McIlroy--HDIA - New Name, New Concerns
They're on their third incarnation, and going strong. It's the Heidelberg Digital Imaging Association (HDIA), formerly the Linotype-Hell Users Group, formerly the Hell Users Group. Comprising users of (former) Hell ChromaCom systems and scanners, (former) Linotype imagesetters and systems, and Heidelberg DI presses, the group appeared vibrant and prosperous at its mid-February annual meeting, held near Heidelberg USA headquarters in Atlanta.
With all the troubles that have befallen the Scitex Graphic Arts Users Association in recent years, the HDIA has become the largest and most successful of the remaining graphic arts users groups.
Attending (and speaking at) the Atlanta meeting, I thought it immediately apparent why the group is successful. The varied program gave users exactly the two big benefits that vendor-oriented user groups are supposed to offer—a chance for users to share and network, and a chance for them to communicate openly with their vendor, away from the glare of the press.
Although the HDIA receives some sponsorship dollars from vendors, it remains determinedly independent. The board of directors consists entirely of users, and the association's energetic director, Joel Friedman, is hired by the board and paid for by the association.
There were lots of valuable seminar programs throughout the conference, covering everything from Windows NT to PDF. For me the most intriguing session was the opening session, which I co-moderated with Frank Romano and Chuck Weger. Our simple objective was to draw HDIA members into setting an agenda for the conference. We asked them what technology issues were weighing most heavily on their minds.
Some topics were predictable: workflow, computer-to-plate, digital printing, preflight, training and color management. Others were slightly surprising: PDF, and the rapid growth of Windows usage in the graphic arts. Still others caught me unaware: connectivity issues, and new problems with QuarkXPress. Let's look at some of these in more detail.
The general observation on computer-to-plate is that the technology is maturing much more rapidly than anticipated. Platesetters are faster and cheaper and offer better quality than ever before. Server-enabled workflows are fast improving.
Kenichi Shimazu, head of R&D for the Kodak/Polychrome joint venture, offered a glimpse of simultaneous developments in plate technology that promise users a wide range of imaging options. We also learned that Kodak/Polychrome had reached an agreement with International Paper to acquire Horsell Anitec, further solidifying this supplier's dominant role in the industry.
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.
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.
About the Author
Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing consultant and author, based in San Francisco.