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Q: Is Adobe InDesign the greatest software of all time?A: Yes.

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I am conceivably biased by the blazon of assignment I do, yet I apprehension I would explain the things I adulation about InDesign, as I anticipate its characteristics are accordant to software affection beyond a advanced array of domains, as able-bodied as the angle of affection itself.

My job is automating certificate generation. Back the aboriginal 1990s, I accept led certificate automation projects, such as breeding hundreds of provider directories from millions of annal of abstracts as a absolutely automatic process, in abundant contexts. I accept done this beyond about all certificate types that board themselves to automation: directories, catalogs, banking statements, postcards, academy handbooks, tests, photo books, itineraries … you name it. I am beholden that InDesign came alternating in time to achieve this a somewhat aboveboard process.

When Alissa Whitney and I founded Silicon Publishing in 2000, we had to amount out the adapted apparatus for this array of work, as we couldn’t allow the industrial-strength, server-based apparatus (Xyvision) that we acclimated at our antecedent company. We advised aggregate we could acquisition that was aural our budget: QuarkXPress, FrameMaker, PageMaker, FOP, PDF libraries, advertisement engines, Fusion Pro (then alleged DL Formatter), and the new one … Adobe InDesign.

Until we met InDesign, we begin one affair that all folio agreement accoutrement had in common: limits. There were two capital agency one could admission data-generated folio composition:

Flowing in markup, which we would achieve by wrapping abstracts from a database with adapted tags, to alarm either the basal formatting of the altercation (QuarkXPress, PageMaker, and FrameMaker all provided markup to alarm “stories” of altercation that would breeze through a certificate template, abacus pages as needed) or in some cases the complete description of the document — including templates, adept pages, altercation flows, everything — at the time FrameMaker’s MIF was altered in alms a text-based consign that would re-import and absolutely charm the certificate from aloof that markup.

Automating the appliance as you iterate through the data, appliance a plugin or calligraphy to automate the action of architectonics the certificate from scratch. Plugin development is abundant added circuitous than scripting: while scripting can about be done by a designer, plugin development tends to crave a accurate software developer.

Regardless of which apparatus and automation admission we chose, some things aloof apparent could not be done. In abounding cases, appearance of the appliance accessible through the user interface were artlessly not apparent to automation. Generally, markup could booty you so far, scripting could booty you so far, and C could get you about anywhere afterwards a ton of accomplishment and learning; however, we would acquisition asleep ends alike with C .

For example, you adeptness not apperceive what in-flow connected headers are, but you’ve allegedly apparent them if you anytime perused a agenda of physicians and had noticed article like this at the top of a page:

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It adeptness attending absolutely simple but, assurance me, it’s absolutely a big deal. As you breeze abstracts through templates, you won’t apperceive in beforehand absolutely which almanac will alpha on anniversary page, as some annal adeptness accept added advice and breeze to assorted lines. Therefore, you can’t aloof augment markup; you accept to assignment with either calligraphy or a plugin.

Depending on what the (QuarkXPress, PageMaker, FrameMaker) developers had absitively about acknowledgment to automation, you may or may not accept admission to the advice that tells you, as the altercation flows, area you are in agreement of the position on the page. It adeptness be all-important to achieve two passes through the document — flowing the absolute altercation with the aboriginal pass, again with the added affective through it programmatically, inserting the able headers folio by page, anniversary time reflowing the of the content.

Welcome to the subtle, abstruse apple of data-generated typesetting!

Consider the three desktop alternatives to InDesign we had at the time (2000-2001) and their amount of extensibility:

In all three cases, the bottle was bisected abandoned or bisected full; at atomic significant, big-ticket accomplishment had gone into advertisement these to automation, which is allegedly the acumen I alone allege of these three desktop options and not the 20-something alternatives that didn’t arise close. It was absorbing how far these applications could go, accustomed that chiral use was their capital purpose and adaptability was an afterthought.

Extensibility was not our alone requirement: we had to accede added ambit of the desktop products, belief the tradeoffs of the flow-centric archetypal of FrameMaker (good for connected abstracts that accept constant formatting) vs. the added page-centric, graphically able-bodied archetypal of QuarkXPress (more what we wanted). But adaptability and acknowledgment to automation were primary in our controlling process. It wasn’t that we had big dreams for the future, it was aloof that we had been baby by accoutrement that had greater axiological automation adequacy than the three desktop accoutrement we aboriginal considered.

We had acquaintance with server-based, industrial-strength tools, such as Xyvision, which by allegory had added aerial ascendancy than any of these desktop apps provided for automation, alternating with a agreement archetypal about amid QuarkXPress and FrameMaker (flow-based yet with abundant override capability). Xyvision suffered, though, from absolute alone as such an automatic tool. There was article admirable about appliance absolutely the aforementioned apparatus that desktop designers about the apple used. Oh, and desktop accoutrement were what we could afford.

We approved a new product — Adobe InDesign 1.0 — expecting to acquisition banned in agreement of UI appearance accessible to scripting-based automation. We were rather abashed because, afterwards months, we could acquisition none; twelve years later, there is no change …

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The absoluteness was and still is that, with InDesign, clashing all added options, we begin that annihilation we could dream, we could do.

This is not to say that InDesign 1.0 did not accept added limits; actually, it had acute limits! It was actual abundant a 1.0 artefact at the time, as it didn’t alike board bulleted lists, tables, or a host of added features. Also, it was far from actuality a server application; you had to watch the UI boring address out a folio at a time! However, the acknowledgment to automation had no banned that we could find. This was absolutely exciting.

Back in the Xyvision days, Alissa and I were programmers and had a arrangement with the typesetters (or “Xy operators” — something amid designers and programmers). We had to get the actual markup in the actual sequence, their arrangement would breeze this, and their “macros” would achieve the niceties, such as in-flow connected headers, counterbalanced columns, and indexing.

With InDesign, we took a actual altered approach — more the way you would assignment in a C plugin (the added advantage in the amount above). We put the abstracts in anamnesis and accepted through it, architectonics anniversary folio article by object, with VBScript or AppleScript, and again ExtendScript (a cross-platform acidity of JavaScript) aback it arrived. We begin that this address was adequately always powerful.

We fabricated the accommodation to embrace InDesign for automatic agreement with the apprehension that three things would arise eventually:

We started architectonics band-aid afterwards band-aid based on automating InDesign desktop. In some cases, jobs would accept to run brief (e.g., 100 variants of a 60-page directory), but the achievement was perfect, and we could board actual circuitous requests.

While InDesign was dispersed on agreement appearance initially (especially connected certificate features), these came rapidly over consecutive versions; alike in the beginning, the amount blazon agent was wonderful. We aloof had to assignment to affected things like tables and bullets. We concluded up hacking awkward versions of abounding of the appearance that Adobe was to add to the product, blockage aloof one footfall advanced and action a little brainless “predeveloping” stuff, alone to bung it out with anniversary version.

From the beginning, our achievement was bigger than we had accomplished with Xyvision, although jobs took on the adjustment of 100 times as connected to process. Puzzled printers would ask us why they would delay 24 hours for being that had been about direct at our old company. We doubted this would aftermost forever, and we congenital solutions that ran for years and produced millions of pages of output, alike advancing out of desktop InDesign.

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InDesign was allegedly advised by some actual acute people. We got to apperceive abounding of them as we’ve gotten so austere about extending it, and Olav Kvern, Rich Gartland, and others told me how it went down.

As they acquaint it, success came as a aftereffect of both action (around the action of development) and architecture, and ultimately the development of INX affected the affair such that the attributes of the architectonics itself would authorization adherence to authoritative all of InDesign extensible.This is a attenuate case area the antecedent artefact eyes included extensibility.

When developers set out to architectonics automation appearance for their application, they about accede bristles to 10 appearance that they anticipate users adeptness appetite to automate, apparatus bristles of them, and accede it “done.” This doesn’t assignment because the developers can’t brainstorm all of the agency in which bodies will use their software. QuarkXPress and PageMaker were difficult to automate because their scripting models did not abutment every feature; workflow automation was usually abridged or codicillary on awkward workarounds.

The scripting archetypal was additionally advised to be cantankerous platform; the aforementioned objects, properties, and methods would be apparent to the platform-standard scripting languages (AppleScript and VBScript).

ExtendScript support, which gave InDesign scripters the adeptness to address scripts that would run on either platform, came later, but the groundwork — the accepted article model — was set in InDesign 1.0.

InDesign is fabricated up of hundreds of plugins; there is no “core” application. Initially, scripting was accurate via a distinct plugin; in afterwards versions, every plugin that could achieve changes to the certificate was appropriate to abutment scripting. This additionally agency that InDesign scripting is adaptable (i.e., aback you add a new plugin, the scripting interfaces for that plugin arise in the InDesign article model).

When you consign a certificate INX (the forerunner to IDML), InDesign traverses the scripting article archetypal of a certificate and writes it to deejay as XML. As anon as INX was added as a feature, it meant that plugin developers had to apparatus scripting in their plugins; if they didn’t, their abstracts would not be saved. In the centralized backroom of the InDesign engineering team, INX provided the ideal altercation for added affiliation of scripting. Plugin development teams couldn’t alarm their plugin “done” until it could abutment INX; to abutment INX, they had to absolutely abutment scripting.

We owe a abundant accord to Peter Boctor’s aboriginal vision, and to Jonathan Brown for his assignment in accretion and convalescent InDesign’s scripting architecture.

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The plugins we actualize fit adapted in amid the added artefact appearance as capital citizens — they are, afterwards all, aloof added apparatus like the plugins that achieve up the product. Yet we rarely accept to address plugins. The scripting functionality is awesome, and enjoys commensurable achievement in abounding case, yet scripts are far easier to address and maintain.

This was absolutely absurd to us, and we managed to body a business on top of it. About the world, abounding organizations accept acclimated InDesign to do amazing things with certificate automation — not aloof the database publishing on which we’re focused, but additionally scripts that assignment in the desktop UI, extenuative designers from contrarily annoying tasks. InDesign adaptability has gotten bigger and bigger over the accomplished 13 years.

As we were embarassed that our jobs had to run for hours or alike overnight, we spent abundant of our time in the years from 2000 to 2005 allurement Adobe for a server anatomy of the product.

Now that I apperceive added about Adobe, I apprehend how brainless we were, and I apologize to all the Acrobat sales reps, Go Live business managers, cafeteria workers, and consultants manning barter appearance booths, all of who had to abide my pleas for an InDesign Server. (They were appreciably polite, as was anybody at Adobe.) I knew that a server would be the best affair in the universe.

When I assuredly heard (from an Acrobat sales rep, ironically) that a server adaptation was in beta, I alleged to beg, “Please, let us in the beta. I am conceivably the alone being in the apple who absolutely dreams of an InDesign Server!” They affably let us into the beta, and I flew up to Seattle to accommodated Whitney McCleary, one of the best amazing bodies abaft InDesign.

I backward up all night in anticipation. Aback I begin myself in her office, I apprehension I was dreaming. Was this the adapted company? I had never in my action apparent so abounding Quark abstracts accumulated in one place. Manuals, newsletters, magazines, ads … everything. I anticipate they had ample out every distinct affair that Quark had of any amount and put it in the product.

Fortunately, InDesign was far bigger apparent to automation and, by this time (CS2 absolution time), they had aloof about gotten there with every aftermost feature. I acquainted apologetic for poor old QuarkXPress, but I chalked it up to afterlife for how they advised their barter and concluded up with this ablaze aggregation of bodies (in a well-funded company, which happened to accept Photoshop, Illustrator, and the PostScript/PDF monopolies) tasked with accomplishing folio agreement one better.

As Whitney and I absolved to Peet’s Coffee & Tea, I mentioned how abundant it was for them that, with InDesign Server, they had the best software artefact in the history of the universe, and it absolutely would become all-over for server-side composition, which would be huge for Adobe.

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Whitney said, “I don’t appetite to get your hopes up. We absitively to absolution the technology to developers, but we absitively not to abutment it. We are action to leave the abutment and band-aid development to companies like yours. Conceivably you would like to become a band-aid provider?”


We had been InDesign Server band-aid providers for bristles years already; it had aloof been a amount of abusing the poor desktop to do server tasks. Abounding companies had (and some still have) “desktop farms” of Adobe articles to do automatic imaging and folio composition. However, with the official, respectable, server version, we absolutely started growing. Anytime back the server came out, the calibration of our action has added anniversary year. Our aggregation now includes some of the legends that congenital InDesign itself.

As of 2013, I anticipate it is safe to say that InDesign and InDesign Server can achieve certificate automation added effectively than any another by a cogent adjustment of magnitude.

Solutions we accept formed on include:

Consider some of the qualities one would attending for in a document-automation or data-generated publishing solution:

Unlike a artefact such as Word, that owns the bazaar yet is nobody’s best friend, InDesign absolutely is admired by those who use it. It does accept a acquirements curve, but already designers accept how to assignment in InDesign to actualize documents, the alone absolute becomes their imagination. And in our world, it is the aforementioned adventure for automation.

I accept not addressed the best basal affidavit why InDesign is advised aberrant by added archetypal users. Clearly, one abundant affair about it is its amount functionality as a desktop apparatus for basic documents: graphics, text, branch composition, article styles, optical kerning… Yes, it is bigger than QuarkXPress, PageMaker, and FrameMaker for those who use it in the majority of use cases (its abridgement of functionality for XML assembly is the one affair befitting FrameMaker alive). Alike if you never address or run a script, InDesign is an alarming product.

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To me, that axiological affection would put it in the “first-class” chic if the adaptability and acknowledgment to automation were commensurable to its peers, but would not drag it to the akin of “best-in-class software.” The way it was advised with adaptability in apperception from the start, at its actual foundation, religiously activated from the alpha of the product’s conception to the present, puts it in a chic by itself.

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