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Corel brews new desktop Linux

Corel continues its push to build a Linux-based threat to Microsoft's dominance on the desktop.

LAS VEGAS--Corel passed a key milestone today in its push to build a Linux-based threat to Microsoft's dominance on the desktop, releasing its first version of Linux for the desktop.

The Canadian software maker launched its version of the Linux operating system for desktop computers today at Comdex here. Corel chief executive Michael Cowpland officially launched the new OS at a 1:15 p.m. PT event at the huge trade show.

Linux, a clone of the Unix operating system, was created by Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds. It's an open-source program, meaning that many can add to its development. It is beginning to offer a challenge to Microsoft's dominant Windows NT operating system.

Corel is aiming its Linux version at the average user, not the typical, more technically sophisticated Linux user. The company is basing the OS on the non-profit Debian version and hopes to use it to sell its WordPerfect Office suite of programs.

Though the word processor is available already for Linux, Corel is relying on the Wine project's software to help get many of the other programs working without having to go through extensive programming efforts.

At the unveiling today, Corel showed several enhancements to Linux that make it easier to use. Among them are a Windows-like control panel to easily install printers, change monitors, graphics cards or set up modems. The version also has a five-screen installation routine that requires no typing except when choosing user name.

Though the default installation avoided abstruse commands, it's hard to completely evade Unix complexity. The installation went relatively smoothly for a novice chosen from the audience; Corel guides recommended she pass over potentially complex options such as "edit partition tables."

The demo also showed links to graphics software CorelDraw 9 and spreadsheet software QuattroPro 9, though the new software wasn't shown. Corel debuted CorelDraw 9 for Windows today, however.

A free download version of Corel Linux is available on Corel's Web site. A standard edition, including the installation CD and manuals, costs $59.95 and the deluxe costs $89.95. The deluxe version comes with games, Corel's WordPerfect word processor, a 3.5-inch penguin mascot and other features.

However, some industry observers Comdex: Closing the millennium question whether Corel can pull it off. The company's stock price has been boosted by several gains in Linux-related stock, but Corel has been faced with fierce competition from market leader Microsoft. In an earlier effort to sidestep Microsoft, Corel jumped on the Java bandwagon, but the company has abandoned that effort.

In June, Corel formed a Linux advisory initiative to deal with the growing pains of Linux, as well as attempt to "provide a unified commercial voice in association with open-source partners," Corel said in a statement.