On QuarkXPress

A couple of weeks ago, Dave Girard wrote up a piece over on Ars Technica about QuarkXPress, the page layout software. He opens the article with this:

As the big dog of desktop publishing in the ’80s and ’90s, QuarkXPress was synonymous with professional publishing. In fact, it was publishing. But its hurried and steady decline is one of the greatest business failures in modern tech.

Quark’s demise is truly the stuff of legend. In fact, the story reads like the fall of any empire: failed battles, growing discontent among the overtaxed masses, hungry and energized foes, hubris, greed, and… uh, CMYK PDFs. What did QuarkXPress do—or fail to do—that saw its complete dominance of desktop publishing wither in less than a decade? In short, it didn’t listen.

While desktop publishing started before I was born, I’m not a stranger to the fact that designers in this area quickly migrated to the Mac, and ended up being one of the platform’s few strongholds during the 1990s.

I was introduced to the Mac in 2002:

My first job was within the advertising department, working as the ad designer. Before I knew it, I was working with Photoshop 6, QuarkXPress 4 and Mac OS 9 running on a PowerMac G3 All-in-One.

For three years in high school, I designed tabloid-size pages for our student newspaper in Quark. I quickly learned the application’s extensive collection of keyboard commands, and could all sorts of tasks without having to touch the mouse.

One day, our editor was working on a page and suddenly exclaimed that a robot came on the screen and deleted the text box she was adjusting. I didn’t believe her, but years later, I would learn that she was right.

I applied to my college newspaper and was hired as an in-coming freshman to layout the sports section each night. I quickly took over all of the layout, designing roughly 2,500 pages over the course of nearly four years. Each of these pages was done in Quark, on a Quicksilver G4.

Even before I graduated high school in 2004, it was clear to me Quark was behind the times. While we ran Quark 4.1 on beige Macs my sophomore year, even when we graduated to iMac G3s (and eventually one iMac G4!) and Quark 5, we had to run it in Classic Mode.

The college paper was no different. While we would eventually update to the OS X-ready QuarkXPress 6, Adobe’s InDesign was already being taught in the design classes at my university.

Shortly after I left the newspaper, they migrated production to InDesign, leaving Quark behind forever.

As many developers do when faced with the fact that their app is dying, Quark, Inc has thrown lots of features at QuarkXPress, trying to win people back. According to Wikipedia, QuarkXPress 9 — released in 2011 — added these features to the desktop publishing application:

  • QuarkXPress 9.0.1 (2011) — Bug fix release
  • QuarkXPress 9.1 (2011) — Addition of “App Studio”, which allows to export multimedia apps for iPad out of QuarkXPress. First version to officially support Mac OS X Lion
  • QuarkXPress 9.2 (2012) — Export to ePUB 3.0, plus ability to create ePUB files from scratch. Improvements to App Studio, including iOS5 support.
  • QuarkXPress 9.2.1 (2012) (Mac OS X only) — Fix “missing icons” bug caused by Lion 10.7.3
  • QuarkXPress (2012) — Added support for exporting to the Retina iPad
  • QuarkXPress 9.3 (2012) — Export eBooks directly to Amazon Kindle format, plus other minor fixes including EPS and PDF color management.
  • QuarkXPress 9.3.1 (2012) — Compatibility with the OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) Gatekeeper feature.
  • QuarkXPress (2012) — Fixes a spellchecker crash.
  • QuarkXPress 9.5 (2012) — Allows the creation of 100% HTML5-based content on native apps and platforms such as Android.
  • QuarkXPress 9.5.1 (2013) — Adds page stacks, bugfixes
  • QuarkXPress (2013) — Bugfixes
  • QuarkXPress 9.5.2 (2013) — Download manager, bugfixes
  • QuarkXPress 9.5.3 (2013) — Fixes known issues with PDF export
  • QuarkXPress 9.5.4 (2013) — Support for OS X Mavericks

As you might imagine, it hasn’t worked. The application that once enjoyed upwards of 90% marketshare is now relegated to the sidelines. Looking back, the app’s demise was long and slow, giving the company lots of time to change course. That said, with Adobe controlling InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop is a simple and powerful strength that was clearly too much to overcome combined with QuarkXPress’ stagnancy.

When the day finally comes, I will miss QuarkXPress. I spent time with it almost every day for seven years, and while I haven’t opened it in ages, I like to know that I still can.