I was about 10 or 12, hiking with my dad, as I recall. I remember him whispering a warning. We always whispered in the woods. Loud sounds scare away the animals. He was pointing to a fresh mound of dirt with a large hole in the middle, a badger's den. Badgers are small, furry, basically shy but extremely vicious; known to attack much larger animals like elk, bobcats and grizzly bears who step too close to their dens at the wrong moment. It was something I knew to stay well clear of. Once a badger clamps on to you, the only way to get it off is to kill it. 'Cute,' you say, 'but what do badgers have to do with desktop publishing?' Well, I was reminded of that little badger when I read a brief story on the Internet last week. Most people know that word processors such as WordPerfect and Word can incorporate graphics and photos and make basic page layouts. When it comes to serious design work, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, you need something considerably more robust. The application of choice, QuarkXPress, is made by a small, privately held US company called Quark. To say people were shocked when Quark offered to buy some or all of computer publishing giant Adobe is an understatement. Quark's intention to buy out a company four to five times its own size was so bizarre that officials at Adobe, whose PageMaker software is QuarkXPress' closest rival, politely said: 'No, thank you.' They publicly characterised Quark's offer as 'flaky' and I was inspired to devote an entire column to the episode. The badger had bitten a grizzly. Undaunted by Adobe's who-do-you-think-you-are-kidding reaction to the offer, Quark held fast to its assertion that it could and would buy its closest rival. Quark made public letters it had sent to Adobe. The company's bravado created a lot of speculation in the press about Quark's financial situation. Unfortunately for Quark, while the media was intrigued, users were horrified. A recent report in MacWeek described an impromptu survey at Seybold, the United States' largest publishing technology trade show in San Francisco. Five hundred people were asked if they thought the acquisition would be a good thing. Not one hand went up. It seems that software users have had enough of 'merger mania' and the technological stagnation it creates. Besides PageMaker, Adobe makes Photoshop, Freehand, Acrobat and Postscript. It is planning to release a new page-layout program called K2 which it hopes will knock Quark from its throne. Quark plans to avoid any antitrust problems by selling off PageMaker and K2. Still, if Quark were to swallow up Adobe, the resulting company would have most of the publishing industry in its back pocket faster than you can say Microsoft. Quark says it has again contacted Adobe, but has received no reply. Nothing much has happened in the past week. Adobe's stock has lost more than half its value in the past year. It all may come down to how much faith shareholders have in the future of a Quark-less Adobe. It's more likely they won't have to make that decision. There may be larger predators waiting in the tall grass. Dead badger? Maybe, or maybe he's just playing possum.