Core/Inprise: A marriage made in Antarctica?

Before going any further, I must admit that I saw a Microsoft ad that reallyspoke to me. On a commuter train heading home last week I saw a series ofbillboards hyping Windows 2000.

Before going any further, I must admit that I saw a Microsoft ad that really spoke to me. On a commuter train heading home last week I saw a series of billboards hyping Windows 2000. One of them boldly proclaimed,

Windows 2000... as reliable as your mom.
For the first time ever, I agreed completely with a Microsoft ad. Then again, if they'd ever met my mother they'd know that this was not a compliment. But that's a different story that I'm sure most of you don't want to hear...

Today's subject-du-jour is the recently announced merger between Corel and Inprise/Borland. I don't know about the rest of you, but to me, this is fun to watch!

Personally, I think it's a wonderful move for a couple of reasons, not only for Corel but for the Linux universe in general. It not only solidifies the position Corel is aiming for, which is to be king of the Linux desktop, but it also makes Linux even more attractive to existing Windows users and developers.

Most analyses of the merger to date have either focused on the stock values or on the premier software products of each company. But there are some other perspectives if you step back a bit.

Marketplace math
Certainly we have seen the news reports explaining the details and previewing the tough times that the merged Corel-Inprise/Borland will no doubt face.

Well, duh. It's no sure thing that Linux will become mainstream on the desktop. But consider this: most of the same news reports (including the ZDNet piece linked above) are also referencing new IDC data on the operating system marketplace. While these reports are trumpeting Linux's faster-than-expected rise to the number two position in server space (leapfrogging NetWare and Unix in the past year), I'm more drawn to the small print that has Linux pegged at a measly four percent of the 1999 desktop market.

What many of the reports based on this data aren't saying is that this four percent has been achieved with, essentially, no desktop-specific push by Linux vendors or the Linux market in general. Caldera's ground-breaking graphical install system didn't arrive until April of 1999. The GNOME desktop wasn't even stable until the fall, and Corel only came into the Linux market in mid-November. In other words, the Linux desktop effort hasn't even started building up steam.

Consider that this four percent also comes amidst hand-wringing from people complaining about Linux's so-called lack of applications (a topic that I just recently covered). Sure, there are some fields where Linux apps are scarce, but the apps will come as vendors realize the size of the market. And if you think that four percent seems a tiny number, consider that it translates to an installed base of just under four million desktops!

And lastly, when looking at the IDC numbers, consider than Linux, with no desktop push and nowhere near its potential for attracting applications, is just one percent behind Apple, the current desktop runner-up behind Windows. I personally have no doubt that Linux will pass the Macintosh in installed base, if it hasn't already done so. (Bear in mind that the IDC numbers don't take into account that a single Linux CD can be legally passed around and installed on multiple systems, so their numbers may fall short of what's actually out there.)

Marketplace moves
In light of this, let's come back to the Corel-Inprise/Borland deal. Look at the companies' core strengths. Corel is heavily into the consumer market. While most people focus on the flagship professional products, CorelDraw and WordPerfect Office, let's not forget that the company also makes a Family Pack that includes a typing tutor and encyclopedia, one of the world's best collections of clipart, and the very novice-oriented Print House publishing package. In other words, Corel knows how to package and sell to the masses, maybe more than any other vendor with a high stake in Linux.

Now we add Inprise/Borland to the mix. In this company we have a family of well-respected developer tools that simply got bullied by Microsoft. But Inprise/Borland also has experience in cross-platform tools, and that experience is growing daily as the company develops a tool to allow software written in its popular Delphi system to be easily portable to Linux. That kind of thing helps bring a whole slew of new apps to Linux, and it also offers an easy way for Delphi programmers to become acquainted with Linux without sacrificing their existing tools.

Meanwhile, Inprise/Borland tools may not be as well-known to the Linux community as, say, those from Cygnus, but they are familiar to Windows programmers, not all of whom may have been aware of the company's big Linux push this past year.

As it should be, the target of the new merged company is not to take people away from existing Linux distributions, but to offer a comfortable point of entry to those who have never touched Linux before.

The combined product line of Corel and Inprise/Borland now comprises a fairly complete range of products that compete with Microsoft on many fronts. The merged companies are still popular in the Windows world, and may be even more so once the U.S. Department of Justice is finished with Microsoft. And the fact that most analysts are describing this as a merger based on a bright Linux future only bodes well for people looking for mainstream support.

All this means that the task of getting Linux into the mainstream just got a little easier.

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