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Corel pushes Linux for graphics tasks

The company announces that its CorelDraw and PhotoPaint graphics design software will be released by the end of June--two months earlier than expected.

Corel is pushing hard to make Linux a more appealing environment for graphics designers.

The company announced today that its CorelDraw and PhotoPaint graphics design software will be released by the end of June--two months earlier than expected. This and the company's acquisition of Painter and Kai's Power Tools software from MetaCreations yesterday raises the possibility that more Linux graphics software could be on the way.

In addition to Corel's efforts, graphics software companies such as Deneba and Mediascape and graphics hardware companies such as S3, ATI, Nvidia and SGI are pushing ahead with their own products.

Corel believes its effort to bring mature software to Linux will help quickly boost the operating system to become a viable competitor to Windows, a situation that would let Corel compete more effectively against Microsoft. Despite the efforts by Corel and others, though, that vision is still a ways off.

Linux is a clone of the Unix operating system that's gradually extending from its stronghold in servers to other domains. In some ways, it's a natural for the graphics market, where technically savvy users have long relied on Unix workstations for demanding tasks such as aerospace and automotive design.

But other factors stand in the way. For one, the support for graphics hardware such as accelerated video is nascent, and support for printers and other critical peripherals isn't up to professional standards, said Michael Hammel, who runs the Graphics Muse Web site.

"In the high end, I think Linux is a perfect match for the graphics market," Hammel said.

And as Microsoft has found, it's notoriously difficult to lure the graphics professionals who have grown loyal to Apple Computer.

Desktop graphics powerhouse Adobe Systems, for one, doesn't have many customers clamoring for Linux versions of its software, which includes titles such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere. Adobe is working on Linux versions of more server-oriented software, such as Framemaker and Acrobat Distiller, but it hasn't seen Linux achieve enough prominence for desktop use at this point for desktop software, a spokeswoman said.

Several parallel efforts to improve Linux for graphics professionals are under way, however. Programs such as Blender and Gimp are gaining popularity on Linux machines.

In addition, SGI, VA Linux Systems and Nvidia have teamed up to make Linux computers with Nvidia graphics systems that can use SGI's OpenGL graphics language. OpenGL, which allows graphics programs to more easily take advantage of hardware acceleration, is popular in high-end graphics software.

The partnership between Nvidia and SGI extends back to 1999. Several SGI employees went to Nvidia in August as part of an SGI restructuring that eventually led to the dropping of its own plans for fancy graphics systems in Intel computers.

SGI is in the middle of a multiyear effort to make Linux as powerful as its own Irix version of Unix, which has powered SGI's graphics workstations for years. CNET's
Linux Center

The Mesa3D effort to provide a clone of OpenGL also has bolstered Linux graphics capability--enough to convince Mediascape to sell its ArtStream software for Linux this month. The company translated Artstream from Irix

In addition, Deneba released its Canvas software for Linux in March. Canvas already runs on Windows and Macintosh computers.

Corel's backing of Linux is among the strongest, however. Besides its software efforts, the company has been working with S3 to create OpenGL drivers for its FireGL graphics card.

But Corel recognizes the Linux graphics market isn't mature. "At this stage in the game, it's more of the graphics environment itself that Corel's looking to improve," a spokeswoman said. For example, Corel is working to get software to make sure scanners, printers and other peripherals work. "After that, the market will come," she said.

Corel engineers will give priority to Macintosh and Windows users of the company's new MetaCreations software, a spokeswoman said. "Once everything is coordinated and put together for the Mac community, then they will work on looking at Linux," she said.

CorelDraw and PhotoPaint use software from a group called Wine that lets Windows programs run on Intel-based Linux systems.

Hammel expressed caution about Wine, however, fearing that the translation of commands could slow performance in a market that needs every smidgen of computing power it can find. "I reserve judgment until I see it running," he said.