Corel’s Troubles

For years, Corel Corp. has been one of the software industry’s great mysteries. Some things don’t change.

In my experience, Corel has been dependably undependable. I recall, back when I was using the OS/2 operating system, how Corel was going to ship OS/2 versions of its software but didn’t deliver — something, to be fair, that happened a lot in those days with other companies. Then Corel promised a Java version of the office suite, and didn’t deliver. The reasons were understandable, but observers learned to take the company’s comments with a large grain of salt.

Corel’s flagship graphics products are still among the best, but the company took on a monumental task when it bought the WordPerfect line of products from Novell several years ago.

I use the WordPerfect word processor a fair amount. It’s a lot like the company, in my experience — flashy, but somewhat unpredictable, even flaky. At least it doesn’t regularly crash and eat my work the way Microsoft Word has been doing lately on another computer.

Lately Corel has jumped on the Linux bandwagon in a huge way, writing a Linux version of WordPerfect and, eventually, the entire WordPerfect Office suite. Corel is even selling its own distribution of the operating system. (I’m planning to try it, and will let you know what I find.)

Given the potential Linux is showing as a desktop operating system, this isn’t a bad idea, but it’s yet another long shot. Linux is not a magic bullet for Corel. Why? Because, among other things, Sun Microsystems is giving away Star Office, a suite that runs on several operating systems including Linux. Yes, Star Office is aimed more at Microsoft and Windows, but Linux competitors could lose in the process.

Investors have been nutty for all things Linux in the past few months. Corel’s share price has rocketed, partly on speculation that it might be bought by Red Hat Inc., the high-flying company selling Linux and services.

A few days ago, however, Corel’s chief financial officer resigned. Today, the company issued what’s known as a “profit warning” — saying things weren’t hunky-dory after all. The stock collapsed, as so often happens after such warnings.

Maybe it’s true, as some say, that hope springs eternal. Corel seems to be counting on it.

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