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Corel maps out NC plans

Less than three months after announcing its intention to produce a Java-fueled handheld computer, software maker Corel plans to make a network computer, taking it further into the hardware market.

Less than three months after announcing its intention to produce a Java-fueled handheld computer, Canadian software giant Corel (COSFF) has announced plans to make a network computer, moving the company further into the hardware market.

In a conference call yesterday, the news of Corel's hardware strategy was met with some skepticism by participants who cited reports that the company's cash reserves have dwindled since Corel bought Novell's WordPerfect division in January.

President and CEO Michael Cowpland responded that the entire video NC venture, from research and development to product launch, is costing the company less than $1 million. When asked if he would consider licensing the NC hardware and software to bolster cash flow, he said he would "play it by ear."

The NC, aimed at corporate videoconferencing users, will ship in the first quarter of 1997 with Corel's videoconferencing software installed, a built-in speaker and microphone, a separate digital camera, and a price tag under $1,000, officials said. It will run a combination of the Java Virtual Machine, the OS-9 real-time operating system from Microware Systems, and the Corel Application Framework to extend graphics capabilities.

A Motorola MPC 821 PowerPC processor will run the machine. Like other NCs, it will lack a hard drive but will support external storage devices through its two PCMCIA slots.

Citing its videoconferencing capabilities, the company shied away from calling the unit a competitor of recently announced NC devices from IBM and Sun Microsystems.

"We feel there's so much excitement in this field and room for many players," Cowpland said. "We think that every corporation out there wants to get their hands on a network computer."

Corel also plans a PDA version of the NC, Cowpland said. Announced in August, the handheld will also run Java applets and provide a pen-based interface, an Ethernet and dial-up port, and a peripheral dock.

More importantly for Corel, both devices will serve as showcase platforms for its Office for Java application suite, also due to ship in the first quarter. Despite encouraging sales in the retail market, Corel's office application suites continue to take a beating from Microsoft in corporate channels. With the Java version, the company hopes to boost sales in corporations looking to cut back on desktop maintenance by storing applications on a central server.

Corel officials also explained why the company's recently announced pricing plan for the Office for Windows NT Server application suite is significantly different than what the company promised in September. Finalized last week, the per-server pricing plan ranges from $1,200 to $1,595, depending on purchase volume, a big change from the $895 flat fee for each Windows NT server attached to an unlimited number of desktops. Company officials explained that they decided to add more applications to the suite in deference to users' wishes, thus raising the price.

Despite the sudden price jump, Cowpland brazenly predicted that the plan, designed to undercut Microsoft, which sells per-user licenses, could eventually boost the company's market share to 50 percent.

Little was said about the departure of Arlen Bartsch, Corel's head of communications and marketing, except that the company has hired headhunter agencies to perform the search for Bartsch's replacement.