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Corel draws inspiration from Linux

Corel's fortunes have been on the wane since it spent a massive $200m for WordPerfect in 1996 and then failed to break the stranglehold of Word. Will its latest strategy to embrace Linux prove any more successful? Dominic Maher investigates
Written by Dominic Maher, Contributor

Corel's fortunes have been on the wane since it spent a massive $200m for WordPerfect in 1996 and then failed to break the stranglehold of Word. Will its latest strategy to embrace Linux prove any more successful? Dominic Maher investigates

Corel Corporation is banking on Linux to give it a healthy future. In August this year, it launched a desktop version of the operating system, called Corel Linux based on the Debian/GNU distribution of the Linux OS, and includes the K Desktop Environment (KDE). In its distribution, Corel claims to have enhanced the graphical user interface (GUI), and has created a new installation program that is much simpler than existing desktop PC operating systems. On the application front, Corel WordPerfect 8 for Linux was launched in December last year. But with so many companies taking a more serious look at Linux, including Sun with its Star Office acquisition, is Corel wise to seize on this as one of its USPs - especially when no-one has really worked out how they're going to make a profit from what is essentially free software? In an exclusive video interview with Silicon.com, Dr Mike Cowpland, president and CEO of Corel, described Linux as the most "exciting growth platform for the next ten years". Having seen a "phenomenal interest in this field" - including 1.5 million downloads of the Linux WordPerfect 8 package - Cowpland firmly believes his company will cash in on the OS revolution. But Corel hasn't been known for backing the right horse of late. The less than spectacular uptake of WordPerfect was compounded by its failure to force Java onto the desktop. So is Linux likely to help it succeed? "It certainly has a better chance," said Clive Longbottom, analyst at Strategy Partners. While he believes Corel has been showing signs of a recovery - after all, it made a profit of $17.6m in its last quarter, compared with a $14.6m loss this time last year - he was keen to point out that this has been down to sales of the latest versions of Draw and Photo-Paint, and nothing to do with Linux. "Cash may be coming in, but it means nothing in [Linux] penetration," he said. David Taylor, chairman of IT directors' association Certus, isn't convinced Linux is the silver bullet Cowpland is looking for. "Linux has to prove itself within a live production environment, among the blue chips, before it will take off," he said. But Rob Hailstone, research director at Bloor Research, believes Linux can change the company's fortunes: "I think Corel's distribution of Linux will make life easier for people to use the desktop. If they market it right, with no shortcuts, they'll be successful." If the Linux bandwagon continues to gather momentum, Corel may indeed be well-placed to take advantage. Cowpland himself certainly sees no clouds on the horizon. "Making money is easy," he said. For the full interview, see http://www.silicon.com/a33064
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