Unless You Are a Masochist, Do Not Buy QuarkXPress

I don’t remember that offer, but when I launched my magazine in 2002, I standardized on InDesign for two reasons:

  1. InDesign worked under the new Mac OS X operating system, which I predicted was the future (Quark only ran under OS 9 emulation and if I recall it took them years to come out with a native OS X version).

  2. I had a copy of PageMaker I’d bought under an academic license and Adobe gave me a cheap crossgrade to InDesign ($99?), which was enticing for a new business.

At the time I disliked Quark the corporation because of their money-grubbing ways (really expensive upgrades, tech support cost $, etc.) and Adobe seemed a lot nicer. But once InDesign and the Creative Suite became a monopoly (the new standard), Adobe switched to their current subscription plan and have turned into a money-grubbing monster just like the old Quark (and it sounds like the current Quark).

I’d love to switch to something else (Affinity Designer?) and I probably will some day, but it’s tough to change when you’ve got nearly two decades invested into a product.

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It’s good to mention Affinity in this discussion. But, as great as Affinity fPublisher is, I’m not so much concerned with bugs as with the underlying paradigm. PageMaker, InDesign, and QXP all work on a “aggregation” model: they ingest different kinds of files like graphics and text, and then integrate them into a single document that will output correctly for different devices.

Affinity Publisher sort of does that, too. Serif still has a long way to go, however, before they implement all the ingestion filters that made the “Place…” command such a seamless experience in its competitors’ products. The beta versions mostly felt like Serif had hoped users would paste documents directly into a layout rather than expect to import them.

The company has been responsive to feedback from users, but my sense is they are still behind the curve in this regard.

I do note that they finally added picas/points to their options for measurement scales, though it took the development of Publisher and a lot of feature requesting for that to happen.

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I’ll give you the professional workflow ingestion filters and the like. It does integrate nicely with other Affinity software. They added picas/points already. Not every one needs the same toolchain and some can adapt their workflow. The professional magazine and other print industries can afford the insane pricing of Adobe. But a lot of smaller less automated scenarios, Affinity is worth a good hard look. Obviously, it’s not going to work exactly the same way and one needs to be willing to rethink things a bit.

You mean like this?

Or this:
And this:

My employer has given me a subscription to InDesign but I’ll be reaching for Publisher when it is time to do my own projects. I’m banking on Affinity being around for a good while and this has emerged as a solid piece of software.

This is troubling. QuarkXPress projects paid all or most of my wages through the early 1990s. After that, I put together dozens of simple books with it, plus magazines.

Two or three years ago, I put together a book for a client with the new version. I did not get to the indexing since the person who handled that chore “choked” on the project and gave it up.

While tech support was nightmarish in the early days for many reasons not mentioning here, I have long found that, for the kind of work I do, QuarkXPress was faster and more predictable.

My original background was traditionally typography, and maybe that’s why I found XPress a superior work environment.

Just FYI: Quark offers a year of free tech support with a new purchase, same with purchase of an upgrade. After that, continued tech support is optional. So I do not understand why the writer of the article says Quark wanted payment for such support. Or why, if the project was so mission critical, the fee wasn’t paid after expiration of the free support period.


As a designer/engineer in various fields, I have been using QXP for three decades. Combined with BBEdit, it was, and remains, a publishing powerhouse.

I was publishing hard-bound books and very lengthy, elaborate directories (using Xdata and Xtags extensively), in the late nineties and early naughties, and had the usual love/hate relationship with QXP. My grief over Adobe buying and then immediately killing FreeHand made me seriously question the company, and I will not succumb to the Adobe subscription model.

I am saddened that Charles has had so many problems, but QXP 2018 has been very stable for me and the rare technical support I have ever required has been graciously given. I wish him well, but ask others to consider that his experiences with QXP are not universal.

Blessings to us all.

Read all the comments and it was a trip down memory lane. Got into typesetting in the '80s & dabbled with Framemaker & Ventura Publisher before QXP became the soup du jour in the biz. Remember the troublesome upgrading path of v3, and all its headaches under OS9, moved onto v4 for a spell, then v5 which I believe was the OSX update. Used v6 until I retired and seem to remember it was very stable, flexible and as others have noted coded for true typographers who cut their teeth with Xacto knives and always had wax on their fingers. None of this phony CAD stuff.
My only beef with Quark was that it just stopped working back in 2015 or so. A lot of people complained, but the cure was just to set the date on your computer back a couple of years and it resurrected OK. Still doing that when I [rarely] crank it up for an odd job. Can’t comment on more recent interations, but my experience with InDesign back then was that it was a piss-ass product that was too finicky, inflexible… and of course with their “subscription” approach you never really own the product (or your projects, for that matter, should you let the sub expire).
I might also suggest a third-party app by an independent developer I had some good experiences with, PageStream which was coded for Mac OS9, OSX, Win, Linux and even Amiga. It’s still being updated, reasonably priced and tech support by Deron is first-rate. Like QXP it addresses layout in conventional terms and is designed to meet the needs of the user, not arbitrary Silicon Valley dictates.
And also very good for book production & composing in general is Scrivener by Literature & Latte. It may not be suitable for flashy coffee-table publications, but it’s a workhorse product for people who don’t need a lot of bells & whistles.

Sheesh! This is the first time I’m replying/commenting to anything in Tidbits. I’ve been a tech guy since buying an Osborne 1 in the '80s. I taught and did tech support for Ashton-tate’s dBase products, FrameMaker before and after Adobe bought it, participated in several Adobe pre-release (AKA beta-test) programs over several decades. When I was a technical writer, there were corporate initiatives to strip us professionals out of the product development process because, after all, the thinking went, “the engineers and developers had been speaking all their lives, so what’s the big deal? Why can’t they write the documentation? In fact, we’re on the cusp of self-documenting engineering processes anyway, so who needs writers? And, besides, nobody reads documentation. It’s a waste of money.”

So, I’m shocked! shocked! to read through this thread. It’s an echo of stuff we’ve all read for as long as we’ve used any product and found venues to complain about them.

The authors of this book are not stupid people. In fact, from a quick read of their sample chapters, they’re probably super-brilliant. But, just because they’re smart enough to think so brilliantly about their fields of interest and expertise, and write about them so well, doesn’t mean they’re skilled enough to design and produce a book to contain their content and wrestle into submission, in a publication with a tool powerful enough to be equal to that task. It’s not trivial, no matter how simple a finished publication may appear.

In the olden days, publishing workflows included source-content creators, editors, fact-checkers, blah-blah, specialists of all kinds, just to create the content. Illustrators whose skills were not just artistic, but conceptual - how to make some kind of graphic example of an idea that could clearly communicate a literal thought quickly visually. Then there were the crews who’d put that matter onto pages, paginate them, coordinate cross-references, italicize foreign words within main content, follow all the style guide rules, etc. This was as collaborative as creating a theatrical movie. A team of skilled professionals. If you want a modern example, just patiently look at the credits for any Ken Burns, Frontline, or American Experience documentary on PBS to see what goes into a real production.

So, thinking that it’ll be as easy as plunking down some cash for a software tool that will transmogrify the intelligently-created content into a professional publication, is a wonderfully optimistic but wrong idea. The error is believing that the software can empower one individual with the range of skills that used to belong to that collaborative team of professionals.

Looking at the sample chapters, I can’t see anything that couldn’t have been put together with MS Word, if one had achieved sufficient skill with its tools, and had learned workarounds for its inadequacies and bugs. With a solid version of QXP, FrameMaker, or InDesign, one skilled with the tool could have done the work more efficiently and less painfully. Did anyone notice that links in the PDF index example aren’t live? Perhaps it’s by choice, to restrict the sample’s functionality, but perhaps it’s an oversight of setting up QXP’s PDF export. (If you open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat or equally-capable PDF reader tool, you can expose the identity of the tool that created the document. The sample was created with QXP.)

Thanks to those who said kind words here about FrameMaker. They are right, in the sense that it’s powerful. I didn’t see anyone mention that it can run just fine on Mac under Windows with Parallels or other virtual hosting software.

I’ve used InDesign since its inception. It’s great, but one needs to have the design and publishing expertise to use it well.

Simply put: just because you can get into a car’s driver seat doesn’t mean you have the skills to drive at speed safely in daily traffic in all kinds of weather, or even can change a flat tire on a side street on a nice spring day. Isn’t that why we have cells phones and AAA?

This isn’t to excuse Quark’s software problems or its poor customer support policies going back to day one. And it’s not to overlook the genuine pain the authors experienced in bringing their brainchild to publication. Readers and intellects everywhere will benefit from their efforts in pulling all those ideas and materials together.

IMO the lesson here is that it’s easy to bash stuff online. It was ever thus. It’s especially to pile-on bashing something that seems to deserve it. It’s easy to feel comfortable while bashing an easy target.

But, in all the product-specific forums I’ve observed over the years, the only solid argument about whether a tool is “good” is if it’s right for the task, and if the user has the skills to use it at its best.

As to the cost of an Adobe InDesign subscription, note that this is not a cheap book, it’s an expensive product. Cost of production is one ingredient. Consider that Creative Cloud subscriptions can be monthly or annually, for one or multiple products and multiple users. Like the insurance emu commercials say, “you can pay only for what you need.”

The real conceptual failure in this software mess is the expectation that any sophisticated software product can imbue an individual with all the skills and experience that once were distributed among teams of individual specialists who collaborated on creating great publications, From reading the comments here, some of you are such polymaths, but may not be content authors. So this emphasizes that the one option that was overlooked was that of collecting all of all of the content for this project, then hiring a book-production professional to put it together.

And don’t overlook the value embedded in all the hard-knocks experiences the authors collected first-hand and in the feedback in these comments. Stuff like this can’t be unlearned. it’s just a little surprising at how many times it seems to be repeating.

As to masochism… Back in the day, one of the long-time technical writers on the early Internet FrameMaker comp.text.frame forum, mused about the then-newish Adobe “boilerplate” placeholder text that began “Lorem ipsum…” Allegedly, a scholar had discovered an early clay tablet with that text, and had translated it, concluding that it had been written by indentured scribes - the counterparts to us modern=day technical writers. It translated to “We love to beat ourselves with sticks.” Allegedly.


That’s so sad. QuarkXPress 3.3 was THE best page layout application of 30 years ago. I had easily learned PageMaker 4.1 on my own, but I shied away from learning QuarkXPress since it scared me due to its vast complexity. I only came back to learn it when I stumbled upon a job opportunity which required that dreaded software. I found an excellent book and played around with it on the Mac Classics at school, and slowly I became a convert as I found ways for QuarkXPress to run circles around PageMaker. But then Adobe bought out Aldus and created InDesign from the ground up. After a shaky first version, it quickly rocked subsequent versions. Alas, QuarkXPress 4 did not. I was so terribly disappointed at how clunky it had become. I didn’t stick around for QuarkXPress 5 as InDesign fit my bill.

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That reminds me of my biggest peeve with Indesign: The measurements are always in picas, never in points (if you’re an actual typesetter and work in picas and points instead of inches). For example, want to add a couple of points above a heading to better balance a page spread? You have to enter (first, you have to make sure the measurement palette or ribbon is set on paragraph, not character) “+p3”. In Quark: “+3”. A small thing, but they add up.

Good point. I’ve actually set a book professionally in Word (with graphics!): an interesting challenge. Working in Indesign is actually rather similar (eg, the mysteries of “Allow Selected Spread [or Page] To Shuffle”). A project in Quark requires planning, but actually much less than in Indesign, and Quark’s behavior is a lot more predictable (and controllable).

The measurements are always in picas, never in points

You can set the units for InDesign under Preferences > Units and Increments.

One important publishing system not mentioned is TeX by Donald Knuth. Mr. Knuth was writing his legendary books on computer algorithms and wasn’t satisfied by layout options so he took time off to write his own typesetting system in 1978. There are Mac only implementations including MacTeX. Has anyone used it? Traditional TeX is a markup system and has been replaced by TeX Live. MacTeX is a Mac only version of TeX Live.

Yes, you can set the units to points, and then you have the opposite issue: page and text column dimensions are, absurdly, not in picas. Whereas, in Quark, set the units to picas, and it knows to use points in specifying font sizes and leading.

Having been around for so long, I often wonder if it’s a blessing or curse to be able to remember stuff from “back in the day.” :wink: I remember early on reading about an engineer who’d written a 65-page with the DOS utility edlin, a line text editor that needed CR/LF at the end of each line. Almost any tool’s limitations can be overcome or even embraced, given sufficient persistence and willingness to learn coping skills.

When I first taught FrameMaker to working engineers and technical writers in the '90s, although I loved it because it made me learn something new every time I opened a document (overabundance of the curiosity gene, I guess,) these students often complained that it was too complicated. It dawned on me that the complexity wasn’t in the product, but rather it was the new and demanding publishing workflow they were unexpectedly being initiated to. “I used to have just to document the stuff I was working on, then hand it off. Now, I’ve got to do the screenshots, annotate them, put them in the right place, consider what page stuff ends up on, etc.” Yes, another professional career suddenly superimposed on one’s main one.

The InDesign shuffle option you mention is a consequence of ID having evolved from “simple” page layout, to the whole spectrum of print and electronic publishing. It’s possible to include multiple alternate layouts in one InDesign document, for output to a variety of electronic formats, page sizes, different degrees of interactivity, and compliance with accessibility requirements.

As to the degree of planning needed in various tools, doesn’t it depend on the scope of the project? I’d offer that the complexity of the project dictates the amount of planning it requires. I’m sure you know there are pre-press people whose purpose is to discover everything that is wrong or could go wrong with a client’s submitted project, before it goes on press, so that it doesn’t cause expensive troubleshooting and workflow disruption.

We all love the tools we’re most competent and familiar with. Before InDesign gained almost all of FrameMaker’s long-document authoring and multi-file book publication tools, I had no problem thinking which one I’d recommend to write and publish a technical publication. But, once ID caught up, and even exceeded FM in some areas, it’s more about which one is more comfortable for the user, or is required by those paying for the work.

Thanks for your comment.


This, unfortunately is a universal problem.

Programmers are (generally) not good writers and writers are (generally) not software developers. But companies expect both jobs to be done by the same person (or team of people). The result is either bad code or bad documentation or both.

This might make sense in a small company that can’t afford to run a technical publications department. It is brain-dead in a multi-billion dollar company. Especially one that already has a (somewhat technical) publications department dedicated to marketing and press releases.

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No argument, but that was why I explicitly provided an intro to the article. Charles is highly technical, and having spent time helping him across several days, I can say with assurance that he wasn’t doing anything obviously wrong.

Over the past 27 years, I have published numerous (300 or so, counting all versions) books in InDesign, Word, Pages, and Nisus Writer Pro, so I have a pretty good idea of what’s possible, how things should work, and what can go wrong.

Personally, I wouldn’t have chosen QuarkXPress, but for the kind of things Charles was hoping to produce, it was seemingly a reasonable choice. I would have been hesitant to use a word processor for what he was trying to achieve.

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Well, companies don’t get to multi-billion size without believing that they’ve been doing a few things right, right? So, why question themselves, they might think.

I mean, when stuff went right for the first six days of Creation, without there being any user manuals, what could be wrong about delivering Eden without documentation? There was no “NOTE: DO NOT EAT FRUIT OF THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE!” The marketing was “If you build, they will come.” But that whole system was hacked by a snake, and here we are now. :slight_smile:

Sheesh! We’re in violent agreement, Adam. Personally, I never liked QXP from the first demo I saw at a trade show in the last century. I was already using FullWrite Professional and FrameMaker. (OK, also vi and xroff.)

Maybe I’m different from others who grew up hating error messages for popping up during early learning stages in their tech lives, because I had already learned that mistakes are learning opportunities. When I trained folks, I could quickly point them to solutions for the messes they’d gotten themselves into, because I’d already bought those T-shirts many times over. I liked those messages because they confirmed that someone behind the scenes had already found that false trail and, if they couldn’t make it so that a user wouldn’t fall into harm, they at least had marked and made it safe for us who’d sooner or later come along. However, the greatest irritation came from error messages that were useless for one or more reasons, which usually meant that they only made sense to the developers, but not to users. Charles somehow got sucked into a worst-case example of well-intended engineering gone terribly wrong, like those woven finger traps, or quicksand, where the more one struggles, the deeper one’s lost. It’s always gladdening to know that human ingenuity and relentless perseverance does pay off. The book got done! We’re all better for that.

Where I know I’m different from you is that, while I’ve thought about many books I’d wanted to produce, but life happened, and though the dreams persisted, I did other stuff. I’m not sure how or when I first ran across your various enterprises and publications, but over the years I’ve always appreciated the information and experiences you’ve shared with the communities I’ve been in. Thanks!

Thanks for the kind words! I do think we’ve come a long way because in most cases, even when apps do crash or misbehave, data isn’t lost that often anymore, something that was a lot more common in the distant past. That was one of the reasons I wanted Charles to write this article—he really did lose work to corrupted data constantly. Even if his experience isn’t universal, it was severe enough to warrant a warning to others.