Quark, the Microsoft of professional desktop publishing, has taken a belated step towards fully integrating print into the world of interactive electronic media. Avenue.quark, due to ship next spring, is an add-on to Quark XPress, the package used to publish the majority of the newspapers and magazines in the UK. The add-on translates Quark pages into eXtended Markup Language (XML), which is taking over many tasks from the related, but more limited, web page description language HTML. This may appear to be a fairly trivial task, but it has far-reaching ramifications and finally addresses a significant problem that has faced print publications since the dawn of the web boom five years ago: how to extract data from Quark pages for republishing on the web. But a bigger question is why Quark hasn't done it - or something like it - before. Quark freely admits to having been slow to latch on to the web, but points out that its biggest rival, Adobe, was as well. But Adobe moved fast when it spotted the trend, and quickly brought out a web products range. One reason for Adobe's reaction could have been that it was not so locked into traditional print. Its flagship product, PageMaker, was widely used for in-house and other small-scale publications, but had long ceded the mass-publishing market to XPress. This wasn't necessarily because Quark software was better - the industry simply gravitated to XPress for much the same reason it gravitated to PC architecture and Microsoft's operating systems: it needed some kind of standard. This should have given Quark a commanding position when the need arose for web publishing packages. There seemed no reason why it should not adapt XPress, allowing its users to extend their existing skills to the web. Yet Quark Immedia, which aims to do just that, didn't come out until two years ago, by which time it was too late. It has hardly taken the world by storm, and Quark has no plans to develop it further. Instead, Immedia features will be incorporated into future versions of Quark XPress. No company facing the full force of competition could have got away with being so slow to adapt to change. But Quark does seem to have finally developed a sensible web roadmap, on which avenue.quark is an early milepost. But users are still left with the problem of what to do with the XML files. As a short-term solution, Quark has worked with Vignette to integrate avenue with its StoryTeller system, for automatic republishing on the web. It will follow up with facilities for creating web page templates and flowing XML files into them. The next stage will be to integrate this function with web servers. But all this is transition software, and for the long-term it needs to be turned on its head. All of the big publishers are multiplatform, formatting the same material in several different ways, including having to format for the various display sizes found on the web. XML, which is designed for this purpose, is a more efficient starting point than the printed page. Quark will have to make the avenue.quark process bi-directional, allowing XPress to interpret XML files. XML will become a standard Quark file format, just as Microsoft Word has adopted HTML. This is bound to consolidate XML as the global information file format, meaning virtually all publishing will become XML publishing. QUARK'S BATTLE PLAN FOR THE DESKTOP Despite the threat from Adobe's InDesign, Quark hopes to maintain XPress' dominant position in the desktop publishing market with technologies concentrating on packaging design and internet publishing. The software vendor also has development tools based on direct marketing, ecommerce personalisation, database publishing and catalogue production. Speaking at an event in London in July, Tim Gill, founder of Quark, said: "We are not exclusively interested in making general purpose tools. We are also committed to providing more focused tools that enable our customers to work more productively."
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