Comdex: Corel says still full-speed ahead on Linux

Corel's deal with Microsoft hardly spells the end of the company's Linux products, chief executive Derek Burney claims

Corel is "refocusing" -- not relinquishing -- its Linux products and plans, the Canadian software vendor's chief executive Derek Burney insisted Monday.

Burney is making the rounds at Comdex Fall 2000 here this week, showing off a beta version of the company's next-generation desktop office suite for Windows, officially renamed WordPerfect Office 2002, and attempting to spread the word that Microsoft's investment in Corel wasn't the result of desperation. "We are refocusing our Linux strategy" as part of the company's move to get its business house back in order, Burney told ZDNet News during an interview at the trade show. "But on the Linux side, we are still making plans for new versions of our [WordPerfect Office and Corel Draw] products."

"In the next three to four weeks, expect us to release a corporate directional statement that will come out of each of our three core product groups [which are Linux, WordPerfect Office, and designer products]," Burney said.

He declined to provide specifics, but did say that Corel's Linux team is "segmenting" its product line in a new way so that it will offer tailored file, Web, and print-server configurations of its Linux distribution, which is based on Debian Linux. Corel currently offers a single enterprise Linux offering.

Burney also declined to provide any new details on whether Microsoft will take Corel up on its offer to port its base .Net development platform to Linux. Corel and Microsoft inked an agreement earlier this fall that gave Microsoft a three-year window in which to decide whether to have Corel developers port Microsoft .Net framework technologies from Windows to Linux.

When drafting the investment terms and conditions, Microsoft insisted Corel leave open an option that would allow Corel to enable all its products (WordPerfect Office, Corel Draw, and its Linux offering) to work with .Net, Burney said.

"At the time (Microsoft invested $135m in Corel), we didn't understand that an operating system could be constituted as a set of .Net services," Burney explained. This is a realisation that Corel has arrived at as it has explored .Net technologies under nondisclosure agreements with Microsoft, he said. In theory, at least, this would mean that a client accessing .Net back-end services wouldn't have to run Windows, Burney said.

"If we end up porting our Linux products to .Net, we will be acting as a consulting arm to Microsoft," Burney explained. He added that Corel is actively talking to Microsoft's developer division -- the unit currently leading the .Net charge for Microsoft -- but is continuing to actively compete with Microsoft in the desktop applications space.

In fact, on the desktop applications front, Corel aims to ship the Windows version of WordPerfect Office 2002 (formerly known as WordPerfect Office 10) product around the same time Microsoft ships Office 10 for Windows -- mid-2001.

Like Microsoft, Corel is expecting customers to obtain its desktop office suite via a subscription model, whereby users would pay for individual apps and components only when they need them, on either a monthly, or possibly, a daily basis. Microsoft's underlying .Net framework technologies will help enable such a scenario, he said. But Burney said he doubted that WordPerfect Office 2000, will be available in such a "granular" way by the time it ships.

"We do know that everybody uses 20 percent of WordPerfect Office, but not the same 20 percent," Burney said. "We are going to provide users with a more granular way to pick and choose what they use. That way, people won't have the perception that they are paying for things they don't use."

Microsoft announced Monday at Comdex Fall that Microsoft will offer home and small-business customers a choice of standard retail packages of Office 10 or a cheaper version that will be available to customers on a subscription basis for an annual fee. Those who opt for the subscription version will receive updates and patches to Office 10 for no additional cost, Microsoft said.

The beta of WordPerfect Office 2002 that Corel debuted at Comdex/Fall includes such features as an application recovery manager aimed at improving reliability, enhanced publish-to-PDF capability, a new install-as-you-go option, and advances in speech recognition capabilities, Burney said. The user interface won't change much from the current WordPerfect Office look-and-feel.

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Special.

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