Who Buys Corel?

SAN FRANCISCO (05/23/2000) - Corel Corp. has more lives than a cat. The Ottawa vendor has played in device drivers, graphics software, office suites, CD-ROM reference discs, remote-access software, videoconferencing hardware, Java machines, server appliances, Linux distributions, and probably other niches that we forget.

Pundits write off the company each year or so, and maybe founder Michael Cowpland will work his wizardry one more time. But Corel is running deep in the red, and now that its merger with Inprise/Borland Corp. has fallen through, it's likely to go on the auction block again.

Even if you're not running any Corel products now, this may make a difference to you.

However enthusiastic we may get about wild Web services and gotta-have wireless gizmos, we still need powerful PC tools for writing documents, crunching numbers, or creating great graphics.

And Microsoft Office needs some rivals.

IBM could play but won't -- it seems embarrassed by its Lotus SmartSuite.

Corel retains formidable alternatives: WordPerfect Office for Windows is still reasonably competitive on features (if not market share), CorelDRAW and its other graphics tools are solid, and Corel sees little competition in desktop Linux applications.

Bidding on the Biz

With its stock in a major sulk, Corel is currently capitalized at about a half billion bucks. Who's willing to pay a premium to snap it up?

Some takers might lurk in the Linux camp -- the big hardware or maybe even software contenders that still have a little stock to spare. On the downside, precious few of these folks seem very interested in desktop applications.

A well-heeled application service provider (ASP) might make a better match.

Running basic applications over the Net is slowly turning into a real business.

StarOffice and new built-for-the-Web suites such as ThinkFree.com can't really hit the high bar against Microsoft, but perhaps WordPerfect Office online could present a challenge.

In fact, maybe Yahoo should buy Corel and make its apps into ASPs. Isn't this an opportunity over the long run for a well-heeled portal?

But wait, that's probably too logical. Nothing in Corel's history is quite so straightforward. It responds instead to the enthusiasm of the hour. That would argue for... well, you heard it here first: Corel will be bought by a wireless networks firm!

The one thing we know is that we don't know how the Corel merger or acquisition saga will finally come down. But Corel soon will be a different breed of cat.

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