Mac OS X and Quark: Trouble for DTP?

By Andreas Pfeiffer  |  Posted 2002-10-09

Mac OS X and Quark: Trouble for DTP?

The publishing industry built atop Mac technology is bound for flux, as Apple Computer Inc., of Cupertino, Calif., and page-layout market leader Quark Inc., of Denver, both prepare to pull the plug on the classic Mac OS and focus exclusively on Mac OS X.

While Apples September announcement that as of January, new Macs will only boot into Mac OS X garnered much attention from the Mac community, Quarks simultaneous bombshell went almost unnoticed: During a session at Seybold Seminars in San Francisco, James Therrien, manager of professional services at Quark, acknowledged that the next major version of QuarkXPress will run only on Mac OS X and Windows—not Mac OS 9.

These twin moves will alter two decades worth of publishing tradition—and investment. Starting in the mid-80s, Apples, Adobe Systems and Quarks offerings have shaped the standards of professional publishing: The Macintosh platform remains the global computing environment of choice for the industry, and QuarkXPress has dominated print publishing for more than 15 years.

Now, that venerable status quo is headed for a shake-up. Apple has been working hard to make Mac OS X into a viable, industrial-strength operating system and to convince key third-party developers to turn their attention away from earlier versions of the Mac OS.

Developer support for Mac OS X has been impressive: By now, practically all major application packages are available in a Mac OS X-native version.

But there remains one notable exception in Apples core publishing market: QuarkXPress. While top vendors such as Adobe Systems have brought their software in line with Mac OS Xs Carbon APIs (including InDesign, Adobes competing DTP package), Quark earlier this year released XPress 5.0 for Mac OS 9 only.

Although the move raised a few eyebrows among professional publishers, it fit with the industrys generally conservative approach to platform migration.

The end of dual booting on new Macs will force users and developers—Quark foremost among them—to pick up the pace considerably. Quark has stated repeatedly that it is hard at work on the next version of XPress, and insiders report that Apple is lending Quark development resources to speed things up.

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Now Quark has announced the end of the line for XPress on Mac OS 9; not only will the new version run on Mac OS X only, Quarks Therrien said, it will comprise a different code base from XPress 5.0—not simply an upgrade optimized for Apples Carbon APIs. (Adobe InDesign 2.0, which was released in early 2002, runs in both MacOS 9 and X.)

That break with the past will have a profound effect on IT managers in the publishing industry. Few doubt that the future of the Macintosh lies with Apples Unix-based OS; if anything, Mac OS X has increased Apples standing with IT professionals.

But for professionals in charge of mission-critical production environments, timing is essential, and many of these managers are concerned about the prospect of switching operating systems at the same time they are upgrading a major piece of application software.

This timing issue is growing more critical for the publishing industry. While some sources have predicted the new XPress will be shown at Januarys Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Quark has not committed to a date, and few professionals expect it to ship before the second quarter of 2003 at the earliest (and probably quite a bit later outside of the United States.)

So what happens between the time that new Macs stop booting Mac OS 9 and Quark starts shipping XPress for Mac OS X? In the meantime, users can go on with their current equipment and keep their fingers crossed. But what will they do if they suddenly have to replace a machine in a production environment, and new hardware runs only Mac OS X? Mac OS X includes the Classic environment for older software, but running XPress 4.1 in Classic mode would be a slow, error-prone experience.

Professional users want to get rid of one problem before tackling the next: move to MacOS X with the tools they know, or upgrade their tools without having to think about the operating system.

It may be hard for Quark to accept, but what the market would really like today is not XPress 5.5 or 6.0 (or whatever the Mac OS X-savvy release will be called). Instead, current XPress users would generally prefer a free (or at least cheap), Mac OS X-native version of XPress 4.

After all, XPress 5 sales have fallen far short of Quarks expectations, as most professional publishers opt to stick with the five-year-old Version 4—or jump the gun and move up to Adobe InDesign, which with Version 2.0 has edged ahead of Quark in terms of functionality. And this is beginning to translate into market share, as an increasing amount of design studios, advertising agencies or magazine publishers are embracing Adobes offering.

Andreas Pfeiffer is founder of The Pfeiffer Report on Emerging Trends and Technologies.

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