Quark XPress 5.0 beta

If PageMaker started the DTP (desktop publishing) revolution back in the 1980s, it was Quark XPress that turned it mainstream for professionals. Quark has never been a company to churn out regular product upgrades just for the sake of it: the last major release came out five years ago. So when the company announced that its long-awaited upgrade would appear before the end of this year, everyone sat up and took notice. (The Australian availability date has not yet been released.) We tested the public beta of Quark XPress 5.0, International Passport edition.

The big news is that Quark XPress 5.0 presents two working modes: print and Web. Designing pages in print mode is much the same as before, but the Web mode is completely new. There's also a new Web toolbar, which provides image map markup tools, along with a set of Internet form creation tools for lists, radio buttons, checkboxes, text fields and so on.

These Web pages can be sent to your preferred Web browsers for an instant preview and, when you export the final job to HTML, XPress can also optionally convert the graphics to GIF, JPEG or PNG. It's hardly a full Web design package, especially since it lacks any support for integrating Flash, Java and streaming media, but it's one that existing XPress users will find easy.

As predicted, XPress 5.0 comes with XML (extensible markup language) tools for next-generation electronic publishing. Don't get overexcited, though, because these just turn out to be a bundled copy of Quark's existing commercial XML plug-in, currently sold as Avenue.quark. Also be warned that it's not a solution for the faint-hearted: be prepared for a lot of coding.

The other big news is that XPress now comes with a table tool. At last, you can draw a box and turn it into a tabular layout within the program, adjusting columns and rows spreadsheet-style by dragging on the cell borders. Our only concern is that the tables were rather glitchy in the beta software we tested, and it wasn't clear how to disable rule markings between cells without leaving white gaps.

Beyond the new Web mode and tables, most of the enhancements in XPress are small improvements - for example, the indexing and list functions are more flexible. You can apply stylesheet changes at any point and accommodate 'reversed' index phrases (so that people's names can be listed in the index by surname before first name). Some long-awaited features have made a belated appearance, too, such as the Layers palette and a 'Fit Box to Picture' command.

Judging from this beta, some XPress users are going to be disappointed with the features that have not been upgraded. The confusing multi-window Print dialogue boxes are still there, no new vector tools have been added and the ancient two-colour gradient blends haven't been touched.

The PDF Export filter now lets you prepare bookmarks and hyperlinks, but you still need your own copy of Acrobat Distiller to use it. In other words, while existing XPress users should upgrade as soon as their output bureaus give the nod, don't expect to be showered with new features. That said, the integrated table tool alone is going to be worth the expense for many people.

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Alistair Dabbs

PC World
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