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Corel spices up discount desktop programs

New version of WordPerfect Office includes firewall, personal finance and multimedia programs.

Competing with Microsoft Office is one tough gig--just ask Corel.

The Canadian software company is introducing a new version of its word-processing and related desktop-productivity programs with some extra features in an effort to dent the Microsoft Office empire.

With the new Home Edition WordPerfect Office suite, Corel adds to its basic package of word-processing and spreadsheet applications several other elements: firewall software from Symantec, multimedia software from Pinnacle Systems, and its own personal finance and digital photo album software. The product also includes a free one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

The suggested retail price of the package, which is due in stores across North America starting Monday, costs $69 after a $20 mail-in rebate.

The new package is a step up from Corel's more basic $49 package, called WordPerfect Family Pack, but is still less expensive than its full Office package, which normally retails at $300. The Home Edition version is also cheaper than Microsoft?s Works Suite, a slimmed-down version of Microsoft Office that sells for around $100.

Corel, best known for its graphics application CorelDraw, has struggled in recent years under increasing competitive pressure from Microsoft and Adobe. Four years ago, Microsoft, of all companies, rescued Corel from collapse with a $135 million investment. Last year, with its antitrust case largely behind it, Microsoft sold its stake in the company after Corel agreed to sell itself to a San Francisco venture capital firm and cease trading its shares publicly.

Corel continues to face huge challenges competing with Microsoft. Corel has a single-digit share of the market for desktop-productivity software but claims it's gained a few percentage points over the past year. In addition, 70 percent of all PCs sold to home users come preloaded with productivity programs--mainly Microsoft Office.

For the remaining 30 percent, Microsoft, Corel and an increasing number of other challengers are slugging it out. Among them are Beijing-based Evermore Software; Gobe Software in Beaverton, Ore.; Sun Microsystems; and the developers of OpenOffice, an open-source program.

"The market has never been so interested in alternatives as they are today," said Richard Carrier, general manager of office productivity at Corel.