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Corel joins Linux effort with new system

The company will release not only applications for Linux, but also a version of the Unix-like operating system itself.

SAN JOSE, California--Adopting a formula that has proven successful for Microsoft, Corel announced today that it will release not only office applications for Linux, but also a version of the Unix-like operating system itself.

Corel's distribution of Linux, called Corel Desktop Linux, is designed to simplify the system and installation issues that impede more widespread use of Linux.

"So far, [Linux] has been mainly for enthusiasts and servers, and the desktop has not happened in a big way," Corel chief executive Michael Cowpland said today, leading off the LinuxWorld Expo and Conference here. "It's got to be like Windows."

The ultimate plan is to be able to offer a "one-stop shopping arrangement" that gives companies the ability to offer a complete Linux-based computer that costs $500, "without any built-in tax to Redmond," he said, referring to the Washington state headquarters of rival Microsoft.

Corel's strategy puts the Ottawa company in a similar category as Microsoft, in that both have an operating system and common software such as a word processor that runs on top of it. Microsoft has come under fire for leveraging its position as the dominant desktop OS supplier.

Corel, which has posted disappointing financial results of late and seen its star fade in the market for Windows applications, seemingly has its eye on becoming a Microsoft-like competitor in the Linux market.

This isn't the first time Corel has tried to jump on a non-Microsoft bandwagon. The company has been stung by the dominance of Microsoft Office suite of applications. In recent years, the company announced it would develop its applications to Sun Microsystems' "write once, run anywhere" Java system. The company ultimately abandoned that effort.

To no one's surprise, it took little time for anti-Microsoft sentiment to arise at today's session. Cowpland drew some applause after saying that 65 percent of its WordPerfect 8 users switched from Microsoft products.

For months, Corel has had versions of its WordPerfect software available for Unix systems, including Linux, but the company upped the ante late last year with WordPerfect 8, a major upgrade. The company has pledged to develop its other WordPerfect Office applications to Linux as well.

WordPerfect 9, Quattro Pro 9, and Corel Presentations 9 are due by the end of the year. CorelDraw 9, PhotoPaint 9, and Corel Ventura are due in 2000.

Corel Desktop Linux is expected by November. Initially, it will run on Intel architecture, and Corel said future versions will include one for Intel's StrongARM chip.

The move puts Corel in competition with other Linux distributors, most notably Red Hat, Caldera Systems, SuSE, Debian, Pacific Hi-Tech, and Slackware. Although these distributions are based on the same core Linux technology, they come with different interfaces, libraries, and bundled software.

Corel disagrees with the contention that it's further fragmenting the Linux space. "We are not fragmenting the market, but rather consolidating it by putting our resources behind the graphical user interface," the company insists.

The Linux community is known for its solidarity, but many are divided over the choice over which graphical user interface (GUI) is best to shield users from the difficulties of the Unix command line interface. There are two leading contenders, KDE and Gnome, but Corel hasn't decided which to support or whether to develop an alternative of its own.

A key part of Corel's plan to migrate its software from Windows to Linux is the Wine software, which allows Windows software to run within Linux. The software lets users either run the software unchanged or translate the software so it runs natively within Linux.

Using Wine, Corel demonstrated running its Windows version of the Quattro Pro spreadsheet software running on a Linux computer. "All the functionality of the Windows system works under Linux," according to Corel.

"This means there will be no application lag within Linux," Cowpland said.

Corel will contribute to and even lead the Wine effort, he said, but its contributions will be available to the open-source community, the collection of programmers who have shared their software as they worked to improve Linux. Wine is an open-source effort to provide Windows application compatibility for Linux.

Oracle also announced today that it would have a version of its Oracle 8i database for Linux within the next 60 days.