Document Liberation Project announces initial QuarkXPress support

Document Liberation Project announces initial QuarkXPress support

The Document Liberation Project (DLP) announced the first release of libqxp, a library for reading QuarkXPress 3.3—4.1 documents. And this is one hell of a trip down the memory lane.

The initiative is a perfect fit for the project's agenda to implement support for as many legacy file formats as possible (see our earlier interview with Fridrich Strba et al.), although the timing is a bit of a puzzle.

History lessons

QuakXPress was once the king of desktop publishing, with reported 95% of the market share at its highest point. But corporate greed, overconfidence, and lack of vision pretty much killed it in early 2000s, and Adobe InDesign nailed its coffin.

A typical comment to the Ars article (linked above) on the subject looks like this:

We hated Quark, the program and the company. But of course we used it because it was ubiquitous. InDesign 1.0 wasn't great, but we were so desperate to move away from Quark that we slowly converted.

From many discussions on the web regarding Quark and Adobe it looks like QXP users mostly got their closure in 2003—2004, when Adobe's Creative Suite 2 arrived and settled in, although some sticked with Quark's software through v5 and v6.

Ever since Adobe introduced subscription-based model in 2013, there's a somewhat popular notion that Adobe is the new Quark and it's on the road to failure. However, after initial setback in 2013 and 2014, the company's financials have been steadily growing, in terms of both revenue, net profit, and net income. And since introduction of Creative Cloud in May 2013, Adobe's stock price is up by ca. 230%. So it looks like they need to try harder to fail.

Although Quark has been trying to bring back the former market share by any means deemed necessary, they haven't been very successful. The company eventually refocused on automating content creation, management, publishing, and delivery. There are very few businesses around that still run once popular QuarkXPress, let alone the versions from 15—20 years ago which DLP focused on. Which brings us back to the actual topic at hand.

What's in libqxp 0.0.0

The newly released first version of the library is the result of several months of work by Aleksas Pantechovskis, a student from Lithuania, who participated in the Google Summer of Code program this year (again).

Aleksas already had good track record with the Document Liberation Project. Last year, he wrote libzmf, a library for importing Zoner Callisto/Draw v4 and v5 documents.

In this initial release the libqxp library reads:

  • pages and facing pages;
  • boxes (rectangles, ellipses, Bezier);
  • lines, Bezier curves;
  • text objects, including linked text boxes and text on path;
  • font, font faces, size, alignment, paragraph rules, leading, tabs, underline, outline, shadow, subscript, superscript, caps etc.;
  • colors (including shades), gradients (linear, radial, rectangular);
  • line/frame color, width, line caps and corners, arrows, dashes;
  • object groups;
  • rotation.

Some rather important features like custom kerning and tracking aren't yet supported, because OpenDocument file format doesn't support those. But that's not much of an issue, according to Aleksas:

librevenge is just interfaces, so if there is another output generation lib instead of libodfgen for format that supports them, then it can use any attributes passed to it.

One big missing part in this release is support for image objects, because, Aleksas says, the picture format seems to be quite complicated.

Development of libqxp sits on top of reverse-engineering work started by Valek Filippov in OLE Toy in 2013 and continued by David Tardon and Aleksas in February 2017. Although libqxp sticks to ancient versions of QuarkXPress for now, OLE Toy can parse some of the data in QXP v6 and v8 (it's encrypted since v5), so this might change in the future.

LibreOffice has already been patched to open QXP files, this feature will be available in v6.0 (expected in early 2018). The library itself ships with the usual SVG converter which you are likely to find of limited use. Also, if all you need is extracting text, there's a perfectly sensible qxp2text converter as well.

Support in Scribus

One would rightfully expect Scribus to be the primary beneficiary from libqxp. But here is some background info.

First of all, the history between Quark and Scribus is rather hairy.

Initially, Scribus was pretty much modeled after QuarkXPress, and the two projects still share some similarities. Early in the history of Scribus, it made a lot of sense to introduce support for QXP files. Users got mad with Quark's continuous quirks and bad user support, they would jump ship at the very next opportunity.

Paul Johnson, former Scribus contributor, actually started working on support for QXP files in 2004. But after he had posted to a public mailing list about his progress, he reportedly received a cease and desist letter from Quark.

Scribus was nowhere near its current fame at the time, and even now it would not be able to handle legal expenses (save for a theoretical FSF intervention). Back then Paul just stopped working on that project.

Quark didn't quit monitoring Scribus though and continued tracking the progress of the project to the point where developers jokingly discussed blocking Quark's IP addresses range from accessing Scribus's source code repository (they reportedly had logs of that). Eventually Quark turned their attention towards more pressing matters like losing their market share to Adobe.

Today, much like LibreOffice, Scribus supports both ubiquitous file formats like IDML and bizarre ones like those by Calamus and Viva Designer. It even has support for Quark's XTG files. Getting a QXP importer would also perfectly fit Scribus's narrative.

The team is well aware of the libqxp project, they already have experience writing librevenge-based importers for Corel DRAW, Microsoft Publisher, Macromedia FreeHand etc. So it's likely just a matter of time till they introduce QuarkXPress importer.

Is there any closure left to get?

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