents to various media. PDF support, increasingly the currency for desktop output in publishing, is only available if you’ve got Adobe Distiller installed. That said, hyperlinks created in documents are attached to exported PDF files. XML friendly The ability to work with XML is one of Quark’s rallying calls, and it includes its previous XTension avenue.quark for creating and exporting XML content. When choosing an XML page, you’re presented with a dialog that lets you assign content to DTDs (Document Type Definition), which defines a set of element tags and rules for a particular document – such as text tagged as {headline} for headline copy in a story. It works well, and although online help is non-existent, a comprehensive PDF tutorial will help newcomers. It is disappointing, however, that you only get two XML templates, and the workspace is quite limited. XPress 5.0 does feature a range of new layout tools and features, such as tables and layers. Tables allow you to create tabular arrangements from exported data, such as tabbed-delimited text, or create empty tables for layout. Table cells can include text or graphics, and almost everything you can do to a picture or text box, you can do to a table cell – such as set background colour, resize images, and align text. Your table awaits Working with tables is a snip in XPress thanks to the ability to treat cells as you would other boxes – and I found them less cumbersome with images than table cells in InDesign. A double-click on the table calls up a Modify box – and you can retain table geometry as you adjust cell widths, preventing your table from reducing or enlarging it’s overall width or height. To much frustration, though, tables are far behind those in InDesign. They don’t import native Microsoft Excel documents, and you can’t set the table background colour to none – meaning it can’t be transparently layered over images. You can’t rotate it – even in 90-degree increments – and forget about using images and text in the same table. Tables can either use graphics or text in cells, but not a combination. Layers are the other major addition – letting you place content hierarchically, then hide-&-show individual layers. This is great for multiple-language documents, where you can place alternate-language text in the same document, and still retain design fidelity. Layers are implemented in XPress well, and include some solid features – such as Suppress Printout and Keep Runaround. Where Quark has had more success is in the range of smaller enhancements. A contextual menu is available for quickly accessing functions as you select different items, and you can now fit picture boxes to images, which saves much fiddling. Other enhancements include better table of contents generation from style sheets, and now Collect For Output will gather picture files, fonts, and colour profiles ready for repro. For administrators, the Quark License Administrator can make managing site licences a snip – even letting people take copies of XPress home on a laptop that will disable themselves after a set period of time. Yet, despite the excellent tweaks, the few major additions are underwhelming. The Web tools will be irrelevant for many users, and the inability to convert active XPress documents is tragic. Table implementation is second-rate, and XML support disappoints. However, layers are handled well, and the print preview dialog, PDF support (with Acrobat), and the contextual menu are all neat additions. The speed and simplicity of XPress 5.0 is equally praiseworthy – and certainly zooms past InDesign in general day-to-day use. But, taken as a whole, this is by far the worst upgrade I have ever reviewed. I’m absolutely astounded, and, as an XPress user for over a decade, nearly insulted that Quark should foster such a lacklustre upgrade on its legions of users. That’s not to say this is the worst product ever – it’s an improvement on the excellent version 4.1 – but this should really have been called XPress 4.5. Add in the lack of support for Mac OS X and no definite timeframe as to when it’ll see the light of day, and I have some clear reservations about upgrading. Our advice is to skip this upgrade full stop, and wait until the next release – which will hopefully add more features, more support, and leap back into the fray.