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NetWinder ups Corel's hardware strategy

The company takes the next step in its excursion down the hardware path, adding a new server to its family of tiny Linux-based machines.

Corel has taken the next step in its excursion down the hardware path, adding a new server to its burgeoning NetWinder family of tiny Linux-based machines.

The new NetWinder GS is the latest offering from Corel Computer, a division of Corel Corporation, a company in Ottawa, Canada, best known for software, not hardware.

The new model offers intranet or Internet services such as email, threaded discussions, and Web page authoring tools so individuals can create their own basic Web pages. Prices begin at $1,399 for a server with 32 MB of RAM and a 2GB hard disk, a 100-Mbps Ethernet connection, and on-board video. The small computers--just 2 by 9.5 by 6 inches--are based on Intel's StrongARM 110 processor and run Red Hat's distribution of the free Linux operating system.

In a sense, Corel Computer's NetWinder products are a return to Corel's hardware roots. In the late 70s, Corel built its own computer graphics and desktop publishing computers, said spokesman Mark Lipson. The Corel Draw graphics software, which became the centerpiece of Corel's product line, initially was a byproduct of its hardware business.

In 1996, Corel expanded its software line by buying the WordPerfect suite of office applications from Novell. But the company's products failed to achieve the dominance that of Microsoft Office, and Corel began casting about for another avenue of competition.

The answer in 1997 was Java, and Corel began the process of converting its programs to the "write once, run anywhere" language. Then, in 1998, Corel shifted its strategy again, this time to Linux, announcing both hardware and software products.

The NetWinder computers began as the platform Corel needed to sell its videoconferencing system, Lipson said. The Linux version of the Unix operating system and the StrongARM RISC chip provided a good avenue to make powerful yet inexpensive computers.

In June 1998, Corel Computer started selling its NetWinder DM, a system designed for Linux developers. The next product, due in late February, will be a desktop computer, Lipson said. "We obviously want to sell to a broader market," Lipson said.

The Linux desktop machines will mean people can have their cake and eat it, too, being able either to stick with a comfortable graphical user interface or get under the hood with the Unix commands, Lipson said.

The desktop machine, called the NetWinder LC, will come with a Corel-tailored version of the K Desktop Environment graphical user interface, WordPerfect 8, Netscape Communicator 4.5, and the Gimp graphics editor.

After that, Corel expects to release a NetWinder machine that can take advantage of the audio-visual abilities the NetWinder still carries because of its videoconferencing heritage, he said.