• Price When Reviewed: £779 or £279 for an upgrade

  • Pros: Design for digital media from within familiar QuarkXPress surrounding; powerful automation with conditional formating; improved tables support

  • Cons: Most features still lacking any kind of preview

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

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It’s hard to see the logic behind this. It’s true that not every user will need the App Studio, and that there is an online service for working around this, but it is still the case that Quark is fighting a desperate battle with Adobe and shipping a new version with one of the major features missing is rather amateurish.

Design driven automation
Quark has added a useful level of automation with a new Conditional styles feature. This is a system for creating behaviours that automatically apply style sheets based on text patterns. Once you apply the behaviour it automatically updates as you change the text or the style sheet, up to a point you select, such as the end of the story. However, it’s a paragraph style function and each paragraph can only have one Conditional Style.

Another new feature is Callouts, which Dan Logan, Quark’s technical product manager, describes as “anchored objects on steroids”. The anchored object doesn't have to be in the text box but can be anywhere on the page. So, for example, you could set a callout anchor to a paragraph of text for a picture. Then if the text reflows to a different page when it is edited, the picture will move with it.

Version 9 also sees the long overdue introduction of bullets and numbering, accessed via new dialog boxes for bullet numbering and Outline styles. An Outline style is the wrapper around the whole thing but you can then drill down to set styles for bullets and numbers. It’s been designed to work with Asian characters and languages that work vertically or back to front. It’s also compatible with Word for both import and export.

Conditional styles is a rules-based way of adding greater automation boxes, and features a preview!

There’s a new tool for linking and unlinking multiple text boxes, called Linkster. You can unlink a long text chain and have the text stay in its place. Similarly, you can also use it to link together two or more boxes, each already containing text.

Anyone who does a lot of work with tables will be glad to see the new Table Break dialog box. As the name implies, this lets you break tables by defining them by the box that they are in, so that when you reflow that box the table breaks into another box and reflows with the container box. You can also make a label for a header row, such as ‘2010 sales figures continued’ and this can run across pages so that the title is automatically applied for each instance. It’s also possible now to import the XLSX format, which Excel has been using for the last couple of years, directly into Quark tables.

A new Cloner tool lets you copy items or chunks of a layout, or even whole pages, to other pages, which is extremely useful for repurposing content from one layout type to another.

There’s a new Image Grid facility, which automatically assembles images onto a grid complete with a caption beneath each image. The caption is taken from the Picture Info but this feature really needs the ability to customise which metadata is used. So, for example, this would be a great feature for putting together a catalog but it might be better to have the product name and price rather than the file name.

There’s a nice Shapemaker wizard for creating oddly-shaped boxes, which can cope with anything from rounded corners to zigzags complete with colour fills. This is also one of the few dialog boxes to have its own preview.

The Tablet App interactivity window controls everything from movies, as shown here, to slideshows and buttons

There have also been some minor enhancements to the Style sheets mainly to get around some issues where local formatting would conflict with the style sheets. In previous versions you had a straightforward choice of either keeping or losing all of the formatting changes that you made while editing a page. But now you can choose some local formatting based on type so, for example, you could opt to keep all the bold instances.

Quark has also added a new Story editor, which previously was only in Copydesk. This now shows the text independent of the layout which makes it easier to carry out any further editing.

Another useful time saver is that it’s now possible to lock the proportions to maintain aspect ratios of boxes. This works both when you draw a box with a mouse or set the box size by typing its coordinates. By default it is turned on for picture boxes because Quark assumes that very few pictures will want non-proportional scaling.

Finally, this release also sees Quark dropping support for Power PC Macs, and for OS X 10.4 Tiger, needing at least OS 10.5.8, though it will support the upcoming Lion OS due out later this summer. It also needs at least 1GB RAM and 2GB hard drive space.

It’s also worth noting that these days QuarkXPress covers a range of products, including Quark Publishing System, Quark Server and add-ons such as Copydesk, all of which will move to version 9 at the same time. Equally, all language versions will be included in the update.

Despite the immediate lack of the App Studio, QuarkXPress 9 makes a compelling cost effective case for the ebook and app market. Also, there are some nice enhancements, particularly around the conditional style sheets and the callouts. But many features seem to be spread across multiple dialog boxes which will be distracting and time consuming, particularly since most still lack any kind of preview. Then again, Quark has been good at addressing these sort of issues with intermediate updates, free of charge, so this will probably be a worthwhile upgrade for most QuarkXPress users.