Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I choose Quark


SpudDriveIn
Originally uploaded by mdt1960.
Most people in the graphic arts profession know of the page layout war between Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress. In fact, most of us know the basic history of the page layout wars: In the beginning there was only Aldus Pagemaker. Then along came QuarkXPress as a competitor. A mass exodus to Quark followed its 3.0 version and Pagemaker never really recovered—not even after Adobe purchased it from Aldus and attempted to revamp it.

Well, to say that it "never really recovered" might be a bit misleading in that there were more licensed copies of Pagemaker than any other desktop publishing software. Even in Quark's zenith of success, they never matched the sales of Pagemaker. While most of the high-end operations were based in Quark, the small businesses, printers and publishers were content with Pagemaker—who were the lion's share of page layout users.

Nevertheless, in the end, not even mighty Adobe believed it could reconfigure the old codes of Pagemaker. So, they did the unthinkable—they built a completely new page layout "factory" from the ground up—enter InDesign.

And a better program InDesign was—even in the early stages. Now that it's in its third major edition, ask anyone in the "biz" today whether they prefer QuarkXPress or InDesign, and there's a good chance they'll answer, "InDesign. Quark is old school."

The tables have turned indeed. Like Pagemaker's early reign of desktop publishing, Quark is no longer king of the hill. Having been accused of customer service neglect and resting on its laurels, Quark is now in the battle of its life. A new upgrade is due out any day now that will better rival InDesign. Some say it's too little and too late. Perhaps.

War no more
Up until recently, another heated software war was constantly brewing in the industry, only this one had to do with the illustration/drawing programs of Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand. Like the page layout wars, this one was another one of those great "Ford vs. Chevy" conflicts. Each side was adamant about the superiority of their illustration program over the other offering. And thanks to the heated status, both software products drove the other to greater performance levels.

But, this war took an odd turn when Adobe bought out Macromedia and its entire line of print and web-based publishing software which included FreeHand. And Adobe's response to the illustration prisoner of war? Kill it.

What an odd response to let an established program die on the vine (PageMaker) or to outright discontinue its offering after purchasing the rights to it (FreeHand). It's nothing new to hear of a particular desktop publishing application to be sold and revised under another company's name—that's what initially happened to Pagemaker when Adobe scooped it up from Aldus. And FreeHand was an Aldus product before it was purchased by Macromedia years ago.

But how is one gigantic software company suppose to behave if they already own one of the major illustration programs, and then acquire its major competition? What would happen if Coke acquired Pepsi? I'd like to believe that Coke would continue to produce Pepsi for all the faithful Pepsi drinkers. I'd be more than a bit pissed off if I was a Pepsi drinker and Coke announced to the world that they were discontinuing Pepsi simply because they owned it.

So, despite the volumes of FreeHand users throughout the world, Adobe chose to thumb their nose, and simply say, "It's Illustrator or nothing at all." (Ummm, that's if one doesn't consider Corel Draw a major player). I'm sure I know of at least one group of disgruntled FreeHand users in the world; the good folks of Christchurch, New Zealand. When I was there in 2001, FreeHand was everywhere and they used it for everything—page layout and imposition.

Then there is of course the swelling popularity of InDesign. Once again Adobe didn't do the page layout community any favors by eliminating PageMaker. One has to wonder how popular InDesign would be today if Adobe hadn't let Pagemaker die on the vine. Nevertheless, it was another one of those, "It's this or nothing at all" scenarios. In this case they said, "Well, it's InDesign or QuarkXPress, but we'll give you a sweet deal if you choose our product." At the same time, Quark's shelf price remained considerably higher. Quark's major blunder may have been that they didn't match Adobe's offer as everyone was abandoning the Pagemaker ship when they realized no upgrades would follow. Who can blame a page layout community if they are forced to move to another program—pick the one that's the cheapest because there will undoubtedly be some pain in any kind of transition.

At one time I had hoped that Pagemaker would resurface under another company's banner—Adobe would sell Pagemaker to someone like Corel or Macromedia after they felt everyone that could be lured to InDesign was hooked. Not so. Instead, they simply bought Macromedia. My crystal ball has grown dark.

Yet (and this is undoubtedly a stretch on my part), I still wonder if many of those Quark users who have now migrated to InDesign were simply moving back to Pagemaker (a.k.a. "Pagemaker on Steroids") because years ago they were forced to move, or felt compelled to move to Quark when they would have preferred to stay with the Pagemaker environment. Perhaps they've been waiting to jump off the Quark ship for a long time now, they were simply waiting for Adobe to build a decent rescue ship.

Adobe… the new Microsoft
I'm starting to think that the folks at Adobe are no different than any other money-hungry corporation. They're not too keen on competition especially if the competition is ahead of them or keeping up with them. If they have it their way, they'd just assume snuff out any formidable competitors (i.e., FreeHand) regardless of any ethical business considerations (i.e., the elimination of Pagemaker; desktop publishing's charter software).

However, things aren't as bad as I over-dramatize here. Thankfully, Adobe has a pretty decent record when it comes to the business of running a monopoly—consider Photoshop. Nothing comes close to this powerful image-editing software… not in donkey's years. And the application gets better with each revision. Let's just hope they do the same when it comes to Illustator—Adobe's newest monopoly.

By the way, let's not forget Adobe's other unchallenged powers. Most notable is Postscript itself. Every software company has an umbilical cord leading back to Adobe—yes, even Microsoft. You want to use Postscript in your application, you need to have a little chat with desktop publishing's godfather first. And don't forget, Acrobat is the king when it comes to anything to do with PDF (portable document format).

Be careful for what you wish, you might just get it.

I choose Quark
Some say the writing is on the wall. Quark is a very, very small company based in Denver, Colorado. They're no match for Adobe on Wall Street. It's only a matter of time before they buy out Quark as well. So some say.

If the unthinkable does unfold, the Adobe noose tightens a bit more as our options in desktop publishing software dwindle. In turn, Quark users will find plenty of comfort in the multitudes of former FreeHand users as they are forced to move into the trenches of InDesign.

In the meantime, I'm staying with Quark. I don't doubt that InDesign is a better program at this point in time. Yet, that's not enough to make me rule out Quark. Years ago when Quark had clearly beaten Pagemaker, some people still chose to stay with Pagemaker. Maybe they were lazy or maybe they truly liked the environment better. I never looked down on them for their decision regardless of their rationale. If Pagemaker melted their butter, who was I to say that they could be happier with something else. Besides, how fickle is that to jump to another program just because it has taken the lead. Talk about fair-weather fans. And mind you, I'm an active supporter of Adobe in so many other departments—Photoshop, Acrobat, Postscript (and now Illustrator I guess). They need nothing else from me.

As I see it, the decline of Quark's popularity will either lead to its demise or the company will become hungry again and meet InDesign's appeal. Hopefully it will be the latter scenario. Besides, with Quark still hanging around as that proverbial thorn in Adobe's side, we are all guaranteed two quality programs for years to come—and there's plenty of users out there to go around.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

... Besides, how fickle is that to jump to another program just because it has taken the lead. Talk about fair-weather fans....

I enjoyed your comments and agree whole heartedly with what you have said. QuarkXPress was the undisputed champ at one time and certainly still have the ability for a come back. Will they? I am not sure but I still use it. I am not overly impressed with v7 but I still hope they will ad some ALAP technology to the base program and then I will be happy. I am pleased that the upgrade from 6.5 to 7 will be "nominal" as the people at Quark are telling me. I was very unhappy to find that my versions of Acrobat, Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and GoLive meant very little toward upgrading to CS1. Yes, I could use Photoshop to upgrade but big deal. I already owned the others but loyalty meant nothing to Adobe. They're a great company but the bottom line is still the master when it comes to the end of the day.

I suspect it will be XPress for me for a long time yet but... Pick it up Quark, I can't suck the hind tit forever!