Report Analyses Quark Publishing System 7, Smart Connection Enterprise, and K4

Here at Planet Quark, Robert Underwood has been writing a series of stories about how to create an editorial and advertising workflow for a small publication.
How to Start a Publication

He works with a lot of small publishers, and his stories are based on the techniques he sees being used in the real world. In a system such as this, the only tools being used are QuarkXPress and your operating system’s filing capabilities — and some cleverness.

But if you have a larger publication, you’ll need a dedicated editorial workflow solution. These systems aren’t cheap, but they pay for themselves in asset flexibility and re-use, and time saved. Systems exist for both InDesign and QuarkXPress, but comparing them is a gigantic task. It’s not just a question of comparing features, but also of comparing usability. And that takes an experienced expert in both disciplines (workflow requirements AND user experience).

Erik Vlietinck of IT-Enquirer is uniquely qualified to perform such a comparison. In the past, he has quantitatively compared the usability of various applications and operating systems, and qualitatively recommended one over the others. He has also been actively involved in editorial workflows for many years. His most recent project was to compare the most popular and powerful editorial workflow systems for InDesign and QuarkXPress: Softcare’s K4 and WoodWing’s Smart Connection Enterprise for InDesign, and Quark’s Quark Publishing System 7 for QuarkXPress.

His “Report on Editorial Workflow Systems” is a 40-page summary of the strengths and weaknesses of K4, Smart Connection Enterprise and QPS 7, with plenty of screen captures of each system’s interface. The report can be downloaded for free at the IT-Enquirer website.

Below is a chart from the report that summarizes the strong and weak points of each system.

Editorial Systems Chart(Click for larger image)

As I read the full report, my highlighter fell on these points:

From his Executive Summary:
“Smart Connection Enterprise… blends in… there is virtually no training needed… built entirely on open source technology.”

“K4… has been built on a proprietary database… more difficult to set up and manage.”

“Quark Publishing System 7 is a radical and dramatic break with the past. …performs even better than Smart Connection Enterprise. …based entirely on open source technologies… integrates with a large number of databases… includes QuarkXPress Server and basically does everything Smart Connection Enterprise does, but even better.”

QPS 7 delivers “more scalability, more granular control, better visual feedback, more obvious XML support, and even less training required than Smart Connection Enterprise.”

Smart Connection Enterprise “is easy to understand, and the manuals… are of unique quality. …Adding functionality to the server yourself is a matter of knowing PHP5 and MySQL programming.

K4 “requires the administrator to select and run a command-line script that will initiate a publication. …the script only installs one publication, which is the recommended maximum allowed…” And the manuals and help screens “should be more helpful.”

In QPS 7, “The management of new publications, users, roles, groups, assignments, and everything else in an editorial workflow, looked the least complicated… No scripting was necessary and all settings could be managed using check boxes, icons, radio buttons, and multiple choice forms.”

QPS 7 is unique, and its architecture makes it very fast: “The database holds the metadata and the file system on the file server holds the files. The system streams files to the user’s computer. …Upon check in QPS copies the file back to the file server as a new revision, and once the copy has been validated, it will remove the file from the user’s computer… or save a local copy on the user’s system,” depending on how preferences are set.

Text-driven Workflows:
QPS 7 lets you use “any application to type content. …MS Word, TextEdit, etc… QPS 7 has a palette system that… offers the most information of the three. …Communication between non-Quark applications and QPS happens without the application being burdened by a plug-in.”

Layout-driven Workflows:
“In Softcare K4, a user can check in an article even as it is checked out… defying one of the main reasons why a check-in, check-out system exists at all.”

“QPS will even work with InDesign — although only on the file level… Unique to QPS 7 is its use of Job Jackets for layout enforcement. …including H&Js, the colors and inks to use, and even preflighting information. …they can ensure that corporate identity… is guaranteed in the end result.”

“Smart Connection Enterprise supports deadlines… colors are used to show which components, issues and articles are due soon or are overdue. This… is unique.”

Content Editing, Redlining, Reviewing:
“Redlining applied in QuarkCopyDesk can be displayed in QuarkXPress 7.3, which is unique to the Quark Publishing System. A big difference between InCopy and QuarkCopyDesk is that the latter divides an article up into components… text and pictures.” Also, QuarkCopyDesk has the “Split Screen” viewing mode found in QuarkXPress 7, which “allows editors to see the WYSIWYG representation of an article right beside the galley.”

“In QPS 7… a layout evaluation (preflight) can be demanded at check-in time or at output time.”

“Both Smart Connection Enterprise and QPS 7 support Web editing out-of-the-box.” But for “…WYSIWYG previews in Smart Connection Enterprise, you must buy the InDesign Server, an additional expense…” And even then, “there isn’t any information available with regards to copyfit editing. Such information is available in QPS 7 out-of-the-box… the (Web or local) user has a view of the layout, a galley view of his text, the status information, and even a styles palette view if he wants to. …if the layout designer changes the geometry, the WebEditor… will see the new layout, with new copyfit information.”

But what happens when the server is offline? “Smart Connection Enterprise… can save the file to a local folder and lock the article in the database… QPS 7 offers similar capabilities.”

Replication, Publication Sharing, File Serving:
“QPS 7 has the most extensive replication and sharing architecture… to copy the assets… one server can manage multiple publications and you can share content between those publications.”

“Adobe Version Cue is a solid, robust system, but it doesn’t offer much in terms of granularity… there is no way you can set versions to be kept for a limited number of days… the administrator has to step in and remove them…”

In QPS 7 “the administrator can set the rules for file versioning, including user privileges with respect to viewing, printing and reverting a document’s version. …Administrators can select to keep only a limited number of versions, for a limited time, etc.”

User Interface Experiences:
The report includes many screen shots of the user interfaces of all three products. His conclusions:

“…with QPS… you literally don’t have to think about what you must do with an icon, and you can even preview the content of documents. …QPS ships with a version of the QuarkXPress Server 7, which takes care of the previews.”

Why is the interface so important? “…if editors, writers, photographers and everybody else who is going to use the system can perform at least the basic tasks without having to consult a manual, it saves both in time and in training.”

I believe this is an often-overlooked benefit we should all demand from our software vendors.

To read the executive summary, or download the full report, go to the IT-Enquirer’s website.