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What Price XPress 6?

How much will your XPress 6 upgrade really cost?

We've all heard by now about the announcement of QuarkXPress 6--that there's finally a version of XPress built to work with Macintosh OS X. By all accounts, the presentation in Cupertino was an Apple-Quark lovefest, complete with hugs between Steve Jobs and Fred Ebrahimi, neither one generally considered the cuddly type. Obviously, emotions were running high.

And with good reason. It's a big development for both companies. To rehash a little conventional wisdom: a version of XPress for OS X is important for Apple because it brings one of the primary programs used by one of Apple's most important market segments to the company's current and future platform. Apple delayed its plans to cease selling computers that could still boot into OS 9, supposedly because of all the Quark users that still needed such a computer. Now Apple can move its users into the future in the manner it wants--just in time to start using (and buying) the new G5 computers.

Meanwhile, for Quark, the new version blunts some of the threat posed by Adobe's InDesign. Without a true OS X version of XPress, Mac designers tempted by OS X had to consider switching page-layout programs as well. The wait for XPress was becoming a drag on those who wanted to move forward with the Macintosh times. Nobody wants to be held hostage to old hardware because of a particular piece of software.

Now the logjam's broken. And the new XPress comes not only with the ability to work on OS X but with an attractive assortment of new features. There are intriguing tools for collaborative workflows, such as something called "layout spaces" that can gather multiple layouts with their own style sheets, colors, and so on into a single project. And a "synchronized text" feature will enable content to be shared among the layouts, so that changes in text in one place will be reflected throughout the project.

There are also changes to the way XPress uses layers that supposedly make it easier to print layered projects, as well as improved table creation features. And for those who use XPress as a Web page design tool, there are enhancements to rollovers and hyperlinks as well as improved working with XML. Perhaps most significantly, Quark has added the ability to generate PDFs directly from within XPress. The company has licensed the PDF creation engine from Global Graphics, makers of the Jaws suite of PDF tools and the storied Harlequin RIP. This new capability further shores up XPress' defense against the InDesign assault.

Can't wait to get your hands on it, right? Actually, there's one often-overlooked detail that could slow down a lot of otherwise eager XPress users. Shops that have multiple XPress workstations are going to have to consider their upgrade strategies carefully. You see, XPress 6 will be able to save in XPress 5 format, but nothing earlier than that. I don't know the numbers on how many XPress 4 users ever upgraded to 5, although news and rumor sites from around when 5 was released suggest that the answer might be, not as many as Quark hoped. But now, shops that decided to stick with 4 and wait for the OS X version aren't going to be able to upgrade piecemeal, by adding a couple of OS X/XPress 6 workstations to the mix and seeing how it works out. If they want to share files among all their workstations, they'll have to upgrade all their copies of 4 to something, anyway. Quark has announced upgrade pricing for the move to 6--moving from 5 to 6 will cost $199; from 4 to 6, $299; and from 3 to 6, $499. Quark tells me they'll continue to offer a 4-to-5 upgrade, but said they won't "promote them" and declined to set a price.

There's another twist in the upgrade strategy: anybody who's been making PDFs from XPress files already has some kind of process in place for handling that. Do they move to the new PDF generation capability built into Xpress? Wait for that feature to show up in Apple's upcoming Panther release of OS X? Or, stay with what they have, which likely involved Adobe Acrobat--which has also recently been upgraded?

And we haven't even mentioned the cross-platform shops. The Mac version of XPress 6 should be shipping right about now, but a ship date for the Windows version hasn't even been announced yet. So if you've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of XPress 6, just remember the old saying: Be careful what you ask for--you might get it.

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