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‘Leading’ PC vendor to bundle Corel WordPerfect

Is it Compaq? And is it more than a bundling deal?

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Corel is set to announce today what it calls a major strategic alliance with a leading PC vendor -- in other words, just another bundling deal. However, if speculation as to the identity of the PC manufacturer in question is correct, the deal could signify something rather more important for Corel. According a report from the Reuters news agency, Corel recently posted a press conference notice warning that the company will be announcing today that it has signed the vendor to bundle WordPerfect Office. The event notice claims the deal will ensure Corel's personal productivity suite ships with "almost one fifth of all computers shipped annually". That suggest a big name, almost certainly Compaq, the only company whose global marketshare approach 20 per cent. Overall, IBM is larger, but it already owns Lotus SmartSuite, which it can ship for free. Of course, you might wonder why it matters when the agreement is simply a bundling deal. If that's all it is, that argument isn't an unreasonable one. But Corel's recent history suggests that it could be more than that. And if we speculate on a deeper deal than that, the possibilities don't seem all that unlikely. Earlier this year Corel engaged in a series of moves to protect the company from what appeared to be a hostile takeover bid. The suggested bidder was said to be Adobe, itself the subject of a takeover bid from Quark, itself rumoured at the tail end of 1998 to be talking to Corel about some kind of takeover or merger. At the time, Corel's bosses said the moves it had made in the light of the Adobe bid -- they refused to confirm or deny that it was Adobe -- were not done to protect the company from a takeover but to allow the board time to evaluate any such offers. That suggests the company, which not long after announced a rather wider than anticipated loss, might well be receptive to a buyer coming in to rescue it from further trouble. The company's problems, of course, emerged from its mis-guided (with hindsight) plan to adopt Java as the core platform for its applications. That strategy ultimately failed, but the company neatly sidestepped onto the Linux bandwagon, though a Linux hardware development programme, which created the NetWinder Internet access appliance, had to be sold off. More recently, Corel announced it was working on its own flavour of Linux, and with a Linux version of WordPerfect Office in the works, this makes the company an attractive partner for the growing band of hardware vendors keen to target the Linux market. Interestingly, the press notice doesn't mention which version of WordPerfect Office will be bundled, but it's hard to imagine the Linux release being shipped on 20 per cent of the computers to be sold this year -- unless the company's partner has an interesting new OS strategy to announce too... Of course, none of this is proof that Corel's about to be snapped up by, say, Compaq, but having its own application supplier under its belt would be a useful fillip for Compaq, doubly so since it brings in Intel-based OS development, thanks to Linux, too. And what did Compaq tell The Register yesterday? It's pursuing a low-end Linux strategy. Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice... ®

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