QuarkXPress 4.1: Worth the Upgrade?
Perhaps it was the overwhelming number of people who complained that Quark charged too much for their 4.0 upgrade. Perhaps it was the scores of people who still found bugs in XPress even after 4.04 was released. Perhaps it was just out of the kindness of Quark's collective heart. (Or maybe it was the fact that Adobe InDesign just shipped.) Whatever the case, Quark is sending an upgrade to 4.1 free to every registered user of QuarkXPress 4, and that's good news.
While version 4.1 hasn't been released as of this writing, I was able to play with it and I'm pleased to say that it's a reasonable step forward. Quark fixed the most heinous problems-like the fact that XPress 4.0x assumed that any embedded path in a TIFF file was meant to be a clipping path, and that XPress 4.04 wouldn't let you override the trap settings for text that already had multiple trap values. Quark also gave the scripting dictionary a significant boost, fixing bugs and giving new life to many older 3.x scripts (though you still cannot script many of version 4's best features, such as lists and indexes).
New (and used) XTensions
However, the primary benefit of QuarkXPress 4.1 is the set of XTensions that it ships with. For some years now, Quark has released most new features as XTensions before they take the radical step of building them directly into the program. This means that you can add the features you want and leave out the ones you don't use. Let's take a look at each new XTension and how likely it is that you'll want to embrace it.
Note that some of these XTensions are currently available for version 4.04, too, by downloading them from the Quark site.
XTensions Available at the Quark Site (but also included with XPress 4.1)
- PDF Filter 1.3. The world is going PDF-wild! Quark has announced that QuarkXPress 5 will probably not need the distiller to create PDF files. In the meantime, however, anyone creating PDF files from XPress should be using the PDF Filter, which not only speeds up the process of creating PDFs, but also offers automatic hyperlinks for lists and indexes. The filter also lets you import PDF files into picture boxes; however, you cannot edit imported PDF files, and color PDFs might not always separate perfectly. For even more PDF export control, check out Techno-Design's Design XT.
- Quark HTML Text Export. When it ships, QuarkXPress 5 is also supposed to export whole pages as HTML; this XTension cannot do that. Rather, it lets you export text from a single story (no graphics, and only minimal formatting). While this is a step forward, it's really only for people who want to get content easily into another Web design program, such as Dreamweaver or GoLive. If you need a more robust HTML Export tool, take a look at Extensis' BeyondPress, Gluon's WebXPress, or HexMac's HexWeb.
- Composite RGB. If you have an RGB printing device (or one of the inexpensive color inkjet printers that pretend to be RGB devices), you have probably been disappointed in XPress 4's color output. The problem: XPress 4.0x always converts colors to CMYK. Now, in QuarkXPress 4.1, you have the option (in the Print dialog box) of sending raw RGB data, resulting in more eye-popping color. Unfortunately, this only appears to work when printing PostScript. Therefore, CMYK color is still sent to those cheap color inkjet printers that everyone seems to have these days. Oh well, perhaps they'll finally get it right in QuarkXPress 5. (Note that this feature replaces the PrintRGB XTension--which only works with XPress 4.0x. Besides, the XTension only affected TIFF images, whereas this new built-in feature works for all color in the document, except EPS files.)
- MS Word 6-8. Quark keeps improving their MS Word filters. This is simply the latest one in a long line.
- Enhance Preview XT-SE. Quark has never bundled a third-party XTension with the core product before, but KGA's Enhance Preview XT is no ordinary XTension. Even though this "SE" (special edition) product is only a "lite" version of KGA's commercial product, it can provide a significant improvement over XPress's low-res TIFF screen previews and is practically essential if you're trying to edit clipping paths in XPress.
XTensions Only Available with the 4.1 Upgrade
- QuarkLink. Probably the coolest new feature in QuarkXPress 4.1, QuarkLink puts a user interface on Quark, Inc. The idea is not new, but QuarkLink takes another step toward a renewed relationship between user and software company. Want to send e-mail to tech support? Just select E-mail Quark Tech Support from the QuarkLink menu. You don't even have to have an e-mail program on your machine. Want to look up a topic in Quark's online knowledge base? You're a menu item away from it (you do need a Web browser for this to work). QuarkLink feature set is still sparse, but if Quark gets good feedback, then later versions might be even cooler.
- Scissors. XPress 4 has some impressive Bezier path tools, but it missed an important one: a Scissors tool for breaking a path at a specific point. Fortunately, one of Quark's engineers realized this and quickly whipped up the ScissorsXT. If you use the bezier path tools, you'll certainly want to have this in your Tool palette.
- Custom Bleeds. The Custom Bleeds XTension lets you specify a different bleed amount for each side of a page (both when printing and when saving an EPS file). I don't know who needs this or why, but I'm sure someone must have asked for it. More importantly, it lets you change XPress's bleed function back to the way it used to work in version 3.x.
- Quark HTML Text Import. While most people are trying to get HTML out of XPress, every now and again it's really helpful to get some text from a Web page into QuarkXPress. No problem with the HTML Text Import XTension, which not only imports the text, but colors and some paragraph styles, too! It's not perfect--it ignores inline graphics, tables, and anything else that is even slightly complicated--but when you need basic input, it's a gem!
- Super Step and Repeat. Computers are supposed to automate mundane tasks, right? Well, Super Step and Repeat excels at just that... however, the tasks that it automates just don't come up very often. You can, for instance, create 5 duplicates of an object, each one being slightly smaller, more rotated, more skewed, and more tinted. On the other hand, it's great to be able to duplicate objects relative to a particular point on the object (similar to the Proxy feature in PageMaker and InDesign).
- Guide Manager. People (inlcuding me) have yelled at Quark for years to make adding, removing, and manipulating guides easier. Their response: Guide Manager XT, which now wins the award for the most cumbersome, confusing, and convoluted modal dialog box in any major publishing product. (The previous award-winner was the Space/Align dialog box, but this has it beat by a mile.) Yes, this XTension lets you place, remove and lock guides. Yes, it lets you build grids of guides. But I would only use it if I couldn't create the same effect any other way (and couldn't afford one of the XTensions that lets you do these things elegantly).
- DejaVu. Here, at last, is a simple productivity-enhancing tool. DejaVu remembers the last few documents that you opened, and places them in the Open submenu (or, if you want, the File menu). Even better, it can remember default folders for the Open, Save As, Get Text, and Get Picture dialog boxes. If you have many different clients, this isn't very helpful, but if all your images are in a particular folder on a network server, or every document you open comes from the same folder, then DejaVu will save you a lot of time in navigating around your hard drive or network.
While there's nothing in QuarkXPress 4.1 that is essential to have, there's enough for everyone that it's worth upgrading. Afterall, it's free, and files created in XPress 4.1 can be opened without any trouble in version 4.0. QuarkXPress 4.1 isn't meant to be a big step forward, but the little enhancements (like if you just open a document, print it, and close the document, XPress no longer asks you if you want to save the file) are worth having.