How Quark Lost it All

quarkLast spring, at the height of customer outrage over Adobe’s Creative Cloud coup, users were so offended that some even suggested returning to the application that made desktop publishing a viable occupation in the first place: QuarkXPress. Those were emotional times, of course. After all, who would ever really go back to Quark after years spent working with InDesign?

But why has this attitude come to pass? How exactly did Quark go from being the only real game in town to the design equivalent of Ask Jeeves?

Dave Girard at Ars Technica tackles the question in detail in his new piece “How QuarkXPress became a mere afterthought in publishing.” In addition to exploring complaints by users of Quark’s anecdotally abysmal customer service, he also manages to dredge up actual evidence of this attitude:

“Quark repeatedly failed to make OS X-native versions of XPress—spanning versions 4.1, 5, and 6—but the company still asked for plenty of loot for the upgrades. With user frustration high with 2002’s Quark 5, CEO Fred Ebrahimi salted the wounds by taunting users to switch to Windows if they didn’t like it, saying, “The Macintosh platform is shrinking.” Ebrahimi suggested that anyone dissatisfied with Quark’s Mac commitment should “switch to something else.”

It’s advice people apparently took—just not the way he meant it. It was likely that Quark saw increasing growth in Windows sales as a sign that the Mac publishing market was dwindling. However, what they were probably seeing was new users, not migration to Windows. I’ve heard about Windows-based publishing environments, but I’ve never actually seen one in my 20+ years in design and publishing.”

The piece is a fascinating read, and also goes into great detail about the feature deficiencies on Quark’s side that made InDesign such a boon. “This is the main reason Quark lost its dominant position in the print industry,” he claims. But it’s really not, is it?

What wrecked Quark, and what he suggests may do the same to Adobe, is what he rightly refers to as “hubris” – that “take it or leave it” attitude that typified Quark from early on.

Consider for a moment just how fed up with your chief work software you have to be to jack it all in, which means falling behind on your work  in order to learn a whole new application and deal with all of the little inconsistencies that crop up. Then consider how much grief workers have to give their managers about said program in order to get their companies to cough up the money necessary to buy all new licenses for a new program.

The piece concludes: “Hopefully, QuarkXPress’ demise is one big lesson that all software publishers, no matter how dominant, have internalized: listen to your users and respect them.”

It remains to be seen if that lesson has been learned by Adobe.



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