Creative Analysis: "This Just In: QuarkXPress 5 Is Now Shipping"
No sooner had I finished writing my commentary for this week's creativeprose newsletter about Adobe InDesign 2.0 shipping than I got an email saying: "Call me." It was my contact at Quark. I fully expected him to chide me for some smart-aleck thing I'd said about QuarkXPress, such as the headline I'd written for a special newsletter mailed from Seybold Seminars that said, "This Just In: QuarkXPress 5 Still Not Shipping!"
I wasn't prepared for what he told me: "It's out tomorrow." In this week's newsletter I had said that QuarkXPress 5 was "right around the corner." I had no idea how right I was.
Indeed, I could finally write, "This Just In: QuarkXPress 5 Is Now Shipping."
For creative professionals, this is huge. Why? Let me count the ways:
- Pent-up demand. QuarkXPress 5 has been gestating for years -- QuarkXPress 4 shipped in 1998 and version 5 was initially promised in 1999. After some slip-ups with buggy releases in earlier versions, Quark is now notorious for not shipping products before the company thinks they are ready. It's been a long wait. Still the timing of this release is a little suspicious, given that InDesign 2.0 shipped just two days earlier.
- Changed company. When co-founder and XPress mastermind Tim Gill left Quark more than a year ago, skeptics wondered how the product would fare without his steadying hand and technological savvy. We may not know the final answer until the product reviews are in and the upgrade requests tallied, but apparently the product is getting along without him. It didn't curl up and die, as some naysayers predicted. Some acknowledgment for this has to go to others inside the company.
- New competition. The last few releases of QuarkXPress were launched into a marketplace void of real competition. That's no longer the case. With the release of InDesign 2.0, QuarkXPress is facing a viable challenger. And it's not just a technological challenge either. Issues of pricing, customer service, and responsiveness play a role, too. Not to go all movie-trailer-voiceover on you, but this is now a battle for the hearts and minds of creative professionals. I truly believe that.
- Altered landscape. A lot has happened in the intervening years since the plans for version 5 were first drawn up. In 1999, the battle cry was, "We want Web integration." Today, in the aftermath of extraordinary social and financial upheavals, we want solid, reliable tools that fit in with our current workflows and that maximize our investment dollars. The question will be whether or not Quark has struck the right balance of print-production improvements demanded today with the Web-wise features needed for the future. Still, the slow-down in Web development gives users even less reason to chase after alternate solutions.
- Quark rules. Right now, QuarkXPress is still the king of the page-layout hill. At the school where I teach, I help place graphic design students in internships. When I ask design studios about the skills required by my students to work there, the response is always: QuarkXPress, Illustrator, and Photoshop. Students learn Quark, their future employers use Quark, to get employed you learn Quark. End of story.
I'm not going to comment on specific product features until I have the shipping copy of QuarkXPress 5 in my hot little hands. Although a public beta has been available for download since last September, features have been known to change up until the code is released to manufacturing. Similarly, I'm not going to draw conclusions about InDesign 2.0 -- or its comparisons to XPress -- until it lands on my stoop either
But I must say that the timing of Quark's release amuses me. Well, let me go back a step and say that first of all I was surprised Adobe shipped InDesign this week with so little fanfare. I expect highly anticipated products to be released at public events with maximum exposure. I had heard rumors that InDesign was supposed to ship at Macworld Expo (because it's a Mac OS X-native application); I thought Adobe might even wait until Seybold Seminars in February, which is held this year in the media capital of the world, New York City, and the backyard of its rival's most influential clients. Shipping on January 21 seemed odd to me.
Then to have QuarkXPress ship only 48 hours later? Now if there was ever a product that demanded fanfare, it's this one. We were so used to waiting that the news that it's shipping almost seems like a prank. Don't even humor me that it's a coincidence, either. I think Adobe and Quark have been playing a high-stakes poker match. Maybe Adobe caught a glimpse of Quark's hand and laid down its cards quicker. I don't know, I'm only conjecturing. But the third week in January doesn't seem very auspicious to me.
All this jostling for position brings me to my last point about the importance of shipping QuarkXPress 5: It revitalizes and reenergizes the market. Adobe dominates the graphics market -- and rightly so as they develop excellent, well-engineered products. Macromedia has conquered the Web. Having Quark back in the mix livens things up.
It gives us something to think about and wrestle with and debate over. It's going to be epic.
Read more by Pamela Pfiffner.