How QuarkXPress became a mere afterthought in publishing
January 18, 2014 11:51 AM   Subscribe

In the early '90s, Quark boasted 95% market share. In '99, InDesign arrived... (SLAT)
posted by monospace (85 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good article and sums up my experiences learning and working in that realm through the early 2000's to 2008 (when I got laid off). Only thing I want to add is that I don't think a one sentence summary of the support for OpenType really conveys how big that was, at the time. Spring of 2001 my final project was done in Quark. When I returned to college in the fall of 2002, every lab had uninstalled Quark and installed InDesign.

There were no complaints from a single one of the students (professors were a different story: "Waaaahh... Quark is the industry standard for print. These kids won't be able to get any jobs." Well, they were half right. There were no print industry when we left, so... yeah.) Spring of 2002, when I put together a newsletter for an international college convention, a girl from the AUBG hit the roof that I had the nerve to have everyone using InDesign. Convention started on Monday, on Wednesday she asked for a rip of the install disc.

I remember it was around 2007, I think, when I saw that Quark was offering their latest release free for 6 months, or something. I saw that and laughed. They couldn't even give away the shit at that point.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 12:06 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]


And InDesign natively supported Unicode. No more dongles, no more separate versions of Quark for Japanese, Chinese, etc.

Trust me, being able to have native, editable text for multiple languages at the same time was a game-changer at the translation company I worked at.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:07 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Ah, geez. Totally forgot about that.

Was it really over a decade ago...?
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 12:10 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


One minor detail he didn’t mention was how nice it was to have the same keyboard shortcuts as in Photoshop and Illustrator.

I sure hope today’s Adobe is listening to all the negative feedback about this subscription-only bullshit, because I don’t know that anyone else is in a position now to step up and eat their lunch the way they did Quark’s.
posted by El Mariachi at 12:12 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Well, I grew up on Pagemaker, then Quark, then InDesign. Does that make me a desktop publishing dinosaur?
posted by greenhornet at 12:15 PM on January 18 [13 favorites]


Oh man, I remember when Quark was a massive step up from the nightmare that was Adobe PageMaker.
posted by taterpie at 12:15 PM on January 18 [16 favorites]


A similar thing happened to Internet Explorer. IE6 had 95% market share, so MS acted like there was no competition and didn't upgrade it until it was too late.
posted by bhnyc at 12:18 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


The university where I taught in 2002 changed to InDesign because we had a lab that needed something like 22 licenses. Quark sold licenses to schools only in groups of 20 (my numbers may be a bit off), so we would have had to buy 40 licenses for a 22-Mac lab. Adobe, on the other hand, was flexible about the licensing packages, and yes, no more stupid dongles.

However, at my current school, we are faced, as the author points out at the end of the article, with the Creative Cloud conundrum. To update our lab, we'll have to pay and pay and pay, and we are a state school. Can't afford it. I've found myself surfing over to the Quark site to see what their current licensing policy is. Heck, yes, I'll switch again.
posted by merrill at 12:19 PM on January 18


Interesting article and I love the depth of detail the author goes into about the details of ligatures, Opentype, etc. However I didn't see a major focus on one of the top reasons Quark failed: licensing policy.

In 2005 I was in charge of creating a 4 month long certificate program in Graphic Design. My original curriculum featured InDesign instead of Quark but against my objections the administration wanted both taught. They argued that it would improve graduates chances of landing a job upon graduation. I had been using the program off and on since 1996 and had completely converted to InDesign after it had matured a bit.

One of the primary reasons for my abandonment was the "Quark License Server": a hell unlike any the universe had seen before. It was a Java based application designed to prevent piracy and ensure proper licensing over a network, the ability to get the program up and running was a miracle itself. When the QLA server went down, Quark wouldn't launch on any machines. If you happened to be running Quark and the server went down, you might be fine until the program crashed and on restart you were f'ed again.

I have never hated an inanimate object as much as that program. It was evil incarnate. I might have 20 students all trying to use Quark at one time and there were *always* problems. Each one of those students developed a pure hatred of the program as well and guess who stopped becoming future customers?

Over the years, I have run into former employees of Quark who mentioned that the original owner was obsessed with security and anti-piracy issues and that new features were delayed and multiple deadlines for shipping new releases were partially due to this insistence on shipping a "secure" product.
posted by jeremias at 12:26 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]


I worked in the IT department of a craft book publishing company during this period, and it was amazing how quickly the designers flocked to Adobe. I think one or two people kept Quark on their machine as well, Just In Case; but it was pretty much as the post's title pegs it, a "mere afterthought".
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:27 PM on January 18


Quirkxpress was a helluva upgrade from Aldus Pagebreaker. But yeah, it skated by on its good looks for too long, leaving the door open for Undesign.

I always liked Ragemaker, it had a productive interface for the most part. But supposedly it's code was shit, to the point that once Adobe bought the program, they just started over from scratch to make Indesign (codenamed K2)
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:27 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Aldus Pagemaker forever!
posted by cjorgensen at 12:28 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


how nice it was to have the same keyboard shortcuts as in Photoshop and Illustrator

OH GOD NO. How stupid is it to assign the grabber hand to the SPACEBAR in a TEXT-MANIPULATION APPLCATION? The option key was and is the correct choice.
posted by scrowdid at 12:29 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


A creative type down the hall used Quark. With alarming frequency howls and colorful language would emit from his office and I knew it had yet again eaten or totally munged whatever he was working on. Fortunately for me I didn't support Macs so I could do little more than commiserate and walk away shaking my head, trying not to laugh...
posted by jim in austin at 12:30 PM on January 18


how nice it was to have the same keyboard shortcuts as in Photoshop and Illustrator

Command D does not Place an object in either Photoshop or Illustrater, as it does in Indesign. Yes, I am still angry about this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:31 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]


I was working in page design while they were both going concerns (PageMaker and QE) and there was command on Pagemaker which was WINDOW VIEW which on Quark that was QUIT WITHOUT SAVING and all those people deserve to burn in hell.
posted by taterpie at 12:33 PM on January 18 [12 favorites]


Also, the zero point for the rulers is different between Photoshop and Illustrator. Indesign sides with one or the other. Illustrator, I think. How hard would it be for them to choose one and stick with it?

Now you're going to tell me there's a preference somewhere, yes?
posted by Grangousier at 12:33 PM on January 18


Huh. I had no idea. I left my editor job with a small publisher in 2002 (?) when InDesign was rolling out and recall the designers' scoffing. We'd built up a decent workflow with custom styles in Word that matched custom styles in Quark. A bunch of macros in Word to add the codes. We editors would sometimes work in Quark to make last minute edits and correx during crunchtime.

Fun times.
posted by notyou at 12:36 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Now you're going to tell me there's a preference somewhere, yes?

No, that would make too much sense.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:40 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Everything in this article is basically true, but none of it is the reason why XPress died off. It was their own fault.

The primary problem was software development. Quark was massively late on upgrades, they subcontracted their development to a third company and it was a disaster. It took 7 years for XPress 4 to ship. They kept offering patches to XPress 3, which were also late. For example, after Apple shipped PowerPC Macs, it took Quark 2 years to ship an update to XPress that ran properly on PPC. Designers had a fit, since they liked to have the newest, hottest Macs, but they were useless for XPress.

But the real reason XPress died, Adobe had tech support, Quark had none. When I worked at a prepress bureau, most of our customers brought is XPress files to output on high end imagesetters. Some files would just not run. It was a continual problem, and we had no tech support to help us fix them. Some files would crash and become unrecoverable for no known reason. Others wouldn't print at all, throwing PostScript errors. I used to spend hours going through raw PostScript code in a text editor, parsing it out with the help of the Red Book, looking for errors in the code. Sometimes I could even correct them and get the file to output. Other times, we would recreate the entire design from scratch, looking for design methods that were known to cause problems. This was a huge time-consuming problem, not just because we were reinventing the wheel, but no matter how good our production team was, we still had to bring in the original designer to check our re-creation and sign off, in case we missed some minor detail they put into the design.

We were driven to these extreme measures because we could get absolutely no tech support from Quark. To get around this, many customers did page layouts in Illustrator, which is totally the wrong product for page design, but the app did work reliably and predictably, and Adobe did have tech support.

This article completely misses the main point. Quark customers had been burned so long, they hated XPress, but it was about the only tool around. When ANY alternative product appeared, customers seized on it. Hell, I had one designer that did all his work on an Amiga.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:44 PM on January 18 [12 favorites]


I can tell you from direct experience that Quark's customer service/sales group blew chunks. I remember trying for two years to get education licenses for my university and could not get anyone to return a damn email or call. One of the first rules of business is not make it hard for people to give you money.

I wanted the students to be exposed to more than Adobe and got spanked with wasted time and effort.
posted by jadepearl at 12:45 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Well, I grew up on Pagemaker, then Quark, then InDesign. Does that make me a desktop publishing dinosaur?

Ready, Set, Go! anyone...? I started doing design on it on the 9" monochrome screen of a Mac SE. Resolution of 512x384 pixels. Switched to PageMaker afterwards.

Amazingly, it's still for sale. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ready,Set,Go!
posted by namasaya at 12:46 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


All features aside, PRICE was a huge killer. You could buy the entire Adobe design suite for the price of Quark. AND you didn't need to buy a separate program for multilingual support.
posted by emeiji at 12:49 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I transitioned a design and printing company from Quark to InDesign. It was sheer joy when InDesign got good enough to make that possible.

Two of the best things ever were the ability to place layered Photoshop files instead of having to export a TIFF ... and generate drop shadows from any object without editing them into the image (and saving as TIFF, and doing the whole cycle again if there was a change).

Good times. :-)
posted by namasaya at 1:01 PM on January 18


Charlie Don't Surf and the top comment on the article get at a reason that's totally missing in the article:
From what I remember, one of the reasons Quark took so long to port to OSX was that they fired most of their in-house engineers and outsourced most of the development to India, where it languished in development hell for two years. A typical beancounter move that ended up costing them their monopoly
Quark 4.5 was the last good, dominant version. After that, all North American software development was over, and offshored development that was supposed to replace it was slow and incompetent (at a time when offshoring was a hot topic in business, but no one had figured out how to make it work effectively). 5 and 6 were very, very late, patches to 4.5 slow and corrected little or nothing, the whole quark community felt shafted by inattention, and the business press picked up on the attempt to offshore as the mover behind the "how Quark is failing" meme that dominated media coverage for years. It was just a shitshow from start to finish.
posted by fatbird at 1:03 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Ventura Publisher, anyone?
posted by lagomorphius at 1:07 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


In 2001, Apple released OS X, which felt dog slow on existing hardware. Despite its inclusion of crucial publishing tech like AppleScript and ColorSync, it was definitely not production-ready.

Reading this sentence makes me so happy. It's a delightful antidote, many years too late, to the cruel contrast of my home experience with OS X 1.0 and the hype that I was absorbing from all Apple-related news at the time. (I was right! It was painful!)
posted by Going To Maine at 1:10 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I sure hope today’s Adobe is listening to all the negative feedback about this subscription-only bullshit, because I don’t know that anyone else is in a position now to step up and eat their lunch the way they did Quark’s.

Indeed. They have to keep Premiere Pro as an attractive solution to the Final Cut Pro fiasco and/or whatever Avid is up to these days.

A similar thing happened to Internet Explorer. IE6 had 95% market share, so MS acted like there was no competition and didn't upgrade it until it was too late.

I wish. IE versions 7,8,9,10,11 still have approximately 50% browser marketshare, depending on the type of site(s). Quark would love to be doing as well.

I worked in the IT department of a craft book publishing company during this period, and it was amazing how quickly the designers flocked to Adobe. I think one or two people kept Quark on their machine as well, Just In Case; but it was pretty much as the post's title pegs it, a "mere afterthought".

I remember in the Press department I did freelance work for all the Windows operators converted to InDesign very quickly. It took until about InDesign 3 for the Mac operators to also convert. It's clear Quark also relied on loyalty, but stretch loyatly to a breaking point and you have some rather negative emotions attached to a company that abuses that loyalty (i.e. the Cloud licensing that Adobe is currently using).


Ventura Publisher, anyone?

I remember my University using that. I was quite impressed with Professional Page when I was in high school.
posted by juiceCake at 1:11 PM on January 18


Was there a Quark 4.5? I just remember 4.1. Then the crap that was Quark 5, which was so focused on publishing for the web in shoddy fashion.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:12 PM on January 18


Does it make me a desktop publishing dinosaur that I knew how to use JustText?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 1:15 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I don't know much about Quark, but when I start up Microsoft Publisher, I'm a Pretty Big Deal.
posted by disclaimer at 1:19 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Was there a Quark 4.5?

The marketing dep't at the company where I was IT manager needed Quark, and I was getting our licences in order, and at the time, that's the licence you got--I presume 4.5 was the culmination of the series of patches in the 4.x line that set everyone's teeth on edge and made them ready to shit all over 5 when it finally appeared. It was Quark in all its glory, and IIRC, 5 had been made available and was so roundly derided that anyone selling Quark made sure 4.x could still be bought. InDesign was an aggressive option at the time, but 4.x was still the king, and 6 was still coming and the stories about how development had gone totally into the swamp thanks to offshoring, were making the rounds.
posted by fatbird at 1:29 PM on January 18


Interesting to read all this, as someone outside this industry who's never used either piece of software. So much of it sounds familiar in regards to the big, expensive piece of software I use, ArcGIS... Glacially slow update cycle, bugs that have persisted for a decade and never get fixed, an assumption by the developer that their market share means there can never be competition. In the case of ArcGIS, a persistent belief that everyone still uses Windows so developing for other platforms is unnecessary. I'm waiting, praying for the day when something better appears and 95% of people switch immediately. There are contenders on the horizon.
posted by Jimbob at 1:41 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Gods, I hated Quark. With the ferocity of an exploding galaxy.

I do occasional ad design/layout for a guy who publishes a couple of free magazines in Indy. He was having a lot of problems with the PDFs I'd send him for the ad art. He said he had to convert the PDFs to eps during composition. Then I found out he was still using Quark 6!!!! Q6, at it's best, can only accept PDF v1.3 files, and even then not dependably.

So, in 2013, he was using, at best, a 7-year-old dinosaur of software, that could only, maybe, accept PDF written to a 10-year-old standard.

He's now converting over to InDesign. Thank god.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:59 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Oh, wow. So, I learned Quark on the job when I worked at a classical music magazine in the basement of Lincoln Center in the early 90s. I loved Quark, and I was glad to be quitting just about the time everyone started making real moves toward InDesign (well, and right as the company was bought by its rival and everyone fired). I worked from home my last few years at that job, and I was able to keep the software even after I quit. I did a lot of freelance work with it—book layout, small graphic design projects, that sort of thing. And then I had other stuff to do, and then I switched from windows to Mac and didn't have the software anymore, and so years went by without me thinking about Quark.

Until about a month ago, when I wanted to lay out a manuscript and was so frustrated by the options I had (Pages, basically) that it made me remember how awesome Quark used to be. So I looked online and saw there was a new fancy version of Quark for Mac. I downloaded the trial version and had a blast re-learning it and playing around with the manuscript. I did what I wanted to do—even used the new convert to ebook thing to easily create an ePub version—and that was that.

Then, like a week ago, I get a call from some number in Wyoming. I wasn't going to answer, as I assumed it was a telemarketer, but I rarely get telemarketer calls to my cell phone, and plus, Wyoming? So I answered it, and it was a person. Who worked for Quark. Calling me to let me know my free trial download version was about to expire. And hoping I might be interested in purchasing a full license.

Not an email. Not like a little pop-up reminder on my desktop. A person. Calling me. From Quark.

I told the guy I liked it, but I wasn't going to spend $800 on something I didn't really need. But he was persistent—did I have the info/key from the version of Quark I had 10 years ago? Because then I could get the new version for the upgrade price, which was much cheaper. Maybe I was an academic? I could get a discount. Maybe there was some other way we could make a deal and lower the price? Sadly, I did not have that info, and I am not an academic, and even at the upgrade price it was still pretty steep. There was a long silence, and then he asked if he might send some information to my email address, and I said he could. And then all that was left to do was to say goodbye to the sad guy whose job it is to personally call people who download trial versions of Quark and try to convert them to buying the full license.

Godspeed, desperate Quark customer service guy. Godspeed.
posted by mothershock at 2:01 PM on January 18 [80 favorites]


Pours one out for my homie FrameMaker.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:05 PM on January 18 [14 favorites]


I use InDesign a lot these days. I love, love, love it. A few things keep it from being perfect - if it could interact with a simple database as well as it does with Excel, and if its digital publishing capabilities weren't locked into a pay-as-you-go setup, it would be very close to perfect - but Adobe is getting more autocratic and smug by the day. Creative Cloud may be Adobe's "Quark move", opening the door for a serious competitor. TL;DR - great product, shitty company.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:07 PM on January 18


I'd completely forgotten about QuarkXPress Passport, and our attempts to build a workflow from it. I seem to remember that in the UK, to register it, you had to send back a special floppy disk, which came back from Quark with an activation code. We had to frantically change the time on our Passport Mac back every day, as the disk took ages to turn up, and our default licence was running out just before a book deadline. Good times.

I also remember creating an Excel to XPressTags (twitch! gibber!) filter that allowed a later employer to create an entirely new fleet of price tags for a huge Canadian department store from the client's file in ten minutes. It used to take three operators a week to type it in by hand. We still charged the store for over 100 hours of time, but those DTP ops loved their long lunchbreaks that week.

I enjoyed working with FrameMaker, before Adobe killed it off. It was great for huge reference book projects. Best of all was a really tuned troff install, though; no flexibility, but you could reflow an entire dictionary in 20 minutes. You could also guarantee that minor page corrections wouldn't kill your pagination.
posted by scruss at 2:08 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Quark was the worst company ever to deal with. As a college teacher I wanted to teach Quark, but they made it almost impossible to buy. The hoops it took, the dongles, the lack of response from the company on anything all added up to massive cheering when the first inDesign was released. Just thinking of them still makes me hurt.
posted by cccorlew at 2:15 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I started on Ventura, moved to Pagemaker, then Quark and now InDesign. I actively loathed Quark. Yes, it was powerful, yes it was the best tool on the market at the time, but it was less stable than endgame Jenga. The hundreds, possibly thousands of hours of work that I've lost to Quark crashes, the timed-autosave option that did nothing, the death of any open document when the server went down...

...I was working on a large magazine in the day, a Mac house running Quark, and running a small book-publishing company in the evenings and weekends, running PCs and Pagemaker. Going into the office in the evening and starting up Pagemaker always felt like taking a step backwards, off a wobbling tightrope and onto something stable and reliable. Sure, you could do exciting things on the tightrope. But I had release dates to hit.
posted by Hogshead at 2:29 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I learned Quark doing layout for the college paper in 2001. That very quickly became a useless bullet point on my resume.
posted by thecjm at 2:33 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Loved Quark on classic Mac OS - it screamed on my PowerBook Titanium back in the day, a great widescreen design combination. Haven't touched it in a decade.

Any former newspaper designers remember Multi-Ad Creator?
posted by porn in the woods at 2:38 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Nthing InDesign being a joy to work with. It has well surpassed Photoshop in terms of features being useful and not idiotic and bloated. PS is adding a bunch of freaking CAD output features now.

As for what might replace ID, I have this fever dream that the savior is some future iteration of CSS. Web and print should run on the same skeleton, and it should be an open standard. I'm thinking the love child of LaTeX and CSS4.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 2:39 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


So from 2001-2003, I was working at a company that had a hell of a lot of publishing work - a monthly magazine, a regular rulebook schedule, packaging materials, novels, posters, pretty much everything you can think of.

And they all used Quark. And because I was the only Mac user on the web team, I was also the only person who could take those Quark files and turn them into something the other members of the team could use - whether putting addendums up in PDF, or copying text from the book onto the website, that sort of thing.

I got to go to a Macworld expo with a couple of the print team and one of the IT guys. I was the only one who sat in on the demo of InDesign.

On the way back, I kept on telling them how amazing it was going to be, how it was going to make everything so much easier for translating not just between formats but also between languages (because, of course, we also published in Spanish, Italian, German, American English, and one poor woman was responsible for the entire translation and design in Japanese). And I told them that with InDesign, we could theoretically have a full-blown product release across the magazines, the website, the packaging, and the books, across all the countries, and, finally, completely, utterly, have everything match.

They didn't believe me.

I don't think they updated until they absolutely had to. In fact, I wouldn't be remotely surprised if they still have people using Quark.

(Still beats the time I had to try and teach sorority girls how to use Adobe PageMaker so they could make their keg party flyers. God, being in charge of a computer lab while at college...)
posted by Katemonkey at 2:41 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


What's really alarming and obdurate on Quark's part is that throughout all of this, even during near total market dominance is that in every single last print and design house or end user is that their product was basically uniformly loathed and hated like a pact with the devil.

Entire companies rose or fell on the capricious whims and requirements of that hateful program. People who could reliably tame and sooth XPress could demand high salaries in many shops.

And so much of the programs usefulness at its peak hinged heavily on font licensing and dying print standards.

Almost no one was using it for actual layout in the later days. It was way too unstable. You did your design and build somewhere else and just used QuarkXPress to import and gang pages to handle the font licensing and RIP and other output devices, or to work with some hopelessly bespoke color calibration system.

For Quark to not know this or not know how much they were hated all throughout much of their history is baffling.
posted by loquacious at 2:45 PM on January 18


InDesign is fantastic, but Ventura remains the best for long-document layout. It's just dreamy.

Or was dreamy, because no one but Quark competes against Corel for fucking things up.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:56 PM on January 18


I can't believe the last version of Ventura Publisher dates from 2002 and Corel has done squat with it.
posted by reiichiroh at 3:06 PM on January 18


Oh God.
Dongles, Popchar, language support, and the crashes. OMG the crashes.

This needs a trigger warning.
posted by chillmost at 3:19 PM on January 18 [10 favorites]


I haven't had much use for desktop publishing software since the turn of the century, but I remember using a borrowed copy of RSG to make some simple flyers back in the late 1980s before I got my hands on a copy of PageMaker.

Quark already had been introduced by then, but since I already knew PageMaker and it did what I needed it to do - mostly flyers, newsletters, postcards, simple one- and two-color stuff - I kept using it well into the 1990s.

I sure do remember hearing a lot of complaints about Quark from actual graphic designers, though, which at the time seemed like another reason to stay with what I knew. In retrospect, it's surprising they were able to do as well as they did for as long as they did.

All of which leads me to a question: I find myself possibly needing to produce some relatively simply DTP stuff again. Sounds like InDesign has way more than enough capability for what I'd need to do, but it's kind of expensive, and I'm not really eligible for any discounts. Anyone here have experience with or able to recommend a cheaper or open-source alternative, such as Scribus?
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 3:23 PM on January 18


Pours one out for my homie FrameMaker.

I'm not dead yet!
posted by rhizome at 3:28 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Nat, try Serif PagePlus.
posted by reiichiroh at 3:34 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


The one thing that seems missing in this article (to me-who-isn't-afflilated-with-the-print-industry) is a discussion of Quark today. I mean, the company may be a shell of itself, but it seems to still be moving some kind of product.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:42 PM on January 18


An interesting article; thanks very much for the post.

Well, I grew up on Pagemaker, then Quark, then InDesign. Does that make me a desktop publishing dinosaur? Ready, Set, Go! anyone...?

That's what I was thinking, but then I remembered that before Pagemaker there were a lot of other things like the IBM MT/ST. That was word processing more than design, of course, but on my first desktop in publishing sat a true dinosaur, the 1955 Bently Pratt Raak-designed Vari-Typer. Along with the waxers and the X-ACTO knives we also used a Vari-Typer headline maker, printing them out one letter at a time.
posted by LeLiLo at 4:11 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


The small newspaper I worked at still sent physical galleys to the off-site printer in 1999 (except for four-color special sections). Right before InDesign came in, we still had this 30-year-old waxer because sometimes it was faster to format something in Word, print it out, cut it up, wax it, and paste it up onto the boards old-school than to try to import it into Quark if Quark was having a bad evening.

It was a sheet-feed waxer and it took at least 20 minutes to warm up, more if it was cold outside, so sometimes if you were just about to print the last page and go to press, Quark crashed, and you had to wait half an hour for the waxer to warm up before you could physically paste up the last couple articles. BUT IT WAS STILL FASTER THAN WAITING FOR QUARK.

I left right before Quark did and I still remember it with some affection because I never worked with InDesign seriously, but I do remember hearing about a knock-down, drag-out fight over whether they were going to keep the waxer or get rid of it a couple years later, even though the paper was being sent digitally to the printer by then, because the staff who'd been there when there were galleys and Quark refused to believe the waxer wasn't still a lifesaving emergency device.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:30 PM on January 18 [13 favorites]


There are two companies on whose grave I shall forever dance: Deneba for the abomination that was Canvas (and by extension my horrible school for making me pay money for that error-ridden, bug-prone, anti-user pile of junk) and Quark. I've worn out one pair of shoes on Deneba, I've got a pair in the back of my closet, waiting, all nice and shiny for Quark.

I still shudder anytime any one mentions Aldus Pagemaker (or to go waaay back, Fontographer), Lotus Notes or Symantec Ghost, but that's for a different set of reasons. Quark and Canvas were just hulking pieces of user-hating garbage, in the words of Samuel L Jackson: They deserved to die.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 4:35 PM on January 18


Thanks, reiichiroh, I'll check it out.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 4:35 PM on January 18


I enjoyed working with FrameMaker, before Adobe killed it off.

They just released version 12 did they not? I recommended it to a client a couple of weeks ago.
posted by juiceCake at 4:43 PM on January 18


Nat: Docbook.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:46 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I used to play with DTP when it became a thing in the end of 1980s. Anyone remembers Calamus?...
posted by hat_eater at 4:50 PM on January 18


we still had this 30-year-old waxer...

That’s my waxer! Mine were in much better shape, though, because I started using them 28 years before 1999.
posted by LeLiLo at 4:53 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Argh. Preview, not Post. Anyway, in 2000 I returned to find QuarXpress the king and yeah, although I wasn't the one who had to create the documents - I was just an editor and didn't dare to meddle in the layouts too much - my recollections are similar. I felt constrained. When we were shown InDesign, it was like someone invisible has had been taking notes all the time.
posted by hat_eater at 4:54 PM on January 18


Ah, yes, the wax machine. We had that at my first job. It seemed quaint, but rolling up the board made me feel like I was doing something real! The name Ventura rings a bell, but man, that was a long time ago. I learned enough to do the easy back of the book pages, and my section after a while watching the main guys.

Then I was at a place where there were actual typesetters.

At my next job, a major weekly music magazine that rhymes with Surfboard, they were transitioning into Quark CopyDesk when I started. I was totally, blissfully unaware that I was supposed to hate it. I learned to work around its limitations. Thankfully I was dealing only with edits--not full-blown page layout. I knew all the tricks on how to insert every accent, kerning, m-dashes, n-dashes, how to fit a headline.

We also had a printer in NJ, and I remember long, drawn-out phone calls in which my production guy to call in corrections such as, "First column, third graf, change ew in Spandew to au." And on and on.

I left said magazine in 1999, and completely missed out on the InDesign wave.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:29 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


MS Publisher is still surprisingly agile for small jobs.

But I would wish it on my worst enemy.
I got left behind in the switch from Quark to InDesign.
I remain sad about that.
posted by Mezentian at 5:30 PM on January 18


We had a wax machine at my first job.
Someone left it running overnight once.
Just once.
Turns out burning down the building might not get you fired.
posted by Mezentian at 5:31 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


  They just released version 12 did they not?

But not on Unix workstations, though.
posted by scruss at 5:53 PM on January 18


They just released version 12 did they not?

Yes, it hasn't been on the Mac for years.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:06 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


There hasn't been a version of my beloved FrameMaker for Mac since FrameMaker 7 in 2002, and they ditched their original platform of Sun Solaris (the last supported Unix) back in 2009 with FrameMaker 9.

Story I heard was that that the stagnation of PageMaker and Quark both back in the 1990s was the result of a similar attempt to hop on the Windows bandwagon, to the exclusion of the Macintosh market. Of course, Adobe had the luck of not getting into the Windows market at all until about the time that Windows 95 came out.

I pity the fool trying to develop WYSIWYG software for Windows 3.1.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:58 PM on January 18


Yes, it hasn't been on the Mac for years.

Aware of that. Nor is it, as mentioned above, on Unix. But it still exists.

I guess I'm used to multiplatform environments where this is not an issue.
posted by juiceCake at 7:30 PM on January 18


I worked at a downtown Boston service bureau in the mid-1990s, and it was QXP all day and all night, baby.

The worst experience I had with it was when we did this special brochure to promote their new large-format imagesetter, the 44, called the Bigfoot. (I still have my lapel pin! Also, a photo of my hand is in the brochure!) We had to produce the films in a handful of languages, and they decided to do separate "layers" for each language and then kind of swap out the K plates for each market at the printer. After imposition -- because when you have a machine that will print a bedsheet-size piece of film, only a fool would pass up the change to use crude imposition Plug-Ins -- the job required the most absurd dance of dongle-plugging and Preference file swapping I had ever seen then or have seen since.

We got it produced, eventually, but it was scarring enough that I switched to tech support soon after.

Also: I have burned myself on a waxer, and counted the wound a proud sign of my devotion to duty! (Then I found out I was just being clumsy when someone showed me how to use it right, and I was just embarrassed after that.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:11 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Nice to see other fellow service bureau survivors on here. At my old job we would produce both film and camera-ready paper output, requiring two separate processors running two different chemical mixes (man, I do not miss the scent of fixer). We'd wax the paper output and mount it on cardstock for an additional fee. I do sometimes miss the smell of that wax.

We beta-tested InDesign 1.0 and I was instantly hooked. Those production workarounds were lifesavers, but when 2.0 came out (with stable output to our old PostScript imagesetters), Quark was dead to me. That doesn't mean I didn't have to use it for a few more years. The Adobe Creative Suite was the deathknell for QXP. I don't miss it much.

That said, XPressTags saved my bacon a few times, most notably when I had to produce signage for a grocery store's produce section. I was given an Excel file with nutritional information, a Filemaker Pro file with PLUs and descriptions, and a hard drive full of photos. The challenge was to run them 12-up on tabloid-sized digital color output, but have them imposed so that when the sheets were cut, they could be stacked and already be in alphabetical order. I was able to merge all the info into FileMaker and get them to self-sort and output to XPressTags, but there was one issue I just couldn't resolve. I wound up calling Quark tech support and got through to a guy who had a clue. He helped me for over two hours, then had to leave to catch a bus home (this was when everything was still in Denver, no outsourcing yet). When he got home, he actually called me back and we resolved the issue with about 20 more minutes of banging our heads against it. Best tech support I ever had in my life.
posted by shecky57 at 8:32 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


My last 9-5 graphic design job in 2011 was with a "professional" promotion department. My boss made sure to let me know several times during my interview that he was far more qualified as a designer than most, including me. He had gone to UNIVERSITY. He was a major TECH-HEAD. He was a semi-professional PHOTOGRAPHER. After going through the interview process and being offered the job, he calls me back and asks me if I know any QuarkXPress. I arrive for my first day of work to find out that there is no InDesign, only QuarkXPress 6. In 2011, in a professional design department, there is only QuarkXPress 6. I could only stand working for that douche for 9 months before I quit graphic design forever.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:46 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


I must be a contrarian.I still use QuarkXPress and like it. I also still have a box of wax left from the old waxer and use it to make little wax dolls.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:10 PM on January 18


I've been in graphic design since graduating in 1996, but somehow I strangely missed the entire Quark implosion. I used Pagemaker in college, then InDesign sparingly along the way, but most of my work was technical illustration or ads built in Illustrator. When I got my most recent job in 2011, it was all over. They had made the transition to InDesign in the year before I got hired. We still have a single supplier who submits ads in QXP. We have a converter plugin for InDesign just for them.

These days, when surfing job ads, a mention of Quark or CorelDraw is a flag that says the company doesn't upgrade their software or equipment regularly.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:23 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


I still use QuarkXPress and like it.

Command/Control-X.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:35 AM on January 19


I started on Ventura Publisher too, then went to TeX and LaTeX. Then I got into hand-coding my own Postscript, which I still do to this day. I never did work with XPress or Indesign, but I never worked for any publishers, I worked for the company providing the prepress workflow and digital plate setting equipment.
posted by Snowflake at 9:45 AM on January 19


All features aside, PRICE was a huge killer. You could buy the entire Adobe design suite for the price of Quark. AND you didn't need to buy a separate program for multilingual support.

Price and ease of pirating. I couldn't put QuarkXPress Passport on my machine at home when they got into that online licensing crap. I wanted software I could steal and put on my machine at home, both for work and goofing around. I got Creative Suite largely for that reason. It also gave us more freedom in choosing our printers; we had to commit to a long-term agreement with one of our printers before they would agree to purchase the goddamned multi-lingual dongle. God, that whole thing was such a pain in the ass.

I have a co-worker who still runs an ancient Mac with OS9 and Quark 4 (5?) on it. She has very, VERY grudgingly transitioned to InDesign for everyday work, but keeps the old machine for updates on old jobs.
posted by looli at 2:55 PM on January 19


I just remembered a discussion with a friend before InDesign was formally announced, in which he told me Adobe was running down Pagemaker because it was working on a new DTP project with the in-house name of QK, for Quark Killer. Boy, they called that right.
posted by Hogshead at 3:34 PM on January 19


Wow, this thread is an eye-opener. I'm a dev rather than a designer, so I don't have much experience with DTP and never used Quark, but I had to update a 100+ page technical document using InDesign recently, and it was a friggin nightmare. I couldn't imagine how anything could be worse than that pile of crap. But I guess I just didn't have a proper perspective...
posted by bjrubble at 4:20 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


but I had to update a 100+ page technical document using InDesign recently, and it was a friggin nightmare

Framemaker is better for technical documents. But there is a learning curve. When I used to use it on a previous job years ago I would wonder why this isn't the industry standard word processor in addition to being great for technical documentation.

How difficult a project is is also dependent on how the user setup the document. Both programs are powerful and complex and can be used in many different ways depending on the operator.

There are operators who don't really know the full extent of the functionality of programs that they do things that may not be necessary or they are completely unaware of certain things in the program, particularly the type of operators who believe that computers should just be "intuitive" and don't bother to learn the program inside out.

But I'm sure we've all seen bizarre setups that were more complex then they needed to be.
posted by juiceCake at 5:27 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


man, this thread is so triggering... I worked off and on for small businesses on various desktop publishing and minor design projects (mainly brochures and crap) throughout the mid-late 90s and vividly remember the crashes and the unrelentingly universal fuckery involved in dealing with anything in QXP. Then I got a job doing technical writing for a medical software place in the early Aughts and literally have not wasted one brain cell thinking about that pile of shit program until just now.

So thanks for that. I think.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:58 PM on January 19


If you can master the InDesign implementation of cascading Styles and nested Substyles, there's very little you can't finesse out of the program.

I just did a 400 page publication for a major credit card company. It was extremely graphics heavy, but with some wrangling up front with the copy and styles I, literally, imported 99% of the book into a finished, styled, and paginated book in less than three minutes.

The remaining one percent took considerably longer, but...
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:49 PM on January 19


I'm kind of curious how people's experience has been w/ the $50/seat fee for Creative Cloud.
posted by effugas at 12:27 AM on January 20


I'm in the UK, so it's more like $80 (I really try not to think about it, but I don't want to look at the only thing I can do for a living as an indulgence), but... it works, sort of. I mean, the individual bits of software work, and they're as up to date as it gets, in so far as that's a good thing.

I have the very strong sense that the software is dissolving. I don't really know how else to put it - for example, Photoshop has taken on so much other stuff - you can open and edit video files if you want to. But I'm glad I have access to features such as the new Smart Sharpen and linked Smart Objects, which I personally have wanted for a while. It's very difficult to see the edges of the software, though.

On the other hand, there's all the internet and animation stuff - Dreamweaver, Flash and the various Edge and Muse apps - it feels like they unpicked Flash and reassembled it to spit out HTML5 and Javascript. But there's no focus. It seems to be incredibly difficult to work out how to do anything outside of the things I was doing anyway. Dealing with the company itself is like dealing with several different companies that don't talk to each other but are using the same livery - a bit like getting Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator to play together, I suppose.

For some reason, the word that my unconscious keeps throwing at me is decadent. It seems like an incredibly decadent company.

Mostly I just feel like I should be learning how to use Flash and After Effects and that thing supposedly for colour correcting feature films. I really don't know why.
posted by Grangousier at 2:22 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


MS Publisher is still surprisingly agile for small jobs.

I know print shops that charge extra if you bring them a Publisher file.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:18 AM on January 20


I know print shops that charge extra if you bring them a Publisher file.

When I worked in prepress, we did the same ...for awhile. As everyone started moving to the online age, the print well started to dry and apparently about the same time a lot of government workers became "savvy" in Publisher. To garner that business, we would accept Publisher files with no extra fees. By recollection, the workflow went like this: Open Publisher file; print page to PDF using Adobe virtual printer; Open in Acrobat Pro; Export as EPS with everything converted to outlines; Import into Indesign. One. Page. At. A. Time.; Select elements and convert to proper Pantone spot colors. Print proof for customer approval. Customer submits changes. Start process over again.
posted by bionic.junkie at 8:54 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


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