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A mixed bag of underwhelming new features with the exception of the truly useful QuarkVista image editing XTension. And it’s free for existing users of version 6.

Just five years ago QuarkXPress lorded it over the world of professional DTP in the same way that Photoshop currently dominates professional photo-editing. Today though, the publishing landscape has changed completely. Adobe’s all-new InDesign provides more design power and better workflow integration and makes QuarkXPress look like a dinosaur from a bygone era. QuarkXPress isn’t quite ready for extinction yet, however and has released a new version 6.5. The good news for existing version 6 users – and a total shock based on past practice - is that the upgrade is free. So what’s involved?

Well to begin with there’s a hefty 150MB download and, before you click OK, make sure that you are downloading the right version for your current setup ( ie whether you bought 6.1 or updated to it). That’s typical of a needlessly complicated installation all-round and a reminder of just how behind-the-times Quark seems these days. While you are on the site you should also acquaint yourself with the long list of known issues with the release (and those already solved!) and I can add another as installing the Full-Resolution Preview XTension led to the program freezing whenever I tried to use 6.5’s main new feature. It all makes you wonder how robust the core code can be - and how Quark could think of letting it out of the door in this state.

So what improvements does 6.5 offer over 6.1? The first new feature is improved table handling – but don’t get too excited. There’s nothing like InDesign’s fully integrated flowing tables, instead you can now group tables with other items such as text and picture boxes which is handy for resizing. And if you group multiple tables together you can use the Modify command’s Grid tab to change their line formatting globally. Guide handling has also been enhanced so that spread guides on master pages are now visible on spread pages and intelligently handled when dealing with facing pages. There’s also a new tab in the Edit Print Style dialog that lets you control bleed settings. And when you open a layout created on another system, a new option lets you buy and download any missing fonts from the LinoType library via the Quark Fontstore (you can also download a set of free OpenType fonts once you’ve registered 6.5).

That’s about it in terms of tweaks to existing functionality so what about all-new power? When you’ve unzipped the update you’ll find two new subdirectories – the first includes two small scripts that enable QuarkXPress to be run off a Citrix server rather than locally. The second contains a grab-bag of extras such as a set of five sample layouts from StockLayouts, discounts on training and certification programs and free tokens for Creo.com’s file sharing via email system. Slightly more useful are two small XTensions – Custom Slug which lets you include the project and layout name on your output plates and PDFBoxer which automatically includes TrimBox, CropBox and BleedBox information in your exported PDFs.

Apart from QuarkVista, the changes in 6.5 are minimal.

At this stage you’d be forgiven for thinking that as a response to the threat that InDesign poses, QuarkXPress 6.5 borders on the pitiable. But don’t give up yet – I’ve saved the best - well really the only - feature till last. The QuarkVista XTension appears as a floating Picture Effects palette that you can use to apply effects to imported TIFF, JPEG, PNG, SCT, BMP and GIF bitmap images. I wasn’t expecting much from this – just the common ability to lighten, darken and change contrast. In fact QuarkVista offers a full range of the most common image adjustments – Levels, Curves, Brightness/Contrast, Colour Balance, Hue/Saturation, Gamma Correction, Invert, Threshold, Posterize and even Selective Colour. And in each case the power is impressive – the Levels dialog for example offers Shadow, Midtone and Highlight sliders, Before and After histograms and a live preview.

And this is only the beginning. As well as adjustments, QuarkVista offers a range of effects from Gaussian Blur through to Unsharp Mask, Despeckle through to Add Noise. Multiple effects can be applied simultaneously, each appearing in a re-orderable list in the palette, and these can be saved as re-usable presets. Best of all, all adjustments and effects are applied non-destructively which means that at any time you can fine-tune your settings while your original image remains unaffected (though you can also save changes to a new file or overwrite the original if desired). And because QuarkXPress is applying effects live this is handled intelligently based on the current picture box transformations regarding scaling, skewing, rotation and cropping – a factor which can lead to major improvements in print processing time.

QuarkVista provides surprisingly powerful integrated bitmap editing

It’s important not to get carried away. Compared to Photoshop’s hands-on pixel-level editing, QuarkVista is inherently limited and for creative imaging control it doesn’t come close to the combination of Photoshop CS and InDesign CS (though the promise of multi-layered PSD import in the near-future should erode this to some extent). What QuarkVista does do though is deliver the most commonly required imaging power right where you need it: in situ in your layout. In other word it provides core functionality that the majority of designers will use everyday to produce better work more quickly. As such, I for one rate 6.5 as a more significant release than either 5 or 6 with their woefully misguided focus on simplistic web authoring. And of course the fact that it’s free doesn’t do any harm.

Ultimately QuarkXPress 6.5 doesn’t change the larger picture. The long term future remains bleak and this upgrade certainly won’t be enough to attract new users away from InDesign. Having said that, the rise of InDesign doesn’t mean that you can no longer produce good work with QuarkXPress. The program’s strength has always been its no-frills productivity and the inclusion of QuarkVista means that this is enhanced still further. There’s still some life left in the old dinosaur.



Ease Of Use


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ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

Jan 2005

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PC System Requirements: Pentium III , 128/256MB of RAM , 190MB of hard disk space, Windows 2000 or XP, SVGA display, CD-ROM, QuarkXPress 6.1 for free upgrade.

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