Quark Inc. has been busy in preparation for archrival Adobe's pending launch of Creative Suite 3. In New York City last week, Quark hosted an analysts' briefing to review how QuarkXPress 7 has been retooled and expanded to blunt further competition from Adobe InDesign and the other applications in the Creative Suite bundle. Within the last few weeks, Quark has announced broader language support, compatibility with Windows Vista, and freely downloadable Xpert Tools (XTensions) for its flagship product. The analysts were told that shortly after Adobe unveils CS3 on March 27, Quark will respond with another briefing on how it assesses the new offering and what competitive impact it thinks the release is likely to have.

It's a good case study in proactive marketing communications' and convincing evidence of Quark's new reliance on openness and responsiveness as strategies for pushing back against the inroads of InDesign. At the briefing, Jürgen Kurz, senior vice president of the desktop business unit, spoke of a top-down commitment to "be as open as a public company" in terms of customer relations even though Quark remains privately held. Apparently, the word is getting out and sinking in: Kurz said that since QuarkXPress 7 was released last year with a complement of 160 new features, the holders of some 70,000 site licenses for older versions have upgraded to the new edition (currently in version 7.1).

Quark's market outreach wasn't always this persuasive, a fact that the company's new senior management team readily admits. The 20-year-old product lost ground to InDesign (which first shipped in 1999) through blunders like Quark's slowness to make the Mac version compatible with Apple's OS X. Users complained regularly about the lack of new features and lividly about sub-par customer support. Speaking about the quality of the product's interface, Kurz acknowledged that "the user experience is still the experience from 1991""”a situation that he said Quark is working hard to improve.

The company's present goal is to move on from past missteps and to reposition QuarkXPress as a fully-featured, powerful solution for multichannel publishing. Kurz said that Quark, having "missed the boat" by failing to make designers think of QuarkXPress as a creative tool, now is out to offer these users an experience that's "at least equal" to what they enjoy when working with the components of Creative Suite. Quark hopes to win converts in this segment with new features such as full manipulability of native Photoshop files; QuarkXPress Server 7 and "Composition Zones" for collaborative, distributed page creation; and Quark Interactive Designer, a plug-in for creating Flash-like projects on the Web.

The analysts were assured that QuarkXPress 7 won't forget its roots as a production tool"”the application that did more than any other to make desktop publishing a reality in thousands of prepress departments and service bureaus. New production-focused features include the ability to create XML-based "job jackets" that convey job specifications from creation to output. Quark also has released the Quark Print Collection, a bundle of XTensions or Acrobat plug-ins for page imposition and related markup. It's intended as an "aggressively priced" ($299) alternative to high-end imposition solutions like Preps and Impostrip.

Kurz and other Quark executives treated the briefing as a listening exercise, diligently jotting down the analysts' comments, eagerly soliciting their suggestions, and frankly picking their brains for nuggets of market intelligence. For staunch adherents of QuarkXPress, this change of attitude is welcome news indeed. What the launch of CS3 will do to escalate the Quark-Adobe desktop publishing "war" is anybody's guess, but Quark has made it clear that its days of being caught napping by its rival are permanently behind it.