QuarkXPress 6 vs. InDesign 2: Grappling for Answers
Editor's note: There is perhaps no one more knowledgeable about page-layout applications than David Blatner. Author of "Real World QuarkXPress," long considered the definitive book on QuarkXPress, Blatner has lately turned his attention to Adobe InDesign. He co-authored "Real World Adobe InDesign 2" and, most recently, "InDesign for QuarkXPress Users." He also speaks at conferences and user groups -- including seminars sponsored by Adobe -- on his assessment of the two programs. If you've been wanting to know what David Blatner thinks about QuarkXPress and InDesign, here's your answer.
The question I hear most often these days is "Which is better: QuarkXPress 6 or InDesign 2?" Of course, while everyone wants a definitive answer, any honest reviewer must respond: "It depends." It depends on who you are, what your workflow is, and what you need to accomplish in your work.
That said, I will make one (more or less) definitive statement: Comparing the two programs in a vacuum, all things being equal, it is quite clear that Adobe InDesign is the superior program. It incorporates superior technology, is written using a superior programming methodology, the features it has in common with XPress are implemented in a superior way, and while XPress has a few important features that InDesign does not, InDesign clearly has the superior feature set in toto.
However, that doesn't mean you should immediately switch to InDesign. For the more complex answer, read on.
By the way, please note that I make no pretense that this article is The Definitive Comparison of these two programs. We could discuss ad nauseam details such as the relative merits of how QuarkXPress and InDesign each handle character styles or layers, but for this particular article, my goal is simply to provide an overview and share my opinions.
One of the best reasons to use XPress has always been its ability to run efficiently on a slow, RAM-deprived computer. As much as Apple and Microsoft would love us all to have the newest, fastest machines, much of the world relies on older systems. Unfortunately, XPress's advantage expires with version 6, which requires a machine capable of running the very hefty Mac OS X or Windows 2000 or XP. (XPress 6 cannot run in Mac OS 9, though InDesign 2 works in either OS 9 or OS X.)
To be sure, many features in XPress still run faster than InDesign on any given computer -- for instance, navigating from page to page or importing MS Word documents. However, some XPress features now run significantly more slowly than InDesign, such as exporting PDF files and formatting tables. More importantly, the fact that InDesign can build drop shadows and read transparency in Photoshop images (with or without a clipping path) means that designers spend much less time in Photoshop, which results in huge time savings overall.
In general, you'll be more efficient in InDesign when creating design- and type-rich documents and more efficient in XPress when you need to knock out basic documents with a lot of pages.
Another advantage QuarkXPress has traditionally held over InDesign was its firm infrastructure: the many XTensions available, the AppleScripts people use, and the printers and service bureaus that want native XPress files. Unfortunately, no XTensions that worked with earlier versions of XPress work with version 6, and some XTension developers -- including Extensis -- appear reluctant to update their products so that they will work with the new version. While some AppleScripts from earlier versions of XPress still work, a large number will have to be edited or rewritten. And many output providers today prefer to receive PDF files rather than native XPress files.
Given that quite a few XTension developers are now also creating InDesign plug-ins, InDesign is more scriptable than XPress, and it's much faster to export PDF from InDesign, XPress's infrastructure advantage also seems to be fading.
What's Missing from InDesign
Of course, InDesign 2 still does not have some features that XPress 6 does. Here's a quick list of features XPress 6 users take for granted, but which are missing in Adobe InDesign:
- Multi-ink colors (color swatches that combine spot colors);
- Automatically add pages when typing or editing text;
- Drag-and-drop text;
- Custom kerning pairs;
- Text wrap for objects on master pages;
- Auto Save and Auto Backup;
- Save H&J styles (InDesign can include hyphenation and justification specs in a paragraph style, but there's no way to create an H&J style that can be used in multiple paragraph styles);
- Layout spaces (multiple documents in a single file; new in XPress 6);
- Ability to undo mulitple steps at one time (XPress 6 has an Undo and Redo popup menu so you can undo a bunch of stuff all at once rather than one step at a time);
- Custom Lines and Stripes (InDesign has basic dashes, but nothing as clever as the Lines and Stripes feature in XPress; plus, InDesign doesn't let you specify a Gap color in lines);
- Web features (InDesign can export HTML, but it's nowhere near as robust as the rollovers, cascading menus, and export HTML features in XPress 6).
What's Missing from XPress
Even with the holes listed above, InDesign is still the more feature-rich program. Here are a few of the life-changing features that give InDesign the advantage over XPress:
- Drop shadows, feathering, and opacity (transparency) of both native and imported objects;
- Import native .psd and .ai files, with full alpha-channel transparency (which means clipping paths are often unnecessary);
- Imports MS Excel files and MS Word tables as real tables;
- Crash protection (restores documents that were open when you crashed, even those that have not yet been saved);
- Support for special OpenType characters and features (automatic fractions, swashes, and so on);
- Ability to preview overprinting colors on screen and on composite color printers;
- Display PostScript functionality, so type doesn't get chopped and you can trust what you see on screen (and even on non-PostScript printers);
- Multiple windows of same document;
- Base one master page on another (hierarchical masters);
- Built-in preflighting before printing;
- Page sizes up to 18-feet square (XPress' limit is four feet);
- Scale tool and Scale dialog box (which works for both individual objects or groups of objects);
- Scriptable on Windows and Macintosh (XPress is only AppleScriptable);
- Font-styling integrity (won't allow Bold or Italic styles if the true font doesn't exist);
- Guides are objects (select multiple guides, place guides with numerical precision, change color of guides, copy and paste guides, guides in libraries, guides on layers, and so on);
- Comes with dictionaries for 12 languages, and because it uses Unicode, can even open files created with the Japanese or Middle-Eastern versions of InDesign;
- Paragraph composer, hanging punctuation, and optical kerning provide quality typesetting with much less work.
QuarkXPress 6 for the Macintosh has also lost a few advantages that Mac OS 9 provided. For example, InDesign has an "Edit Original" feature that opens an image or text file in the original program (Photoshop, Illustrator, Word, or whatever) and lets you edit it. XPress had a similar feature based on the Publish and Subscribe feature in OS 9. However, because that feature is no longer in OS X, XPress no longer has this ability.
Similarly, you can't choose a printer (if you have more than one device) from QuarkXPress's Print dialog box anymore, while you could in earlier operating systems. Instead, you have to open the printer driver's dialog box and do it there. In contrast, InDesign gives you almost all the control you need from its own Print dialog box, including changing printers, writing PostScript to disk, and so on.
How Good is XPress 6?
Quark knows many people will upgrade to version 6 simply because it is OS X-native, but that isn't much of a draw for Windows users or other users who are satisfied with using OS 9 or Classic mode. To sweeten the upgrade, Quark has added several cool features, including both features than InDesign already has (like multiple undos, export PDF, and full-resolution preview) and features InDesign does not (like multiple layout spaces, synchronize text, and additional features for building Web pages).
I certainly applaud Quark's decision finally to add basic layout features like Paste in Place (the ability to paste an object in the same place on a page as from where the object was copied or cut) and DeviceN printing (for printing to composite color workflows). Unfortunately, XPress 6's bigger-ticket features aren't particularly robust and will likely leave many users wondering what Quark was thinking and whether Quark will be able to salvage the product in XPress 7 (whenever that might be released).
For example, beside the fact that there's still no transparency features and the typography controls haven't changed significantly in 13 years, XPress 6's multiple undo feature still can't undo important features in the program (like moving guides or changes you've made on a master page). Similarly, while multiple layout spaces can share style sheets and colors, there's no way to share master pages or layers. You can't even drag and drop objects between layout spaces or use Find/Change to make replacements on more than one layout space at the same time.
While InDesign doesn't have layout spaces, you can Find/Change across two or more open documents, and I'm hard pressed to find something that isn't undoable.
At a time when Quark most needs to embrace its skittish customer base, the upgrade is somewhat expensive ($299 if you currently have XPress 4), the new version is now more than $1,000 list (even though it still doesn't ship with printed manuals), you don't get all the features unless you register your product, and you have to activate the software (like registering, but without any personal data) via the Internet or telephone or else the product turns into a demo version. Activation is an effective anti-piracy technique, but it also means less flexibility for customers who may want to install XPress on both a laptop and a desktop machine, even though they'd only use one version at a time.
At $699 list, a standalone, fully-featured copy of InDesign is not only several hundred dollars less than XPress, but for $150 over the cost of XPress 6, you can get a new version of InDesign, plus Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat 6 Professional (the $1,199 Adobe Design Collection). Overseas, the difference in costs is even more striking (outside of the U.S., the upgrade for QuarkXPress alone is about $800).
By the way, when you run into the printers and service bureaus who shuffle their feet and complain about how InDesign prints (and you will find these people), remember that they suffer from at least one of these three maladies: They used InDesign 1.0 or 1.5 (these versions sucked at printing; version 2.x is not only better than earlier versions, it is in many ways better than XPress); they have old, outdated, or buggy PostScript RIPs; or they don't like change. There's no doubt that you can create a file in InDesign that causes problems at print time, especially if you push the transparency features to extreme limits. But of course XPress can cause RIP problems, too. With a modicum of education and restraint, it's likely that you'll have few if any problems.
Adding, Not Switching
Ultimately, I expect (and even encourage) everyone who has one or more copies of QuarkXPress to get version 6. There are just too many legacy XPress files out there to ignore, and it will be important to have at least one native OS X or Windows XP version of XPress on your machine or in your workgroup. Plus, some people will find its new features helpful, especially those who need to build Web pages but don't want to learn Dreamweaver or GoLive.
However, I think you'd be crazy (or just neurotically entrenched) not to try out InDesign and see if it boosts your productivity or enjoyment as you work. (Never underestimate the power of enjoying yourself while you work!) I've been a QuarkXPress user since 1987, and nothing would make me happier than if Quark released a truly awesome version of XPress that leapfrogged InDesign. But I'm not holding my breath anymore.
Read more by David Blatner.
This article copyright ©2003 creativepro.com and David Blatner, moo.com