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McIlroy--HDIA - New Name, New Concerns

April 1998

Most people think of preflight as a "solved" problem for the graphic arts, but it still generates a lot of conversation at a conference like this one. The view from the HDIA is that the industry has made Markzware's FLIGHTCHECK software the preflight standard. The loser to date is Extensis' Preflight Pro. Not one hand was raised when asked if the software is in use. I think that the discrepancy in usage has more to do with the familiar "first-to-market" software syndrome than Preflight Pro's limitations. Extensis has a major task ahead trying to dislodge the market leader.

When we asked attendees whether they were receiving more Windows files than a year ago, many hands were raised high. We didn't try to pin down numbers, but the impression received was that Microsoft is encroaching on Apple's stronghold far more effectively than most observers have guessed.

Expert Presentations
Significantly, one conference keynote address was from Gary Starkweather, now an employee of Microsoft. Starkweather is an industry legend, who holds more than 30 patents, and is credited as the inventor of the laser printer (while working at Xerox PARC).

He spent nearly a decade at Apple, but is now one of numerous high-level Apple employees who has been lured to Redmond, WA, where he holds the position of imaging architect for the Windows NT platform. Starkweather reviewed the numerous features of NT that promise to make it a strong contender for professional publishing in its 5.0 release.

PDF has been a hot button in the graphic arts for at least a year. Attendees seemed nearly unanimous in expressing interest and approval of the growth of PDF, and nearly as vocal in expressing frustrations at PDF's current limitations in a professional graphic arts workflow. Despite many problems, there was a clear consensus that PDF will be a major player in the years ahead.

One of the most intriguing presentations was made by Allen Witters, chief technology officer for WAM!NET. I'd been kind of ignoring WAM!NET—it's hard to get excited about a small networking company that can transmit big files. I was considerably underestimating the effort.

WAM!NET's objective is to become the central network for the world graphic arts industry. It is building an infrastructure that will be attractive to every player in the graphic arts to use at some point in the publishing process.

Publishers will maintain image databases on the network. WAM!NET is planning to enable distribute-then-print applications. Witters admitted that WAM!NET's goal is nothing less than collecting a small tariff on the entire data flow of the industry. With a recent $25 million equity investment from Worldcom/MCI, WAM!NET is poised to become a major player in our business.

The other shocker concerned QuarkXPress. I'd heard rumblings in the press and online from users angered by the high cost (roughly $300) of the 4.0 QuarkXPress upgrade. Compounded by Quark's notoriously poor customer service, anger is now bubbling to the surface.

Most attendees said they're receiving few 4.0 files, reflecting upgrade reluctance from customers. And the word we heard was that the 4.0 upgrade is anything but bug-free. Quark has got a real problem on its hands. With Adobe rumored to be ready to attack again with new "Quark-killer" software, this entrenched standard has a battle still to fight.

HDIA's annual conference was a fun and informative event. I'm looking forward to next year's program.

—Thad McIlroy

About the Author
Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing consultant and author, based in San Francisco.



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