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WordPerfect jumps on Linux bandwagon

Corel releases a free Linux version of its word processor application as it looks to boost the once-dominant product.

Corel is going loopy for Linux.

The Canadian software vendor has released a free Linux version of its WordPerfect word processor for download and will follow it up with a more complicated paid-for version, as well as a Linux version of the WordPerfect Office software in the second half of 1999, Corel said.

The emphasis on Linux comes as a result of the company's attempt to find a lucrative niche for its once popular WordPerfect products. The company's stock has slipped from a high of $19.50 a share in July 1995 to its present value of around $3.50.

The Linux operating system is free, but several companies nevertheless make money off the upstart Unix-like operating system by distributing the OS, bundling software that runs on it, and providing technical support.

Corel's Unix strategy will follow a similar path. Although Corel will offer a free version of WordPerfect for personal users, the company also plans to sell the software to businesses and consumers who want manuals, a CD-ROM, clip art, and technical support. Email-based technical support will be available for a fee for users of the downloaded version.

The free version of WordPerfect doesn't come with some frills, such as the Adobe Acrobat reader and the Netscape Communications Web browser, but those can be downloaded from their respective companies, Corel spokeswoman Susan Gauthier said.

The shrinkwrap version of WordPerfect for Linux should be available in the next two weeks, Gauthier said. Corel will sell a $69.95 personal edition and a $495 business edition. The Windows version of Office 2000 is due in the spring of 1999, she added.

WordPerfect once was one of the most popular word processors for PCs, but it was pushed aside by Microsoft Word after the Redmond, Washington-based giant began to put more emphasis on selling its application suites.

Corel bought the WordPerfect suite of applications in 1996 but has been casting about for a way to make its products more competitive. The company began translating WordPerfect programs into Java but canceled the effort in 1997. Since then, it has moved toward another way to evade the Microsoft lock on the operating system and office word processor market: port WordPerfect to the Linux operating system.

The download version of WordPerfect is available at Download.com and available at other sites beginning December 22, Corel said. Download.com is a property of CNET: The Computer Network, publisher of News.com.

WordPerfect isn't the only word processor available in the Linux world. In addition to stalwart Unix editors such as vi and emacs, there are Wysiwig graphical word processors that come with software suites from Applix and Star Division.