Thursday, May 21, 2009...10:36 am

Quark 8 versus InDesign CS4

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Steve Hill’s New Journalism Review blog has a note about the comparison of Quark 8 and InDesign CS4 in MacUser (which isn’t yet online, apparently). 

My take is that the debate on software features misses the point a little. The question of which to buy normally doesn’t depend on which is the best product. It’s pretty much the same decision as whether to buy VHS or Betamax back in the early 80s (and other similar technology quandaries subsequently) – which kind do your friends have?

For Quark v InDesign, of course, it’s which kind do your clients/employers have, if you’re a freelancer like me. Or which kind is the cheapest/easiest to run for a company, if you are a bigger publisher.

One company I worked for hung on to Mac OS9 for years after OSX came in, because it didn’t want to have to upgrade from Quark 4. Then, eventually, it upgraded all its IT at once – and switched the whole company to InDesign at the same time.

Why? Money, primarily. But even though InDesign was cheaper and made more sense to use, it took years to make the switch. That’s why it’s taken years for InDesign to become the dominant player.

I remember tech reviews from a decade ago, like this one, predicting that Adobe had created a Quark killer – but that took forever to come true. By the same token, it will take a long time for an InDesign killer to gain any traction in the market. Remember, Pagemaker was the dominant player back in the dawn of time of the mid-80s, and that limped on for decades before Adobe largely pulled the plug in 2004. You can even still buy it (though I suspect very few do). 

Quality isn’t really the key issue. InDesign is kind of better (though you do need to spend some time, effort and money on training support if you switch). But ultimately it all comes down to economics. Sure, Quark will retain a diminishing base. But even making Quark 8 fantastic will probably not help it regain the lead.

The review suggests this:

There are now fewer reasons for Quark users to make the transition to switch to InDesign, although it’s unlikely many users will make the transition the other way

Steve Hill argues that “It’s good to have competition in DTP” – which is true enough (competition is good in any market). But it will only make it more of a close call in choosing to switch to Adobe.

I wonder if framing the debate as Quark 8 versus InDesign CS4 is even relevant. I suspect the big threat to both will come from an open source model – maybe as Drupal/Joomla are driving in terms of CMS on the web. And also the big threat will be from the web, as more content bypasses the traditional DTP stage.

Given that InDesign is integrated with Adobe’s web design tools, that’s another disadvantage for Quark. I’ve never been aware that Quark’s web integration was much to write home about (even if it’s better now).

Perhaps in a few years’ time we’ll be using some Google app to lay out our pages. Or whatever has taken Google’s place as the tech behemoth du jour…

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