InDesign CS5: Poor quality control

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 14th, 2010 • 6:00 pm

For the past few weeks, I have been using the latest version of InDesign (CS5) to do the layout of an academic review published by our local university. This has given me the opportunity to use the software in a more in-depth fashion and to compare it with my experience doing similar work with previous versions of InDesign.

Sadly, I am afraid I have to report that the experience was almost uniformly worse. I do not have time to go into all the things that are wrong with this new version of InDesign in full detail, but here are a few notes gathered while I was in the process of trying to work on my academic review.

Crashes when importing Word files

Since I had to work on an academic review, that meant that I had to deal with multiple articles provided by authors in MS Word format. And since we are talking about university research here, most of these articles came with plenty of footnotes.

I have already had the opportunity to discuss a long-standing bug with footnotes in InDesign, which causes the application, during the process of importing a Word document with footnotes, to skip some of the footnotes altogether, to replace the missing footnote references with an unidentified character, and to renumber the remaining footnotes.

Needless to say, this is a bad, destructive bug that has caused me a lot of grief over the past couple of years.

Last week, I wrote to report that I had found a workaround of sorts in InDesign CS5. By saving the Word files in the new .docx format from within Word 2008, I was able to avoid the disappearance of footnotes in the articles I had to deal with for this year’s issue of the review.

Unfortunately, I have since received e-mail from other people that suggests that this workaround might not work for everyone. Apparently InDesign CS3 and CS4 do also support importing Word files in the .docx format, but the use of that format does not seem to eliminate the problem with missing footnotes. It is also possible that I was just lucky with the batch of articles that I had to deal with this time, but I was able to reproduce the problem in InDesign CS5 with some of the articles when using the regular .doc format. It’s only when I used the .docx format exclusively that I was able to avoid losing any footnotes while importing the files into my InDesign publication.

On the other hand, I soon discovered that my switch to the .docx format introduced a new problem, and an even more serious one than the disappearance of foonotes. For several of my articles, a mere attempt to place the Word file in .docx format would cause InDesign CS5 to crash altogether.

In some cases, I was able to narrow down the problem and determine that the mere presence of any kind of proprietary Word code in any of the footnotes of the offending the .docx file would cause InDesign CS5’s Word importer to crash the entire application. For example, I had a file which contained a couple of unwanted OLE_LINK bookmarks in the footnotes that I had accidentally introduced during the process of editing the file in Word 2008.

Fortunately, for this file, simply deleting the bookmarks in Word before attempting to import the .docx file in InDesign CS5 was enough to eliminate the crash in InDesign.

But for several other files, I couldn’t find any kind of proprietary Word code in the footnotes, and still they would cause InDesign CS5 to crash each time I tried to place them as .docx files.

I was able to determine that placing these same files into a brand new, blank InDesign publication would not cause a crash. After further investigation, I managed to determine that it seemed to have something to do with the existing paragraph and character styles in my master InDesign publication. But I simply didn’t have time to further explore things and I ended up using a workaround consisting of placing the remainder of my Word articles into a separate InDesign CS5 file that contained only a partial style sheet instead of the full style sheet that I was using in my main InDesign file.

This meant that some of the formatting was lost, but at least the application was not crashing. Strangely, some of the formatting that was lost included the paragraph style I used for the footnotes. For some reason, even though the InDesign file I was placing the articles into did contain the same paragraph style with the exact same name, when InDesign was placing the articles with their footnotes, all the footnotes were changed back from my footnote paragraph style to the default “[Basic Paragraph]” style, as if they had no paragraph style at all.

In addition, InDesign would insert an extra tabulation character after each footnote number in the footnote. Fortunately, these two defects were fairly easy to repair after the fact using batch replace operations. (On the other hand, it was impossible to simply place the insertion point in one of the footnotes and use the “Select All” command to select all footnotes before applying the paragraph style to them. It is now impossible to select the text of more than one footnote at the same time in InDesign.)

But still… It was all mightily frustrating. Based on this evidence, it does appear that InDesign (including version CS5) suffers from a major bug in its Word file importer that is somehow connected to style formatting for footnotes. If you have InDesign CS5 and have a bit of time, I invite you to go to my iDisk and download the Zip archive called “InDesign”

It contains three files, a Word article in .docx format and two different InDesign files, one with a limited style sheet and one with a more complete style sheet. On my machine, I can cause InDesign CS5 to crash simply by attempting to place the .docx file into the InDesign file with the complete style sheet. And when I place the same .docx file into the other InDesign file, I don’t get a crash, but I get the loss in paragraph style formatting in the footnotes and the extra tabulation characters.

I’d be interested to know if other InDesign CS5 can reproduce the problem as well. (You might have to fiddle with the import options.) If you can reproduce it, I invite you to submit a bug report to Adobe through their web site. You don’t have to have a support account to do so. Feel free to provide a link to the archive on my iDisk if you do. I am leaving it there for now, as I myself submitted a bug report to Adobe referring to it. (As far as I can tell, you cannot attach files to your bug reports to Adobe. So I don’t know how seriously they actually take such bug reports.)

Freezes when using contextual menus

Another major frustration with this new InDesign CS5, at least on my machine, is that it is unfortunately very easy to cause the application to freeze altogether. There are periods when, each time I try to right-click on an object to change some of its formatting options via the contextual menu, InDesign completely freezes. Yet I can use the exact same formatting options via the application menu bar at the top with no problems.

The first such freeze I experienced was when I right-clicked on a placed graphic and accidentally selected the “Open With” menu item in the contextual menu. I didn’t mean to select it, but of course I was going through the menu and accidentally selected it in passing. InDesign then attempted to display the “Open With” submenu, and I just got the Spinning Beach Ball of Death and that was it. I waited long enough before I decided that InDesign was not coming back from its frozen death and had to force-quit it.

I relaunched InDesign and then got a freeze again as soon as I tried to pull up the contextual menu by right-clicking on an object, even before InDesign was able to display the menu.

Since then, it has been hit or miss. I tried to trash a few preference files and relaunch InDesign, and that seemed to eliminate the freeze for a bit, but then it was back. After that, I decided I was not going to bother with the contextual menu at all, and just used the application menu bar instead. (Fortunately, none of the options I need is available exclusively through the contextual menu.)

I don’t know if this chronic freezing problem has anything to do with Launch Services, since it first appeared when I accidentally selected that “Open With” menu item (which can cause a temporary freeze in the best of cases, simply because the application or Mac OS X has to look up a list of available applications). But I don’t really have the will to rebuild my entire Launch Services database from scratch at this point, especially since I have no guarantee that this will prevent the problem from recurring eventually. (I rebuilt my database not too long ago, so it’s fairly “new,” and I don’t want to have to change all these “Open With” settings all over again if I can avoid it.)

Significant performance issues

Just these two things (the crashes and the freezes) would be enough to turn Mac users off. Is it really too hard for Adobe to produce an application that does not freeze or crash?

But then, even when it does not freeze or crash, InDesign CS5 has other pretty significant issues when it comes to performance. I am using it on a 2009 Mac Pro with 12 GB of RAM, which is arguably as good a machine as you can get with your money today for running InDesign CS5.

And yet, even with that fairly new and fast machine, I had to turn off several settings that were on by default when I first launched InDesign CS5, because they were making everything unbearably slow and unresponsive. Most of the problems had to do with live resizing. In InDesign CS5, by default you now get not only live redrawing of your window’s contents when you resize the window, but also live redrawing of the contents of text frames when you resize the frames.

I don’t know if it was due to the presence of footnotes in my articles, but I don’t think so, because I noticed the performance problems in every text frame that I was attempting to resize, not just the ones containing footnotes: The live resizing was just not responsive enough and caused me to constantly overshoot. It was painful.

I ended up scouring InDesign CS5’s preferences in frustration and turning off a number of things, but I believe the one that did it was the “Live Screen Drawing” option under “Interface,” which I changed from “Immediate” to “Delayed.” (Don’t ask me what the difference between “Delayed” and “Never” is. With the former, I’ve tried to wait ten seconds after dragging a text frame corner, and InDesign still won’t redraw its contents.)

Unfortunately, there is no way to turn off live resizing for the entire document window, and the unresponsiveness issues remain there. Fortunately, resizing the entire document window is not something that I have to do too often. Still, I do have to do it each time I reopen a document, because InDesign CS5 is still unable to remember the size and position of a document window when you close it, and reopens it by default as a window that fills the entire screen, even if there are palettes open on the side, which end up hiding the vertical scroll bar. Will we have to wait until InDesign CS99 before we finally have an application that remembers the size and position of its document windows? It’s pathetic.

(It’s another thing that Adobe has in common with Microsoft: Word 2008 too is unable to remember document window positions, even though Word 2004 was perfectly capable of doing so. Apparently, these software giants believe both in feature creep and in feature crippling.)

In the same vein, there is another new problem in InDesign CS5, which is that, occasionally, after the text of an story spread across multiple frames has been reflowed (because it was edited), the application simply skips one specific frame altogether, which remains blank, and the flow of the story jumps directly from the previous frame to the next frame, for no apparent reason. I was able to determine that simply resizing the frame slightly would force InDesign to come to its senses and “remember” to include that particular frame in the sequence.

But really, how bad can you get? Crashes, freezes, unresponsiveness even on the fastest machines, and obvious screen redraw and text reflow glitches. That’s what you get for purchasing an Adobe InDesign CS5 upgrade. Terrific stuff!


I have also encountered other, “smaller” issues. For example, as far as I can tell, the “Export to Interactive PDF” option for saving your document as a PDF file fails to take into account the option you select in the “Layout:” section of the dialog box. When I take a 4-page InDesign document with facing pages (so that pages 2 and 3 are facing pages and pages 1 and 4 are by themselves), if I try to export it as an “Interactive PDF,” regardless of whether I choose “Single Page,” “Single Page Continuous,” or “Two-Up (Facing)” in the menu of options, I get the exact same result in the PDF file, with pages 2 and 3 combined as a single 2-page spread.

Maybe I don’t understand the option at all. Or maybe it just does not work. Fortunately, the “Adobe PDF (Print)” export option, which is what the old PDF option is now called, works properly and lets me choose if I want to display facing pages as spreads or as single pages.

I could go on. But I think the above provides ample illustration of the fact that the whole experience of using InDesign CS5 really makes you feel that there is a serious lack of quality control happening at Adobe at the moment, and that the Microsoftization of Adobe is well underway.

One Response to “InDesign CS5: Poor quality control”

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