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Corel: Linux to thrive like Windows in next ten years

But can Corel really wait that long?

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Corel will release a beta version of its consumer-oriented Linux distribution by 10 August, company CEO Michael Cowpland pledged yesterday. He also promised Linux versions of CorelDRAW, WordPerfect Office and other Corel applications would ship early next year. Speaking at Corel's annual shareholders meeting, Cowpland said Linux would help the company pull off the double win of competing effectively with Microsoft and returning Corel to full-time profitability. "In the next ten years, we think Linux can be as successful as Windows has been over the last ten years," said Cowpland. That success, he believes, will come from margin-squeezed PC vendors who will decide to install Corel Linux instead of Windows. At the $300 price-point, he said, "Windows is 25 per cent of the cost of materials", allowing the much cheaper Linux to get in instead. "Linux is almost inevitable at this point," he added. Cowpland's argument clearly assumes cut-price PC vendors don't get stung by Microsoft's licensing terms because by not offering Windows at all. And that's the killer question: will they have the courage to ignore the dominant operating system? The Mac example suggests they might. While almost all buyers of the kind of PCs Corel appears to be interested in will have heard of Windows, few will know of Linux. But if Corel can bundle a set of decent productivity apps into a version of Linux that operates exclusively in a graphical environment, it may be able to persuade buyers that Linux is a better option. Like the MacOS, Linux may not dominate the OS arena, but many people are more interested in getting work done than compatibility. The difficulty here is Linux's graphical environments. Corel will be using KDE, and while it's a good X Windows GUI, it's arguably not as sophisticated nor as easy to use as Windows and certainly not the MacOS. Indeed, it's that very lack of a mature GUI that persuades the likes of IDC that while Linux is going to make a big impact in the server arena, on the desktop side, success is some way off. That leaves Corel struggling on trying to have some successive profitable quarters while the desktop PC buyers slowly adopt Linux. And if Linux is cheap enough to win the support of margin-conscious PC vendors, it may not do much for Corel's bottom line, particularly if it's also having to field tech support calls from all those new users trying to get modems, printers and 3D accelerator cards to work with their $300 PCs. ®

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