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Secret desktop wars
March 10, 2010 2:51 PM   Subscribe

The war in desktop publishing began in 1985 in the shadowy hallways of offices, raging for decades and leaving scores wounded as first one king, then another was toppled. Today the current leader gleefully celebrates its victory, but on the horizon, a possible challenger looms.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (95 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
... a commercial? It's a lousy commercial?!
posted by barnacles at 3:00 PM on March 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Version 1.3 was released July 15, 2005. This "loom" you speak of -- it moves?
posted by Slothrup at 3:05 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, there's going to be a massive switch to Scribus and GIMP any moment now...

Wait for it...




Wait...
posted by Behemoth at 3:07 PM on March 10, 2010 [27 favorites]


To be fair, I liked the links -- it's just the framing of Scribus that seems off.
posted by Slothrup at 3:07 PM on March 10, 2010


The first incarnation of InDesign was really sluggish compared to Quark, which I was running on a G3/500MHz iBook as late as 2002 with no complaints, but Quark's draconian licensing scheme and lateness to the OS X ballgame was its downfall.

RIP Quark.
posted by porn in the woods at 3:09 PM on March 10, 2010


IT'S WA-
Continued on next page.
posted by hal9k at 3:11 PM on March 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Lol linux. It looms.
posted by mr.marx at 3:16 PM on March 10, 2010


I use Scribus to publish a little four page neighborhood newsletter every month and it gets the job done but just barely. The interface mostly sucks and it just getting the elements to line up is an exercise in pain.
posted by octothorpe at 3:17 PM on March 10, 2010


What, y'all aren't that into page layout apps?! You do it in Photoshop?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:22 PM on March 10, 2010


Screw Photoshop. All hail vi.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:24 PM on March 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


InDesign is ten now? God I'm old.
posted by Artw at 3:26 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


If the GIMP is anything to go by as an indicator of open source UI/UX design, then InDesign really has nothing to fear.

Photoshop is far from what you might call a paragon of user-centered design, but the GIMP is kind of a horror show by comparison. It's clunky, and it's geeky, and it's all about the feeeeeechers, man!

The GIMP's user experience was designed by engineers for engineers who were never going to buy a copy of Photoshop anyway, and it shows. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - open source is a wonderful paradigm for getting specs turned into code, especially for applications that don't need a UI/UX for ordinary mortals, but the one thing that closed-source development still has going for it today (in some cases, anyway) is the corporations have the resources to build and staff user experience labs, to interview end users who are not hackers, and to actually employ thoughtful, talented user interaction designers.

Unless and until there's a company willing to pay for really good user experience design and then open-source the building of the underlying code, GIMP and Scribus will remain essentially curiosities, and Photoshop and InDesign will still cost an arm and a leg to buy (and be widely pirated).
posted by kcds at 3:33 PM on March 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


What, y'all aren't that into page layout apps?! You do it in Photoshop?!

They do it in Word.
posted by smackfu at 3:33 PM on March 10, 2010


I was just thinking about this yesterday. I don't think my prepress department has received a Quark file from a client in about a year and a half. I still have some legacy files that I update as needed, but outside files have been 100% InDesign* for at least a year and a half.

InDesign's dominance really started showing around version 3, and took off meteorically after. I purchased CS4 immediately because our clients demanded it, but we're still running Quark Express 6.5. We've only ever gotten a QX7 file from one client, and I wasn't even aware up until a moment ago that QX8 is out.

It's kinda a shame, actually, because QX forced designers to adhere to standards, whereas InDesign lets designers pull tricks that Postscript (Adobe's printing standard) doesn't accommodate. This means that I get to explain to clients that, no, transparency and dropshadows and blur and god-knows-what-else will not print well. Additionally, InDesign's documentation used to say this no uncertain terms, so I could direct the clients to read it for themselves if they didn't believe me. Now there's scant mention. Short version, QX's smaller feature-set was actually a very good thing for me, overall.

No-one's ever tried to pass a Scribus file to me, though I have been waiting for it. I think next time someone asks me if PunisherPublisher is acceptable I'll direct them to Scribus. It may be a pain in the ass, but it can't possibly be worse than Publisher.
posted by lekvar at 3:36 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


~What, y'all aren't that into page layout apps?! You do it in Photoshop?!
~They do it in Word.


PowerPoint. I'm serious. I've had marketing managers give me "layout ideas" done in PPT. The mind reels...
posted by Thorzdad at 3:38 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love Scribus for what it is. I use it for laying out posters; it's better than most other free stuff. But, come on.
posted by gurple at 3:39 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


LaTeX REPRESENT!
posted by PenDevil at 3:40 PM on March 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


I received a PDF from a client the other day. It was built in Powerpoint.

Grrrrrr.
posted by azpenguin at 3:41 PM on March 10, 2010


PowerPoint. I'm serious. I've had marketing managers give me "layout ideas" done in PPT. The mind reels...

PowerPoint is easy to use and ubiquitous. For marketers, it's the equivalent of the "back of the paper napkin." I'm not saying you should leave it in PowerPoint, but I see nothing wrong with doing quick layout prototyping that way.

Besides, isn't that the reason to hand it off to a professional layout person?
posted by fremen at 3:42 PM on March 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


The last part referencing Scribus really sounds like those who clamor every single year that "this is the year of Linux on the desktop!". It will occupy the same space that GIMP and, to an extent, OpenOffice.org do right now which is the tool of choice for those who choose it on principle rather than functionality.

It won't gain widespread adoption because the users/customers have no vendor to hold accountable for continued support. Vanity Fair isn't going to switch off InDesign and Creative Suite (or whatever they use) in favor of this -- ever.
posted by cgomez at 3:42 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've used Scribus. I want to like it, I really do, but it's just...well it's just open source.
posted by tommasz at 3:46 PM on March 10, 2010


Aw man... Dot-com craze peaked 10 years ago

Express elevator to hell! Going down! Woohoo!
posted by Artw at 3:46 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't really put Open Office in the same category as GIMP. Actual real people not dedicated to wearing the sackcloth and ashes of open source use Open Office on a regular basis.
posted by Artw at 3:48 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used the GIMP for a long time, and there's still a few things I prefer it for.

Scribus, on the other hand, is purely for people who can't afford or can't run any of the alternatives. I used it a few times to make flyers and eventually went back to just doing them in Word.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:54 PM on March 10, 2010


Which was the GIMP link in the FPP again?
posted by Jpfed at 4:02 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I use Open Office on my netbook, and I've also used it to open Word files that Word decides not to open.

GiMP I used once, hated the layout, and went back to Photoshop.
posted by dw at 4:03 PM on March 10, 2010


Yeah, Open Office ain't great, but you can get the job done. It was either that, or use the copy of MS Publisher from 1990...

"We'll just use a template!"

Shudder.

No better way to turn your business publications into Bake Sale postings.
posted by yeloson at 4:04 PM on March 10, 2010


I haven't read the articles yet, the discussion being so entertaining, but does Harlequin get any mention? They had at one time a very profitable RIP (they still sell it) which was kind of odd, because the founder and most of the company were all about Harlequin Lisp. The RIP side supported what seemed to be a pretty big AI language development effort.

Someone came along and acquired Harlequin for the RIP and spun off the Lisp side. I believe the Lisp products live on here.
posted by zippy at 4:05 PM on March 10, 2010


Oh, how I loathed Quark XPress for so many years. Quark 5 was a slap in the face. InDesign got me all excited and I stopped dreading having to do a print design project.

But, frankly, Photoshop has come so far in the last few years and its Smart Object support for vectors (or making vector graphics natively in Photoshop), coupled with type layers that retain the ability to be edited (or converted to vector shapes) means it can very well be used for page layout on simple things like a poster, flyer, what-have-you. Couple that with most printers just saying "send us a PDF" (since it solves a lot of the problems with fonts, embedded graphics, shifting of colors, etc), I hardly ever find myself using InDesign anymore.

I don't think Scribus will take InDesign over - I think Photoshop will.
posted by revmitcz at 4:09 PM on March 10, 2010


Having tried GIMP and OpenOffice, the latter is almost indistinguishable from the 'real' thing, and is free. I install it on my relatives' computers and hear not a peep.

GIMP, as above, is all about the feechurs, the UI/UX is unusable, and I'm the kind of person who enjoys figuring out how to set the clocks on VCRs (a dying art).

At some point, someone forked Gimp and rearranged the UI to look like Photoshop. That was a real achievement and made the program finally sensible to me. And I should add, I've only used Photoshop maybe 10 times in my life, so it's not like Photoshop was in my muscle memory.

I guess the big question is, why does opensource attract coders but not UI designers? Is it that code can be built collaboratively, but UI is best done by fascists ... I mean solo?
posted by zippy at 4:09 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm usually not one to get all emotional over software, but PageMaker is the exception. Not because I think it was overlooked or had a great UI or something like that... in fact, PageMaker is the only desktop publishing program I've ever worked with so I've got absolutely nothing to compare it with.

Still, PageMaker was the program I used to layout my little zine on (1995-1997) and just seeing the name on screen brings back so many great memories of late night/early morning layout binges. Just seeing the name makes me think of creativity and exciting times and I get, well, emotional.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 4:27 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it that code can be built collaboratively, but UI is best done by fascists ... I mean solo?

Bingo.
posted by ook at 4:29 PM on March 10, 2010


zippy: "Is it that code can be built collaboratively, but UI is best done by fascists ... I mean solo?"

My theory is that it has to do with the volunteer basis of most work on open source:

UI can be fudged. A worker program cannot be fudged: it either runs or does not.

When most work is being done by volunteers, users will actively meet them halfway regarding usability if that means getting cool features sooner.

In particular the users who have the developer's ear tend to be the power users who know the program like the back of their hand - any UI no matter how broken will work just fine for a perverse and geeky minority. Casual or potential users are not as likely to follow a mailing list and communicate their desires and needs to the dev team.
posted by idiopath at 4:30 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


kcds: "If the GIMP is anything to go by as an indicator of open source UI/UX design, then InDesign really has nothing to fear."

GIMP is the poster child for how bad it can get, an outlier. The number one reason isn't that nobody wanted to fix the UI, it's that a small group of people in charge did not want to change, either because they disliked Photoshop, or wanted to be different, or feared the consequences of becoming very popular. At one point they decided to solicit opinions, but after three years of operation with no change, I think we can safely say the goal of that website is a bug-zapper. zippy mentions Gimpshop as an alternative; if you want to know where Gimpshop stands today you should definitely check out this askMe.

In contrast, I find Inkscape to be pretty neat. People like to rail about the features they're missing, but it's easy enough to use to be applied in odd ways. Sadly, I don't really have much need for desktop publishing that can't be met by Inkscape, GIMP or HTML, so I can't offer much insight on Scribus.
posted by pwnguin at 4:30 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess the big question is, why does opensource attract coders but not UI designers? Is it that code can be built collaboratively, but UI is best done by fascists ... I mean solo?
One of the problems is that UI/UX work is mostly thinking/sketching. Programming is, well, making stuff go. In many open source projects, the pipeline for submitting UX tasks is indistinguishable from a vanilla nag: "There's this guy who says we have to rearrange all our menus and windows and redo our widgets so that it maps to 'the mental model' of our average user. File it with the other feature requests."

This is not to say that there aren't projects where UX expertise is effectively leveraged. It's just that for most projects that start out as collaborative hacker-projects, UX work is treated as 'nice ideas over there,' rather than 'real contribution.' And that cultural devaluing of the soft work leads to a vicious cycle where UX designers rarely 'catch the bug' of contributing, getting the satisfaction of seeing their work become part of the project, and digging deeper.

The exceptions tend to be projects that start with a very very strong goal and a very small group of key decision makers -- decision makers who personally consider end-user experience to be a 'feature' just as essential as performance or memory footprint or whether it has a python-based plugin architecture.
posted by verb at 4:54 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I first used the GIMP about eleven years ago after learning Photoshop 5.0 fairly well. It was confusing at first, but I kept with it and gradually came to prefer it. Relearning various tricks and techniques to get what I wanted was frustrating, but I don't usually have too much difficulty learning new interfaces. I once nearly got slapped by a woman at a party in Potrero Hill in 2000 because I mentioned that I had switched over to the GIMP from Photoshop; it was right after I said this that I remembered that the party was full of people from Adobe and large quantities of tequila.

I picked up Scribus last year to layout my writing portfolio and I found it pretty dang cool. My only other real experience was early versions of PageMaker. The interface seems very sparse and it took me a little bit of digging to figure out how to do what I wanted to. I knew that what I wanted to accomplish was totally possible and reasonable, it was just a matter of figuring out how Scribus does it. There seems to be some complicated stuff you can do but it's kind of obscured - I constantly felt like I was missing buttons or menus! The only drawback I found was in regards to hardware; I was running it on an ASUS EEE Netbook with a very small screen and 512mb of RAM. It was slow but it worked. I'd use it again for layout tasks but I'd spend more time looking into templates or something to ease big multi-page stuff. I think it's awesome that it exists.

My latest fascination is Inkscape. I've never spent much time with Illustrator or Corel, but understand the concepts of raster vs vector graphics (RIP script from the days of yore!). It has really made some simple graphics projects like making network maps so much easier. I use it to do vector art/tracing with a friend for his t-shirt business, and it saves great to PDF.

OpenOffice is nice but I haven't used it to create anything since writing essays in college. I use it to open spreadsheets and word docs that other people send me, and that's pretty much it. In general I think word processors are only used by other people to create hideous constructions that would be a million times better if they were actually done in a program designed for a specific purpose. This brings to mind the screenshot that was emailed to me as an image in a Word doc as an attachment, instead of just sending me a url from the person's web browser.

The part that I never really "get" is people on both sides yelling about "Is Linux ready for the desktop?" This question is in many ways irrelevant. All predictions of where Linux is going, or should go, or will go are kind of simpleminded. It's going to go wherever the hell enough people want it to, regardless of where or when some Infoworld pundit thinks it is appropriate.

I switched to Linux on the desktop twelve years ago because I finally got completely sick of Windows. I didn't like the road that it was going down, and I decided to "drop out". So I did. I don't regret it for a moment. Would I recommend it to everyone? No, because I don't think there needs to be some sort of desktop-monopoly. Open standards have gotten a lot stronger over the past ten years and I think that's great. Overall I have little difficulty interacting with people using different OS's and that used to be essentially impossible. We don't all have to run the same thing, we just have to find ways to communicate and share.

Ten years ago I talked with a DBA who swore that Oracle would never ever ever be supported on Linux and if it was he would drive his eyes from his sockets with a dirty soup spoon. I assume he now has a white cane and dark glasses. Times change.

Just because the GIMP/Scribus/Inkscape exist doesn't meant that those commercial products are going to be displaced or die some sort of hideous death. I do, however, find it interesting that roughly 95% of the people I know that hate the GIMP and love Photoshop are running pirated copies.

Linux is ready for the desktop whenever you decide you're ready for it. If you expect it to be just like Windows or OSX you will be disappointed. If you are willing to learn then there are people that will bend over backwards to assist you. Computers should be fun and understandable and fixable. Windows was none of those for me.
posted by Skrubly at 4:56 PM on March 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm not a designer, but I don't see any of my designer buddies jumping on Scribus any time soon. I have vivid memories over their individual cussing, screaming, grudging forced transitions from Pagemaker to Quark to InDesign.

I am a photographer and have fooled around on a minimal level with GIMP. Every time I see a reference to GIMP as a viable alternative to Photoshop, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

We do run OpenOffice on my wife's laptop here, but all she needs to do is open an occasional Word doc some misguided soul sends her because they don't know how to create a PDF file and send that instead..

As much as I love the concept of open source software and applaud its development, for the vast majority of non-geek people who actually need to get work done, I just don't think most of it is there yet.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:57 PM on March 10, 2010


Another theory about open source usability:

Tyranny of the engineers. Many programmers actually pride themselves in the steep learning curve of the software they use - the fact that a casual user is baffled at the tool they love to use becomes some kind of badge of honor. For example the acronym WIMP (WIndow, Icon, Menu, Pointer), the term "point and grunt interface".

Some of the most technically inclined are proud of having figured out their obscure and bizarre interfaces which make up their tools, and see it as a test that separates the worthy from the unworthy: being unable to figure out the command line, the man page, environment variables, customize a make file, insert text into a file using vi, or compose a regexp are signs of weakness or inferiority, signs that you do not belong to their elite club. These would-be alpha-geeks see refusing to make their own projects more usable is an honorable act of tough love - if they withhold user friendliness, you may just learn to use your computer like a true geek, and earn their respect, become one of the anointed geek elite.
posted by idiopath at 4:58 PM on March 10, 2010


PowerPoint. I'm serious. I've had marketing managers give me "layout ideas" done in PPT. The mind reels...

That's nothing, and this is God's own unadorned truth here, I was once given a wireframe created in Excel.
posted by stet at 5:14 PM on March 10, 2010


It is possible to use LaTeX with arbitrary postscript (in my case, Hoefler Text) fonts. I use pdflatex and not XeTeX. Every time I've gotten close to Word or OpenOffice or what have you I have wanted to rip my pancreas out with a rhodium coated hook.
posted by oonh at 5:16 PM on March 10, 2010


I'm usually not one to get all emotional over software, but PageMaker is the exception [...] just seeing the name on screen brings back so many great memories of late night/early morning layout binges. Just seeing the name makes me think of creativity and exciting times and I get, well, emotional.

Me too, only it was way back in 1987.
posted by tangerine at 5:19 PM on March 10, 2010


Part of Quark's demise was its cost. If you're in the desktop publishing game, you're probably buying Photohop, Illustrator, and Acrobat anyway, so springing for the entire Adobe design suite wasn't much more money. And InDesign handled multiple languages, whereas Quark forced you to buy a whole other thing called Quark Passport, which cost almost as much as the entire Adobe suite. And, as someone upthread noted, Quark 5 was a joke.

The only thing I miss about Quark is that plugin that created filler text in Klingon.
posted by emeiji at 5:31 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think open source, as a set of possible processes for producing software, produces bad user interfaces as a rule. Presumably, those using Firefox to contribute to this thread don't either.

I think that the user interfaces for certain classes of open source applications have been historically pretty bad- that of "WYSIWYG content creators". There might be something about that niche that makes it less suited to open source software, though I think part of the issue is poor overlap in usage or philosophy with those people that would start/contribute to open source projects.
posted by Jpfed at 5:37 PM on March 10, 2010


What, y'all aren't that into page layout apps?! You do it in Photoshop?!

Our lead engineer made this internal instruction manual with color photos using word. The boss came around and demanded, "print this in color!" So me, OK, no problem! I open the folder he has created on his desktop to house all the photos and ffs, all 30 pages are individual files. OK deep breath. I open the B&W book that he printed himself. There are multiple arrows and notations/addendums, in Sharpie, on every page.
posted by Brocktoon at 5:42 PM on March 10, 2010


Oh and no Pantone support = deal killer.
posted by Brocktoon at 5:42 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whut? No mention of Ventura Publisher?

All joking aside, I was on the bleeding edge of the early DTP wars, starting with outputting preformatted WordStar files to 8 inch disks that could be read by Mergenthaller phototypesetting machines. I can even make a convincing claim to have invented DTP on an Apple II in 1980 and then accidentally giving it away for free, that's a long story, maybe someday I'll write about it.

But anyway.. If anyone wants to know where the battle was won and lost, it was at the Service Bureaus. That's where I worked, outputting customers' files to film on imagesetters. I was the debugging geek, if your files really had problems, I would output them to PostScript, open them up in a text editor, and debug it using the Adobe Red Book. So I saw it all, from the inside out. It was maddening, all day long I'd look at customer files and say to myself, "that's not the way you're supposed to operate this program." And then when I couldn't resolve a bug, I had to call the vendor. And they hated that, we had licensed copies with regular tech support, but essentially we were fielding tech issues for hundreds of customers, so the vendors got all pissed off because we had a disproportionate amount of tech calls. So Adobe and Quark put limits on support, and wanted to force service bureaus to buy unaffordably expensive support contracts. IIRC the first to do this was Adobe and Pagemaker, which immediately made us stop supporting complex PM files, and we recommended XPress, since they had better tech support for us (by the margin of "virtually no support" vs "no support whatsoever"). That pretty much killed Pagemaker. Then Quark cut us off. But by then, everyone had pretty much switched to XPress, so we were stuck with supporting that. I'm sure this was pretty much the pattern at service bureaus everywhere, and the high end designers who worked for major publications and output to imagesetter films pretty much drove the industry, the individual and corporate users that just ended up on laser printers were just following the leaders.
I wasn't in the service bureau end of the trade at the time InDesign came out, but as a user, it was pretty clear that XPress was dead, they had made several coding blunders, like outsourcing all development to subcontractors in India, and then outsourcing support to India too. They lost control of their product and had several disastrous releases. Meanwhile, ID had some solid (but not bugfree) releases, and that was that, ID wins.

P.S. that second link was a self-link, we can do that in comments, right? Please don't kill me, I'm a MeFi noob.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:44 PM on March 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can I rant too? I promise I'll be quick.

Yes? Okay? Thank you for your time.

I cannot fucking stand the standard open-source approach to design. Okay, they're not the only bunch to do this, but they take a pride in it whereas the rest of the world at least knows to feign sorrow. This approach to design that goes "Let's add three more features, then we'll have half as many as these guys and that means we'll grow in popularity!" Fuck that shit. Fuck it in the fucking ear.

A part of making a program (this doesn't only have to do with programming, of course: It applies to any sort of creative process) is coming up with clever and intuitive ways to solve a problem. A good program doesn't just let you do something, it makes you feel good about the doing. That's not, like, some quirky thing that some designers do and others don't: That's the whole thing! If you're not actively trying to figure out how to adapt your program to your user, then you aren't designing, you're vomiting. (I submit this is why Ubuntu is colored such an orange-brown.)

Most "designers" of computer software instead just design a bunch of boxes with lists of features. You find the box you want, click the feature you want, and then you repeat a bunch of times. It's functional and soul-draining. It doesn't help that a lot of the Windows GUI (and every single Linux GUI) is similarly rooted in illogic. It's a usability nightmare. We're all adapted to it, but I cringe when I have to use it, even Windows 7. Especially when grandparents ask me how to do menial tasks like launch a mail program.

Mac OSX is quite a bit better, but even it's not perfect. Their best solutions, like Spotlight and the Dock, are patching up issues inherent with the desktop metaphor. But, possibly for that reason, it's attracted some brilliant third-party developers. Pixelmator, Coda, DaisyDisk are all beautiful, elegant solutions to basic problems. You aren't just more productive, you feel an outright joy in the way the programs work with you. Apple leads the way with this, both with their basic apps (TextEdit and Preview) and their pro apps (Logic and Final Cut and Aperture) and all their programs in between. For all iTunes gets criticized, especially on Windows, it takes a lot of tasks and synthesizes them into one program. Music library? TV library? Music store? MP3 player assistant? They used to all take individual programs; now, that one program handles half a dozen things, well enough that we can do any of them without instant confusion.

Of course, the iPhone UI is vastly better than OS X, and the apps developed for it are vastly better. It's the first OS for which there are consistently brilliant applications re:functionality. The limitations on processing and screenspace have forced a lot of radical innovation among developers.

But certain developers — and prominent Open Source people — are grinding their heels, the jackasses. They insist on breaking down a program into individual ingredients and then blending them together into an inoffensive, unexciting mush. I haven't used Scribus, but even from the screenshots you can tell there was no effort put into making this attractive, or making it a joy to use.

Best case scenario, they manage to tie InDesign, if InDesign's terribly made. But they won't, because Adobe has technical force they don't have. The solution is for them to do what Adobe can't, and take advantage of their flexibility to create radical new solutions, drive innovation in the marketplace, design products that can beat parts of Adobe software at their own game. That's what Pixelmator did, and I trashed Photoshop gleefully and without a second thought. Pixelmator doesn't do everything Photoshop does, but it does what I need to do splendidly, and it's a beauty to look at.

I hate that some designers forgot the practical necessity of beauty. Fuck that mindset.

(That was quick, right?)
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:48 PM on March 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Forget this InDesign fad, everyone knows what Adobe's real flagship DTP app is.
posted by Rat Spatula at 5:55 PM on March 10, 2010


We used to use Professional Page by Gold Disk on an A1000 back in those days.
posted by rfs at 6:06 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


PowerPoint. I'm serious. I've had marketing managers give me "layout ideas" done in PPT. The mind reels...

Yeah, whatever, at least they gave you files. There's nothing like a manager saying "yeah, go get a pict off the web of the a blond girl with a red shirt holding a notebook" Why blonde? BECAUSE.

Whut? No mention of Ventura Publisher?

Nope, 'cause I never dealt with it, despite working at a service bureau and printer in the '90s. I was raised on Pagebreaker (Ok, Ok, Ok, Ok, Ok), then eventually moved on to Quirk (I still feel like I have fill boxes with a white background in Indesign, due to Quirk's weird bug), which everyone loved, despite the awful upgrade fiasco of 4.0 , which was only topped by the mindbendingly crappy 5.0 upgrade.

I worked with a girl who used Ventura Publisher once, said she liked it, but she preferred Freehand over Illustrator, so clearly she was crazy.

Ok, maybe the Scribus crack was a bit much, but Indesign needs some sort of competition and Quark ain't it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:07 PM on March 10, 2010


Anyone presuming that open source == bad UI design should spend some time with Wordpress.
posted by oulipian at 6:10 PM on March 10, 2010


pfs first choice.
posted by nutate at 6:12 PM on March 10, 2010


UI should not be ignored but some people really seem to think that UI/UX trumps function or that UI/UX is function. A program is a tool, a tool helps me do a task. That is it's primary function, functioning. Doing work.
posted by MrBobaFett at 6:24 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think many people really think GIMP is going to replace Photoshop anymore. It can't replace Photoshop and remain community-driven, for one thing, because Photoshop uses technologies like Pantone colorspace, etc. that cost big bucks to license. But for most things the average user does in Photoshop, GIMP is every bit as good. It's only in high-end professional work (I've used GIMP many times for things I was paid for, but nothing like, say, editing a magazine cover) that Photoshop makes GIMP look weak.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:26 PM on March 10, 2010


Quark 5 was a joke, sure, but what made matters worse was that Quark 6 was a joke, too. Quark 3.21 was a fantastic program. Head and shoulders above Pagemaker. Then Quark 4 came out and did everything we dreamed it would do: type on a curve, character stylesheets, the works. After that, adding web stuff and layers and garbage instead of making it run on the newer Mac hardware and software ... Quark just lost touch with what their core customers wanted. And they held such a monopoly for so long that they made their customers actively hate them. Everyone WANTED to jump to InDesign as soon as it was technically feasible. Sad, really, considering what a great product they had back in the day.
posted by rikschell at 6:44 PM on March 10, 2010


We used to use Professional Page by Gold Disk on an A1000 back in those days.

Ha.. I had a client that did packaging designs in Pro Page on an Amiga. Want to see one of his designs? Here you go. That back panel art doesn't look like much but it is high rez vector artwork with some pretty damn fine gradients. Of course the overall design is pretty much crap, but I presume that was Paramount's decision, not the designer's.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:47 PM on March 10, 2010


Nah, looking back Quark 4 was a sign that the program was going downhill because the pen tool was awful. Rather than copy Illustrator's pen tool, they did something different and inferior.

The Applescript support wad nice though.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:51 PM on March 10, 2010


Pagebreaker

Heh... two decades of DTP and I had never heard that one. PageMangler and PainMaker was the preferred nomenclature.
posted by porn in the woods at 6:52 PM on March 10, 2010


The only thing I miss about Quark is that plugin that created filler text in Klingon.

I miss Quark's alien easter egg, the cool way to delete items from your layout.
posted by porn in the woods at 7:00 PM on March 10, 2010


Heh... two decades of DTP and I had never heard that one. PageMangler and PainMaker was the preferred nomenclature.

RAGEMAKER!!!
posted by emeiji at 7:39 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh Jeez... The first pages I ever laid out on a computer were with Ready Set Go... I picked up my copy at the original Manhattan Graphics office down on Varick Street. I remember MacPublisher... it's time for me to stop typing.
posted by dbiedny at 7:46 PM on March 10, 2010


All the tech writers I worked with in the '90s loved Frame. It ran on Solaris, it ran on Mac, it ran on damn near every RISC/Unix platform out there, including NeXT. Then Adobe bought it, killed all the Unix versions, then killed the Mac version.

The windows version is to deal with legacy files. All the tech writers have gone back to LaTEX, or use Word and hand it off to a design team. But man, if you needed to lay out a book, or better, a few dozen volumes worth of book, it was =the= go-to solution. Now the documentation design pros use InDesign, and bitch about it constantly.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:52 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


The reason the GIMP never took off is that they never got serious about CMYK support. Therefore no professional designer will use it. Therefore no one else will be forced to adopt it. Therefore there's no pressure to simplify the UI.

Oh well....
posted by lumpenprole at 8:05 PM on March 10, 2010


I guess the big question is, why does opensource attract coders but not UI designers? Is it that code can be built collaboratively, but UI is best done by fascists ... I mean solo?
There's a few things at play here - the first and foremost one being that which I've struggled against for my entire career as a designer : programming is binary, design is a variable.

Programming sets out to solve a binary issue : "does it work?"

Design has so many variables and opinions, but the basics become "does it look and feel pleasant to use, and would an average person understand how its basic functions from its design?"

The variables "look pleasant", "feel pleasant", and "average person" vary greatly depending on the person using it, the environment it's running in, the target audience, and the utility for which the thing is used (this applies to everything from a toaster to an iPhone noisemaker app).

So, if you're making an open-source app and adding features you simply want to know "can this new function be executed?" and not "would an average user understand this new function, and does it flow well w/the general design of the app?"

The answers to those questions would vary from developer to developer and if you were committing changes to an app that were visual in nature, you'll get as many opinions as you will the people voting on those opinions. No one's going to argue that a thing doesn't work when it clearly does, and no one's going to say "don't add Feature X" (unless it breaks the UI, in which case only designers will argue).

Since open source commits are mostly hobbyists, it doesn't make sense for a designer to get in there an work with a disconnected team of individual opinions just to make a thing into a coherent whole, due to the headaches involved. Designers prefer one upper-management opinion to say "yes, this will fly" or "no, change this" - the more opinions a designer has to deal with, the more frustrated they become and they'd rather just say "fuck it" than deal.

There's about 100 other reasons beyond that, but that's the first thing that comes to mind and one of the more important ones. I'd be happy to provide icons and UI for an open source project, but I sincerely doubt they'd accept one designer's opinion about "how it should work from a UX perspective" over a bundle of trusted developers arguing otherwise.
posted by revmitcz at 8:35 PM on March 10, 2010


*was supposed to say "how it's basic functions are performed, based on its design"
posted by revmitcz at 8:37 PM on March 10, 2010


I had to open a Quark legacy file a while back, so I *cough* acquired Quark 7. It still looks as shitty back when I started doing design 14 years ago with 3.13. Damn thing looks like it was optimized for OS 8. 14 years later you still have to go to the Edit > Colors > New to add a color to the swatches. I still had to draw a picture box, and then switch to the content tool and then go to a menu item to import a picture. ARE YOU FRIGGIN KIDDING ME?!

I hope they all choke on EPS and DCS files.

Course back then, I was rooting for Canvas. I kinda wished Adobe would go with their kitchen sink approach. Hit the tab and the interface would toggle between PS, ID and Illo palettes and just drop smart objects.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 8:41 PM on March 10, 2010


I guess the big question is, why does opensource attract coders but not UI designers?

Even with a UI designer you need an engineer to do coding. Fairly rote (reading boring) code. A lot of boring code. So a designer alone won't cut it, and you need a designer and the engineers willing to put those designs into practice. Which means taking orders to write boring code, something that hard to get people to do for free. And a good UI needs consistency, and can't be done one little bit at a time. A lot of opensource grows when some engineer needs/wants the software to do X and so they get to work making it do just that, which is the exact opposite approach.

Until there's a UI revolution that changes that, for paying for software is never going to go away. How you pay may change, ala googleOS, but most people are still going to use software that is paid for.
posted by aspo at 8:48 PM on March 10, 2010


If the GIMP is anything to go by as an indicator of open source UI/UX design, then InDesign really has nothing to fear.

The GIMP isn't an indicator of open source UI design. Part of the nature of having many different people dinkering with many different pieces of open source software is that they all look different. Dur.

Anyway, I used Scribus to design my resume, which looks pretty nice and, ironically, got me a job where I use InDesign on a regular basis. I don't find either any easier or harder to use, but I do find it difficult to jump from one to another. Inkscape is very, very good--works in a pinch in place of Illustrator. GIMP is fine for drawing stuff but the controls are finicky and I don't like using it for editing text or photos.

I still feel guilty, though, for my recently-discovered predilection for Word 2007 over openoffice. It crashes all the time, but I just find it so much more pleasant to write on. I have no idea why.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:05 PM on March 10, 2010


Ummm yeah well since the builds for the #1 and #2 commonly used OSes are approaching 2 years old...

Im thinking now.
posted by MrLint at 9:23 PM on March 10, 2010


I have fond memories of designing a perfect replica of my high school's report card in Pagemaker. Indesign and Quark can die in a fire. Bring back my Pagemaker.
posted by jewzilla at 10:28 PM on March 10, 2010


No mention of Ventura Publisher?

I love Ventura Publisher. Intuitive, incredibly powerful. Damn good software.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:40 PM on March 10, 2010


Ah, that article you linked says it well:
Because it was the first major typesetting program to incorporate the concept of an implicit "underlying page" frame, and one of the first to incorporate a strong "style sheet" concept, Ventura Publisher produces documents with a high degree of internal consistency, unless specifically overridden by the user. Its concepts of free-flowing text, paragraph tagging, and codes for attributes and special characters anticipated similar concepts inherent in HTML and XML. Likewise, its concept of "publication" files that tie together "chapter" files gave it the ability to handle documents hundreds (or even thousands) of pages in length as easily as a four-page newsletter.
No wonder I found it easy to use.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:42 PM on March 10, 2010


But for most things the average user does in Photoshop, GIMP is every bit as good.

The average user, maybe—assuming most of their output consists of lolcats image macros. The serious user, regardless of professional status, no. I'm an interested amateur at best, but firing up GIMP in place of Photoshop and losing things like smart layers and adjustment layers is like amputating a limb. Nondestructive editing is damn-near impossible.
posted by Lazlo at 11:12 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another theory about open source usability:

Tyranny of the engineers.


Given that one of the LCA2010 talks featured a senior Rails dev suggesting that people asking for features you don't feel like delivering are "trolls" and you should ignore them I am prepared to subscribe to this view.

Comparing Scribus to GIMP in a "hurf durf, UI" kind of way is just lazy and stupid. It's got weaknesses, but it's orders of magnitude better than GIMP from a usability perspective.

I'm sad that Inkscape is more like Illustrator than Freehand, feel-wise, though. I miss Freehand. Fuck Adobe.
posted by rodgerd at 11:32 PM on March 10, 2010


It's ridiculous to compare Photoshop & the GIMP (or any equivalently complex tool) on the basis of simplistic 'usability'. Both are very complex programs with a wide range of features which are exposed to the end user over a very large UI surface. Unsurprisingly both therefore to get the best out of them you're going to have to learn to use them effectively & that takes work.

It's entirely legitimate to criticise them for core features that they lack. Even amateur end-users are more demanding these days & high bit-depth image support, CMYK colour space & Pantone colours are all things that the Gimp lacks†. The lack of non-destructive layer editing is a pain as well: I don't think the developers really appreciate the freedom it gives to image manipulation. On the other hand, the Gimp's layer masks are really nifty.

For manipulating images for the Web, the GIMP is just fine: My partner used it to generate a pile of images with no help whatsoever from me & she was coming to the UI completely cold. I can't help but feel the the scorn piled on the GIMP UI is a little OTT!.

The GIMP is never going to get Pantone colour selection due to the licensing costs, unless Pantone gets religion.
posted by pharm at 3:42 AM on March 11, 2010


NB. You can do spot colour separations in the GIMP / other open source tools but it's not integrated into the App in a seamless fashion. You can grab the colour swatches from Pantone directly & pick the colours off their sample images, then separate your final image into layers by spot colour & output each layer separately for printing.

Needless to say this isn't really good enough for the average end user, but if you know what you're doing & actually understand spot colours / colour management then it's not that hard either.
posted by pharm at 3:53 AM on March 11, 2010


That's nothing, and this is God's own unadorned truth here, I was once given a wireframe created in Excel.

Hah, I worked on a project where there were at least two Excel guru product managers. And one of them was a very strong UI/UX advocate. Excel just happened to be an easy way for them do to quick and not-so-dirty layouts on a grid.

I think one of them would agree that it also tickled an OCD part of the brain, and the fact of using Excel in such a contrary manner may also have been a point of perverse pride.
posted by zippy at 4:13 AM on March 11, 2010


Tyranny of the engineers.

I wouldn't assign this problem to open-source projects exclusively. I've worked on many closed source commercial products in the last dozen years where the GUI interface was at best an afterthought. I do mostly work on enterprise server type stuff so the interfaces are generally meant for system administrators and not general users but they've been pretty universally terrible and enhancement bugs against the GUI almost always get tagged as "would be nice if we had time". Generally the product managers and project managers have come out of a CS or EE background and don't have any interest in "prettying up" the interface.
posted by octothorpe at 4:18 AM on March 11, 2010


It's ridiculous to compare Photoshop & the GIMP (or any equivalently complex tool) on the basis of simplistic 'usability'.

If you define usability as mastery, then sure, QED and all that.

If you define usability as providing a reasonable and exploratory path from newbiehood to competence, then Photoshop wins over GIMP. That is not to say that Photoshop is totally intuitive, but the grouping of functions in GIMP seems to be according to some internal logic unrelated to photo editing.

In other words, as a newbie at both tools, I spend a lot more time hunting for the function I want in GIMP than in Photoshop.

So, in my experience, GIMP bites the wax tadpole in terms of usability. It's hard to explore, it's not logical to new end-users. PhotoGIMP, which I mentioned upthread, even though it had the same functionality of the GIMP, was much better organized and intuitive for a new user.

New user here means me - engineer, geek, photographer. I'm the kind of person who usually groks apps quickly. The only two applications that I can recall flailing utterly on are GIMP and a particularly complex design-by-accretion GIS suite.
posted by zippy at 4:20 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The GIMP's user experience was designed by engineers for engineers who were never going to buy a copy of Photoshop anyway, and it shows.

And what's wrong with that? It isn't a zero-sum game. It's about making stuff available to people who want it. It's true, I would never buy Photoshop. But now, with the GIMP, I can do many Photoshoppy things I couldn't have done previously. Win.
posted by DU at 5:27 AM on March 11, 2010


Besides, isn't that the reason to hand it off to a professional layout person?
fremen, as we used to say bitterly as we rubbed liniment into our PageMaker 4 scars, "Everyone's a designer."

(Never heard it called "RageMaker" before: very funny and depressingly apt.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:29 AM on March 11, 2010


DU - there's nothing wrong with that per se, except that, to my way of thinking, it illustrates in microcosm why open source is not magic fairy dust that makes everything better, and why FOSS is not the inevitable universal successor to the closed-source, non-free software model.

And I think that's a shame in many ways - because the open source model is a great way to get code built, debugged, maintained and enhanced, provided that the code is not a primarily visually-oriented application.

And that's why I brought up the GIMP (and consequently accept a lot of the blame for creating this massive derail away from discussion of Scribus) - it is a good illustration of why I don't think Scribus will ever displace nor even make a big dent in the sales of the leading products in the page-layout software market.

But - you're absolutely right. It's not a zero-sum game, and I'm glad you get value from the GIMP. And surely people get value from Scribus, too. It's just that they will never be truly dominant in their market segments, the way that Linux, and Apache, and Firefox are in theirs.
posted by kcds at 7:27 AM on March 11, 2010


Part of the problem is that when Photoshop nerds talk about GIMP's interface being "unintuitive" they mean "not Photoshop".
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:54 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, if Photoshop is THE tool, and another tools comes along supposedly to challenge it, that second tool would be wise to make things as intuitive as possible for Photoshop users.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:50 AM on March 11, 2010


I read "make things as intuitive as possible for Photoshop users" as "be Photoshop". *shrug*
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:52 AM on March 11, 2010


Works very well for Open Office and Word 97!
posted by Artw at 10:56 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Footnote: Corel Photopaint turns out to be as powerful as Photoshop, and arguably more powerful. Its bryzantine UI, on the other hand, prevents most anyone from choosing it over Photoshop.

OTOH, CorelDraw is hella better than Illustrator, including in terms of UI. IMO, YMMV.

Then there's Corel Natural Painter. By gods, that is an awesome "natural media" paint program. Insanely great.

...Apple should buy Corel. Bring that shit into OS X, using the slick Apple UI ideas, rock my world.

But, no, Corel will continue to fade away, taking their great shit with them. What a waste!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:11 AM on March 11, 2010


I gimped my photoshop while photoshopping my gimp.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:16 AM on March 11, 2010


CorelDraw is hella better than Illustrator, including in terms of UI

Burn the heretic!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:23 AM on March 11, 2010


My folks, who run a small business producing technical documentation, swear by CorelDraw and have been using it for years, always going back to it after trying other software. I always found this odd, because, well, everyone uses illustrator, right? But it seems to work for them.
posted by Artw at 11:26 AM on March 11, 2010


Ten years on Metafilter and I'm pretty sure this is my first comment. And all I came here to say is:
Ready Set Go! ...Anybody? Anybody at all? ... No? Huh. When I worked at a Kinkos back in the late 1980's that is what I would tell people to use. I'd tell them "you can spend all afternoon trying to learn enough Pagemaker to put out your little punk fanzine (and if you were really punk you would be scotch-taping it up anyway), condo / PTA newsletter whatever, or you could use RSG and be on your way in twenty minutes." Generally people thanked me.
posted by Akaky at 5:34 PM on March 11, 2010


Part of the problem is that when Photoshop nerds talk about GIMP's interface being "unintuitive" they mean "not Photoshop".

This is true. I found DPaint -> Photoshop a pain in the arse. GIMP is not optimal, but some aspects were comfortingly like that old friend.
posted by rodgerd at 10:57 PM on March 11, 2010


I just wanted to point out in the above linked site for GIMP UI designs, GIMP UI Brainstorms.

Here's a recent post done in MS Paint. or perhaps its open-source equivalent.
posted by zippy at 12:46 AM on March 12, 2010


If people still printed things, this would be interesting.
posted by chairface at 11:27 PM on March 12, 2010


I'm not saying you should leave it in PowerPoint, but I see nothing wrong with doing quick layout prototyping that way.

Besides, isn't that the reason to hand it off to a professional layout person?


That and to make sure at least one professional had touched the project. ;)
posted by Thorzdad at 5:42 AM on March 13, 2010


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