Once upon a time

A couple of years ago, I was standing in the checkout line at an outlet store on Nut Tree Road in Vacaville, California, in a sea of well-established residential neighborhoods, remarking to a young sales associate…

…I remember back when I was in college, there were nothing out here—no houses, no neighborhoods, no cell phones—just big farms and orchards. Between Vacaville and Davis, were only two places to stop, the Nut Tree gift shop and the Milk Farm restaurant with its beautiful neon sign, the smiling Holstein jumping over a crescent moon…

Then I stopped talking. I sounded like every person I’ve met who lives long enough to recall the old days, when the streets were dirt and horse-drawn wagons comprised much of the traffic.

When people hear me whine about my backlist of books, done in various stages of Quark, they invariably ask, “Does anyone even use Quark anymore?”

Once upon a time, 20 years ago and counting, Quark was the super hot pagination software. InDesign didn’t exist. Competing with Quark then, was Aldus Pagemaker and Freehand. Though Freehand wasn’t designed as pagination software, we used it to create advertising and small brochures. Macromedia acquired Aldus and continued producing Freehand. Eventually, Adobe bought Macromedia. While all that was going on, Quark was at the top of its game. It was easy to use, worked seamlessly with font managers and quickly produced multiple pages that could be printed on inexpensive inkjet printers. Things were simple: no worrying about the web or social media or uploading specifically formatted pdfs to an exclusively digital printer’s website.

Simplicity.

Then Quark 7 was released. Designers everywhere discovered they could no longer print from a document directly to an inkjet unless the documents were converted to pdf files first. The only way to print directly from program files to a printer was to a postscript printer. I left the comfort of the known, only to have a speedy workflow come to a halt. Everything has bugs, but this was a pretty good one accompanied by kind words of apology, but with no assurance of a fix any time soon. Bugs and fixes are hardly exclusive to any industry, and generally software bugs won’t do you in, but they are terrific time wasters. Get on the email list of a GitHub repository for a WordPress theme developer or just read the ‘read me’ notes (aka bug fixes) for that new app update you just downloaded.

Years passed. The Xers were the demographic to reach while the last of the yet uncategorized millennials opened their eyes for the first time in the nurturing embrace of maternity ward nurses. It was that moment of history, in-between cell phones as big as quart-sized water bottles and the laptop. As one of the first outdoor publishers in California with an actual website, I did lots of radio interviews. One especially memorable interview was with a proponent of ebooks who was way ahead of his time. I pointed out all of the potential problems with carrying an electronic reading device into the backcountry vs a paper book: dropping an ERD vs. a paper book into a stream; dead and dying batteries in below freezing temps or extended days in the backcountry. Like my SPOT, it now seems only a matter of time before ERDs go satellite.

In 2012, I bought a copy of Markzware Q2ID, paying additionally for download insurance. At the time, my laptop and I were in a rural location with bandwidth limited internet. A 940mb update of Adobe Acrobat used up the month’s quota, after which access dropped to dial-up speed. So I waited to download Q2ID until I got back to my office, where I started working on something else and forgot about downloading Q2ID.

Last autumn, an enticing email arrived in my inbox announcing the release of Quark 9.5, all new program, all new look at a very discounted price with the bonus addition of soon-to-be-released Quark 10. Here was the answer to a potentially labor intensive conversion of that backlist, cutting and pasting from Quark to an HTML editor. I bought 9.5 with its free upgrade to 10.

Living on the periphery of the Great Basin, with internet service that consistently rates a grade of ‘F’ on the Ping test, after two days, I eventually downloaded and installed the software. In classic Quark hyper speed style, I whipped an old backlisted book together. It was so good to be back with Quark again, with its ease and speed of production. With the first book project finally finished, I clicked on ‘export to book pdf’ (collects all of the layouts into one pdf) to upload to our vendor’s site. Quark quickly sped through the stages of producing a bonafide pdf. When I checked the folder to send off the newly created pdf, there was no pdf, just an empty folder. I repeated the process and tried other things. Day became night. Five days later, going back and forth with tech support, updating to the most recent versions, I still could not produce one useable book pdf per vendor specs. In addition, Mavericks OS had rendered all the old software versions unrecognizable even by their own upgraded versions. A colleague remarked, “How does that work? The software can’t even read previous versions of itself?” Quark couldn’t read earlier versions of Quark. Microsoft Word couldn’t read old Word documents, et cetera. Welcome to the new world order.

A colleague remarked, “How does that work? The software can’t even read previous versions of itself?”

I went to Markzware thinking I’d buy the conversion, but the latest version of Q2ID wouldn’t convert anything older than Quark 8.5. What exactly does all this do for all those archived files?

Then I remembered: didn’t I buy an older version of Q2ID, one that could read all Quark versions before 8.5? I found the old receipt with the download insurance and emailed Markzware. They immediately emailed a link to the old Q2ID plugin. Literally, in 8 minutes, the v10 book project (which I had to export back to Quark 9.5 prior to conversion) converted perfectly (and surprisingly) to InDesign 5.5. An hour later, a pdf created in ID6 was uploading to the vendor. That haunting backlist was finally converted to InDesign. Quark admitted that the ‘export to pdf’ thing was a bug. I do admire that about the company. They have always acknowledged their bugs.

Speaking from the periphery of the Great Basin, beneath the shadow of Mount Whitney, the ever-changing and previously patented technologies must pose a never-ending challenge for software engineers to meet the needs of all users. It certainly poses a challenge for end-users who’ve collectively paid billions of dollars for software and upgrades and who populate global forums with their heartfelt frustration.

With Adobe introducing CC, subscription only software, perhaps the conversion from software to the cloud (which we like to call the ‘company server’) will provide a more immediate connection between software engineers and the needs of their end-users.

I can’t imagine trying to engineer digital pagination software for every possible use and user, especially those aging designers of paper books, a rare and antiquated breed.

That said, the Smithsonian, among others, has been collecting samples of every peripheral designed and obsoleted since we converted from wooden desktops to digital ones. Think of the books put together in Pagemaker and saved on a 88mb SyQuest disk or the lost gem of a story composed in what is now an unreadable version of Microsoft Word archived on a floppy.

©2014 Wynne Benti (Originally published at www.MadamPublisher.com, 11/22/14)

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