When QuarkXPress ruled desktop publishing, it could afford to make users wait...and wait...for each new version to come out. But in the long interim between versions 5.0 and 6.0, Adobe's InDesign had plenty of time to convert QuarkXPress users. Despite the new threat, Quark XPress 6.0 adds only a few new features--some useful, others long overdue. We didn't see the stability issues that many have reported, but we did have some trouble opening legacy XPress files. Its new support for Mac OS X will be crucial to many who've held off updating their OS just for this. Unless you or your business is tied to Quark, however, InDesign's progressive features and integration with Photoshop, Illustrator, and InCopy could be worth checking out.
Installing QuarkXPress 6.0 takes a while, as the program places thousands of small files onto your hard drive. Unfortunately, this version doesn't install Quark's traditional sample layouts, which were great for demonstrating the application's capabilities.
Though QuarkXPress 6.0 no longer requires the hardware dongle that longtime users will remember, you'll still be asked to jump through some registration hoops. Unlike Adobe InDesign, QuarkXPress 6.0 ties itself to one specific machine; you can't even install it on a desktop and your laptop for working on the road. In addition, the North American version works only on English-language machines; international customers must purchase the Passport version, which is hideously expensive, ranging in price from U.S. $1,500 to $2,000.
An Aqua flavor and extra palettes, but otherwise longtime users will recognize most of the XPress interface right off. Note the layout tabs at the bottom.
Once XPress 6.0 is running, longtime users might be asking what the fuss is all about. The interface is strikingly familiar, with floating palettes (new to those who haven't upgraded since version 3.0). The palettes still don't dock; otherwise, the regular tools and menu items are where you expect them to be, with the few new tools fitting in as if they had always been there.
If you're one of the many who skipped version 5.0 because it lacked OS X support, you'll find plenty of new tools to get used to--most of which showed up then and are simply reprised in version 6.0. Version 5.0 introduced rudimentary Web tools with XML support, table editing, layers, context-sensitive pop-up menus, and a few other tweaks.
The most significant introduction is layout spaces. When you choose File > New, you'll have the option to open a new project rather than a document. There, you can work on related layouts for the main project, such as business cards or Web pages, and access pieces of the project via tabs at the bottom of XPress's main window; you can also link text across layouts. This is a more efficient way to organize related documents, but the tool has shortcomings. For example, you can only flip between layouts instead of comparing them side by side, and document preferences aren't automatically applied projectwide.
Table building is basic, reminiscent of 1.0 versions of visual HTML editors.
XPress 6.0 improves layers and table capabilities. You have more printing options, and you can lock a layer independent of the locked/unlocked status of items on that layer--though it would be nice to be able to share layers across different layout spaces.
Version 6.0 adds some long-awaited features such as multiple undo. You can get full-resolution preview capabilities in XPress 6.0, but it entails downloading a free XTension (Quark's name for XPress plug-ins) after you've registered. Similarly, you can get the Edit Original 6.0 XTension, which restores the ability to edit in place. We think these XTensions should be built in.
Quark still lacks some useful features. When building tables, you still can't import from Microsoft Word and Excel, and you can't set tables over multiple pages; InDesign beats the pants off of XPress 6.0 in both areas. And XPress's PDF handling still lacks security features and supports only version 1.3. Worse, XPress 6.0 still doesn't let you apply drop shadows or transparencies.
Service and support is the area where Quark XPress 6.0 really hits the skids. A printed manual is available only for a $50 fee; the program's help features are no replacement. Even if Quark's well-reported outsourcing of services to India doesn't worry you, the terms of service should. With the purchase of XPress 6.0, you get one free call or e-mail to tech support--for the life of the product. After that, it'll cost you $15 per incident, or you can buy service policies ranging from $95 for 90 days to $229 per year. Even if you're an expert who never needs to make a call to support, this policy is unacceptable for a professional app. Online resources such as FAQs and forums are not up-to-date, either. By comparison, Adobe offers 30 to 90 days of complimentary tech support for upgrades and new purchases (though it does also sell costly support plans for after that period expires).