Despite the desktop publishing aspirations of Microsoft Word and Apple's Pages, you need a different league of software to create magazines, brochures and other content for press output.

InDesign has become the leader in this field, but its rival, QuarkXPress, has seen a dangerous return to form in version 8.

If ever a program didn't need an interface update, it was InDesign CS3. Fortunately, the changes – besides the optional Application Frame – are largely cosmetic.

However, the new preset workspace options, starting with Essential, are all (going by our test copy) a bit useless, so you'll have to spend a while rearranging panels to suit.

Smart Guides

Illustrator's Smart Guides have been much coveted by InDesign users, and are finally here. Green guides appear when the item you're dragging matches the position, rotation or spacing of others.

This is a lovely quick way of imposing some order. Smart Guides also appear when you're using the preview cursor, or 'place gun', introduced in CS3, making it easy to size, position and rotate a new picture to match others.

Clicking with C+S' pressed also arranges multiple placed images into a grid. This is very well done, except for one glaring fault: you can't ensure the grid spaces are the right shape for the images, even if they all match.

Rotate your artwork

Rotate View lets you temporarily turn your artwork in 90 degree increments. This is incredibly useful for editing rotated elements, whether landscape tables in books or side panels on packaging.

There are a few text handling additions. Nested styles, which let you automatically vary text formatting within a paragraph, can now apply to a number of lines as well as a number of words. Conditional Text lets you set alternative tagged versions of words or phrases anywhere in text and choose which version is output, which looks handy for things like varying prices in a catalogue.

Live Preflight is a simple but revolutionary new feature. Previously, File > Preflight would check your document against a list of potential print cock-ups, such as low-res images or wrong colour spaces. Now, these checks happen as you work, with a green blob at the foot of the window changing to red if anything's amiss. It couldn't be more convenient.

Export to Flash

Pages can now be exported to Flash, supported by the ability to add buttons, links and page transitions. It's no substitute for an interactive design application, but useful if you're producing documents that you also want to deliver online. Both existing SWF and new XFL formats are offered.

Some items on our wish list have been ticked off. The origin for rulers and grids now correctly defaults to the middle of a double-page spread without screwing up on single pages. When you right-click a placed item to edit it, you can choose which application it opens in.

The Pathfinder panel gains buttons to open, close and reverse paths. And you can output data-merged documents as PDFs rather than InDesign files.

Fixed expression

Other omissions remain, such as a History panel for the app's unlimited undo, better control over grids and guides, and Preferences changes that apply without clicking OK.

Despite a few excellent additions, this feels like a tidy-up release. If you need Flash export, that'll be reason to upgrade, though there's scope for a lot more functionality.

Otherwise, InDesign CS4 can certainly stand up to Quark, but is only slightly more realistically priced, and in danger of resting on its laurels.