Why Scribus doesn't support QuarkXpress and other major publishing applications

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This article is part of the FAQ series.
Installation Usage PDF issues Fonts DTP Other

In more or less regular intervals, users are asking on the mailinglist: why isn't it possible to import QuarkXpress, InDesign, Pagemaker (your favorite DTP app here) files into Scribus?

There are several reasons for this.

The main reason is that all these applications are using proprietary file formats. More importantly, they are binary, not text and therefore not "human-readable." This means that it isn't possible to take a look at the file's content and understand what it means. Only the manufacturer knows how document elements like frames, texts, images and so on are stored in the file. In principle, it would be possible to "hack" (re-engineer) these data formats. But this is a) a lot of work and b) in some cases illegal.

In practice, the legality is tricky. Most of the time, it seems that file format patent holders will allow you to read their formats freely but prevent writing to "their" format. So one might argue that probably reading these file formats is unlikely to generate a challenge.

Scribus uses another approach. Scribus is completely OpenSource, and so also its document format is open. Just open a Scribus SLA-document in your favorite text editor and you will see what I mean: although it is a little bit complicated, you can identify every element of your document, first of all because all the elements are printable characters. In fact, the SLA file format is a special kind of XML.

The Scribus developers are working hard on improving Scribus. Making Scribus the best available OpenSource DTP application needs all their power and time. So, until Adobe, Quark etc. will make their fileformats open and free available, Scribus will not support them.

As a result of the hard work, however, there are some ways to import documents originating from these applications :

  • scribus 1.5 has a basic xtg import ability for Quark Xpress
  • scribus 1.5 can reads IDML created by In Design

See also Scribus FAQ