05/12/2021

061 – Up, down and strange – 1981

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Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking.
Milton Glaser

A young organisation named Quark Engineering was formed by Tim Gill and Mark Pope at Denver, Colorado in 1981.

Born in Indiana, Gill studied computer science at the University of Colorado. He worked with HP and others. When made redundant he borrowed $2,000 from his parents to found Quark Engineering, named for the sub-atomic particle.

Quark had some early success with the Apple platform, developing Word Juggler, the first word processor for the Apple III, and Catalyst for the Apple IIe which allowed earlier floppy disk-based applications to be run with a hard drive.

Its move into Quark Peripherals, data storage products, could have brought about its demise; it certainly led to a considerable loss.

Gill met Farhad ‘Fred’ Ebrahimi, an Iranian-born realtor, sold him a share in the company and appointed him Quark’s CEO in 1986; Gill was chairman. Ebrahimi and Gill bought out Pope in 1990 and ten years later Gill sold his shares to Ebrahimi. Quark never went public at any stage of its life.

1987 – Ebrahimi presided over the development and launch of its salvation – QuarkXPress for the Macintosh.

The program offered a new level of precision in defining typography and layout and handling colour management. It was well received by an industry eager to move away from mechanically laying out pages. The QuarkXPress version 1.0 at $695 rapidly became the standard for desktop publishing for professional designers in the magazine and general print profession.

1988 – Quark expanded into Europe and the Far East. Version 2.0 was priced at $795 and aimed directly at newspaper and magazine publishers.

The next year Quark introduced two enhancements. QuarkStyle was a detuned QuarkXPress aimed at business users. XTensions was a process that encouraged third party developers to offer custom-designed add-ons to create applications and utilities; it opened the door to a whole raft of vertical applications.

The DTP market moved away from Apple by 1992 with just 5million users on the Mac platform and a massive 70million on the Windows platform. A much delayed Microsoft Windows 3.1 was seized upon by DTP developers to expand ideas further.

Quark rapidly overtook the lower-cost Aldus product, the rather shaky version PageMaker 4.0, that just did not match up to the Quark features.

1992 – The company launched the Quark Publishing System as a networked package for work groups. Sales were taking on a hockey stick look with $60m in 1991 and $120m in 1992; staff numbers reached 400. By the end of the ‘90s Quark commanded a 90% worldwide DTP share.

However the particle quark comes in three varieties – up, down and strange. The early history of Quark had its ups and downs, but its customer relationships started to exhibit the ‘strange’ variety.

First Quark maintained rather high prices for its software; no Moore’s Law reductions were applied. Then its development stagnated and product evolution began to look tardy. This opened the door to a competitor and Adobe stepped right up with the InDesign product. Although Quark compared well against it, it was its inaction that allowed Adobe into the DTP sector.

1998 – Quark launched an unlikely takeover of Adobe which was taken seriously by few – certainly not Adobe itself! QuarkXPress claims to have had 3million users and 5billion pages have been designed using the program.

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