Once Upon A Time, Like When I Was Getting Into All This
In 1991 Quark was King Bee, the True Faith. Quark was also Old Testament: inscrutable, implacable, and inflexible. The Holy Writ that came with it in The Big Box was unreadable. I had better luck deciphering North Korean Presidium documents back in 1975.
It was the only game in town. Over the years I looked long and hard into Quark’s Dark Heart, and kept hearing Ella Fitzgerald singing “Ev’rything I’ve Got”:
Something beats in his chest,
But it’s just a pump at best.
It would tank. Fonts would corrupt. The monitor would flash the dreaded “#39: Unexpected End of File Encountered”. There went your afternoon.
Saving frequently was essential and habitual. And I got very good at reconstructing lost documents, always under deadline.
Asking arcane questions on various QuarkLists involved a lot of dial-up if you were away from the office. The answers might as well have been recorded on a quipu somewhere. These Lists’ main traffic was “uh… how do I do extra leading on the end of a paragraph?” or colorful in-group flames by a select Kool Kids Klub. So in the end I learned Quark from old-school typographers and endless self-tutoring.
Trying to get answers out of Quark Support was futile. If you worshiped remote gods, or had grown up with an absent parent; this was for you. The other part of that dialectic was that people still had the notion that the Mac was the center of a warm, fuzzy community, and you could just hang out and ask questions. No, Quark made it clear that it was all commerce, all the time. No group hugs from them, only a reach-around.
After a while, enough people got tired of all that. They’d had also gotten past the notion that software companies were Your Friend.
Gathering Evolutionary Developments
Adobe had built its everlasting fortune on the Acrobat PDF platform. PDFs had become integral in government, corporate, and other bureaucratic structures. Illustrator and Photoshop were small slices of the revenue-stream. But here was a chance to crack into the page-layout game.
Sometime in 1998 or so, Adobe inhaled PageMaker, retired it, and then retooled it as InDesign 1.0. Nope—not ready for prime-time. It still had a long way to go. They went back to the drawing board and came up with ID1.5.
The training-wheels were off, and it was free-wheeling, but still wobbly. Further refinements yielded IDCS2, and that’s where it really took off.
Adobe had pulled off a similar evolutionary leap with Illustrator. AI3 was similar to AI88 with a dopey interface and limited features. Freehand held the face cards in that bout, despite its weird twin-file set-up, arcane font-handling and rendering, and other features I’ve mercifully forgotten. But Adobe retooled AI3 into AI5 where the font-handling became cleaner. Freehand’s days were now numbered.
The primary hurdle for InDesign were the service bureaus. They’d just gotten used to the peculiarities of Quark, Illustrator, and Photoshop. They were just not interested in a Freehand-like golem raising hell in their shops. And if they weren’t placated, there was no future for the program.
Adobe cleaned it up.
The Evolving Technology Platform
Without getting into a lot of ur-weenie speak, the infrastructure got larger, faster, and more surefooted.
For instance: in ’91 my IIfx was the Mac Daddy. It had (brace yourself) a 100mb hard drive! 4mb RAM! And when I up bought a 16mb RAM upgrade, it cost $600. Like heroin—it was hand-delivered in a glassine package.
In ten years the hard drives were now in Gigs, the ram was closing on on a gig, processors blew the doors off their predecessors, and the ZipDisk was the new mega-floppy. Memory and hard-drive prices had fallen through the floor.
The new machines could now handle full-resolution high-rez files, whereas in 1992 we did outputs and pasted them onto boards, still with FPO’s. It reminded me of the hybrid ironclad full-sail brigantines with side-wheel paddles.
Finally, the introduction of OS X ditched what hadn’t worked well, eliminated the “march of the inits” on start-up, and stabilized matters considerably.
Quark vs. InDesign: Real World
My job as Mr Pre-Flight at the Workbook gave me a window seat of the changing landscape. I kept track of the files as they came in and traveled through the system.
This was the file breakdown in 2004:*
- 350 Quark
- 231 Photoshop
- 221 InDesign
- 156 Illustrator
- 2 FreeHand
By 2007 the file numbers* had shifted considerably:
- 304 InDesign (v.2-IDCS3)
- 254 Photoshop (v.7-CS3)
- 134 Quark (v.4, 6 & 7)
- 132 Illustrator (AI9-AICS3)
*Does not reflect actual page counts.
Obviously InDesign CS was eating Quark’s lunch.
I used an InDesign proofing doc to flight-check and laser-proof massive files from rep groups, who’d built their pages in Photoshop or Illustrator. It was the simplest way to import multiple formats, check for crossovers, check bleed, DPI, the works.
The Giant Rubber Lizards Do Battle!
OK, this is what you’ve been waiting for. This feature review is completely unscientific, subjective, incomplete, capricious, and arbitrary.
- QXP has the benefit of better key-commands than IDCS—by virtue of being first and locking them in as intellectual property. I also attribute this to its typographer roots.
- In-line text boxes anchored to either the baseline or cap height.
- Consolidated menus, unlike the menus that blight the IDCS experience.
- Collect for output.
- Utterly inflexible column guides.
- Limited image import options: Tif, jpeg, and eps only.
- No bleed and slug presets. You could specify a wider print area beyond the doc bleed, but that was it.
- QXP5 had the crappiest PDF driver, ever. If it felt like making them. They fixed it in QXP6, sort of, but was blighted by leisurely output times.
- QXP7 pdfs are still 2x the size of ones generated thru Distiller. However, generating a PostScript file in Quark was very good. Then Adobe Distiller would take care of the rest. I lay this at the feet of the PDF driver in the Quark software.
- The lo-rez preview in Quark was unpardonable. That’s why a lot of people who should know better did ads in Illustrator.
- Standalone Xtensions that had to accompany the file to service bureaus, and be bonded to their software. As much fun as a leech.
- No pre-flight capacity. But neither did Photoshop or Illustrator, makes that a 3-way tie to the doghouse.
- No layers in versions 3-6. I haven’t looked at QXP7 recently.
- Image import options included PSDs. Of course your processor will grunt processing all those layers too. These habits will become fatal in long-form documents.
- IDCS has the proprietary Acrobat Distiller engines—big snaps up for that. Cooking off a PDF is a straight shot through the proverbial goose. Very clean, few cut-outs.
- Hi-rez preview
- Bleed and slug pre-sets
- Adjustable column guides
- The designer “menu-puller” interface. Obviously a pick-up from Photoshop and Illustrator, but these are not page layout programs. I find them fragmentary and scattered.
- Keyboard commands: Yes, you can hot-rod the menus with QXP commands, but you are again lost when you find yourself at another machine.
- Do the palettes have to be so freakin’ tiny? Advantage Quark.
- Preflight feature only checks the presence/absence of an image, not whether it is print-worthy. People, you can do better.
- The ability to copy and paste EPS files into a layer. In the hands of a lazy operator, bad news. Why? Because it won’t show up in a pre-flight scan, and if you have to modify it you get to find it, replace it, ad nauseum. Hint: make an AI file out of it, then import it.
- In-line text & picture boxes have a seemingly vague way of floating/drifting in the line they’re pasted in on. This is where Quark’s rigidity can be described as “vertebral”
- The picture boxes with the 2 aspects: the frame edge and the imported image. A hangover from AI.
That is the promised arbitrary summary of these two tools. Yes, tools—not lifestyles or religious choices.
The technological landscape has changed completely in the last twenty years. Getting answers is much easier with broadband access. You can download software and whatever else you need 24/7. Buy it this afternoon and get it tomorrow. I like where its at now much better.
I also wouldn’t count Quark out yet. They may pull their heads out of their ass and completely redefine the tool paradigm. In the meantime, learn the tool in front of you, and learn it well. And be ready to jump when the Giant Rubber Lizards Battle for Total World Domination.