In QuarkXPress 8.0, Quark believes it has the right product to take the desktop-publishing fight back to rival Adobe's InDesign package.

It's been two years since Quark last launched a new version of its XPress flagship desktop publishing program and it's been a time of re-evaluation. Ever since Adobe decided to step on Quark's patch and make its own play for the DTP market with the launch of InDesign, Quark has had its work cut out trying to retain its customer base.

Unfortunately for Quark, high prices and the fact that Adobe can offer tight integration with its other market-leading titles, Photoshop, Illustrator and, more recently, Flash and Dreamweaver, mean it's been a losing battle.

With QuarkXPress 8.0, the company believes it's got the product right and we have to agree that this latest version is very strong. Trouble is, it's too late and too expensive.

For QuarkXPress 8.0 the company has gone back to the drawing board and rewritten the software from the bottom up. The result is a lean-looking program that demands no more system resources than QuarkXPress 5.0 or 6.0. QuarkXPress 8.0 also offers support for layers throughout.

While this is of interest for designers in terms of image handling, it also enables Quark to offer a global, multi-language version of XPress for the first time. Prior to this, you needed the yet pricier Passport version if you needed to produce multilingual documents from the same layout. With QuarkXPress 8.0, you can download additional languages (other territories such as the US have Spanish or French preinstalled).

Typographic tools have always been extremely strong in QuarkXPress and version 8.0 extends them still further, with support for baseline grid settings on a box by box or style by style basis. It's now possible to jump to the next instance of a style too, which makes it easier to see the effect of global stylesheet changes.

Blocks of text in quotations can now be made to look ‘visually' right with the introduction of quote marks that sit outside a justified paragraph, something Quark says customers have long requested.

Getting around QuarkXPress 8.0 is easier too. Quark has standardised its shortcuts to reflect those used in other design-related programs such as Illustrator and says test program customers, particularly from its all-important large publishing houses, report noticeable time and measurable cost savings as a result.

You can drag to rotate and resize with ease whereas previously you'd be entering angle values and can generally work a lot more visually (although the more methodical mathematical tools are still there if you prefer).

Navigation buttons at the bottom left offer more split-pane window view options too, while Mac OS users who purchase QuarkXPress 8.0 will enjoy the addition of large thumbnail previews of each page.

QuarkXPress 8.0 looks cleaner too. The cluttered toolbox and measurements bar have been pared back and items grouped thematically and displayed only when the context dictates. Most notably and straightforwardly, you no longer have to decide in advance whether that box at the top right is to contain text or an image; instead, QuarkXPress 8.0 recognises the type of content you've filled it with and offers appropriate tools.

NEXT PAGE: the expanded tool box, interactive elements and our expert verdict > >

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In QuarkXPress 8.0, Quark believes it has the right product to take the desktop-publishing fight back to rival Adobe's InDesign package.

These now include proper Bezier line drawing tools, so you don't have to flip out into Illustrator all the time. QuarkXPress 8.0 mimics InDesign in its implementation of drop shadow support – something that now has a dedicated icon and associated measurement toolbar. Illustrator and PDF documents get proper native support too.

In practice, we found some of these improvements less intuitive than all this suggests – click anywhere in QuarkXPress 8.0 and you'll be constantly pressing Ctrl Z to get rid of that box you didn't want it to auto-create in the first place. However, the ease of creation comes into its own when you want to associate multiple text boxes without grouping items.

Finally, and crucially for Quark, there's proper support for interactive elements. Interactive Designer is being integrated into QuarkXPress 8.0 in line with Quark's statement that DTP "is no longer about static pages".

While this feature is no match for having Flash as part of your creative arsenal, the ability to make a duplicate of your layout and designate it an interactive project with SWF files and mouseover actions is a real step forward for QuarkXPress 8.0.

You don't need to start out with an ‘interactive' template either – you can retrospectively add Flash elements to an existing layout. We tried running a train along the route of the steam railway in the brochure we'd produced having first imported a map and roughly drawn along its length. We also had photos appear on mouseovers.

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QuarkXPress 8.0: Specs

  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista
  • 1GB of available RAM recommended (256 minimum on Windows XP, 512MB minimum on Windows Vista)
  • 450MB of available hard disk space
  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista
  • 1GB of available RAM recommended (256 minimum on Windows XP, 512MB minimum on Windows Vista)
  • 450MB of available hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

We were impressed with QuarkXPress 8.0. if you've been waiting for a compelling reason to make the move from Quark 4.0 or 5.0, then this may well be it (as a £279 upgrade, it's well worthwhile). However, if you're looking for your first professional DTP program, then there's no getting away from the huge price tag with which QuarkXPress 8.0 is saddled, nor the fact that you can kit yourself out with Adobe Creative Suite 3.0's InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator or Dreamweaver package for only a hundred pounds more.

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