Layout software's conundrum: Adobe annoys and grows, Quark gets sold

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The timing could be sublime: Quark bought by a company which wants to develop its content automation capabilities, just as Adobe's big-end aspirations and subscription model are beginning to get up some users' noses.

The acquisition of Quark Software Inc by software-focused private equity firm Parallax Capital Partners comes as Quark is gaining recognition for its content automation developments. Recent kudos has come in the form of a Gartner "cool vendor" nomination in content services and a finalist place in the CODiE awards.

Southern California-based Parallax says it wants to help Quark accelerate adoption of its "transformational" content automation solutions through investment in organic growth and acquisitions.

More importantly, it's an investment in the QuarkXpress layout application which was an industry favourite until Adobe Systems - having acquired the pioneering Aldus PageMaker and Photoshop - bought market share with its newly-developed InDesign product.

That's history, dating to the decade-or-so after John Warnock and Charles Geschke left Xerox PARC, establishing Adobe Systems in 1982 to develop PostScript and its open child the PDF document format. Paul Brainerd's PageMaker launched the desktop publishing revolution, but rival QuarkXpress was more professional, even if imagesetting bureaux baulked at accepting files because so many different versions were in circulation... and its boss, Fred Ebrahimi somehow made the company you loved to hate. By the time Adobe had InDesign ready, with its typography and sheer "buzz", at the start of the new millennium, QuarkXpress users - who accounted for something like 95 per cent of the market - were ripe for change.

There's a similar groundswell at the moment: Adobe's offering is fabulous and extensive, its visual and audiovisual presentations faultless... but increasingly expensive and inflexible.

Those who want to own software outright are confronted by a monthly subscription which does little to take account of how much use you have for it, or how many of the applications you need. Business users are currently asked for A$1116 a year for the use of the Creative Cloud suite of 20 applications, which is actually cheaper than renting any three separately.

We've also had reports in recent weeks of users of the DPS Digital Publishing Suite tablet creation product looking for alternatives, as DPS gets more integrated into Adobe's Cloud Experience offering.

As we are ourselves at GXpress, for that matter, having joined Dollar Photo Club at US$10 a month, to source generic pics for our website, only to find it taken over by Adobe and replaced by their much more expensive Stock library. The last couple of months have seen our credit card charged with more than $40.

Parallax managing partner James Hale sees in Quark a company with outstanding talent and leadership, innovative technology and an acclaimed customer base, "having a transformational impact within a wide range of industries". Quark president and chief executive Ray Schiavone says the company has reinvented itself "in the face of insurmountable odds".

In Australia, Quark also has a new distributor, keen to trade on its single-purchase-and-optional-upgrades model against Adobe's subscription model.

We're keen to see more, but it appears that a much more developed Quark is back with a vengeance in a market in which Adobe is doing exactly what Ebrahimi did in 2002: Not listening.

Peter Coleman

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