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Corel back on track, says CEO

CEO Michael Cowpland talks to The Register about Microsoft, Java, Linux

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Interview Corel CEO Michael Cowpland sounded-off to The Register in Amsterdam during the Dutch InterNetworking trade show. In the league table of optimists, Corel CEO Michael Cowpland must be near the top. Corel has had a series of bad quarters until the last quarter of fiscal 1998, as it adjusted its business model. It does now look as though Cowpland may pull it all off and break through to profits at a useful level. He is also one of the few CEOs that is well-grounded in the technology (his PhD was in electrical engineering at Imperial College, London). One of his first business ventures was to form Mitel (Mike and Terry's lawnmowers -- remote controlled, of course), which he sold before going on to found Corel, initially specialising in graphics products. His acquisition of WordPerfect from Novell gave Corel the launching pad for an Office suite of its own. The Dutch market has traditionally favoured WordPerfect, Cowpland noted, with 47 per cent of word processing being done with WP. Unfortunately, many are still using version 5.1, and there has been a tendency for users eventually to migrate to Word because, as Cowpland put it, Corel was losing money as it was going through a consolidation and turn around, so was not well-perceived. Reviews of the final version of Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000 suite have been recommending it for its file compatibility. Corel sees Microsoft's complex file structures as being detrimental to Microsoft, but an advantage for Corel. Corel is providing conversion with XML, ODMA, ODBC and HTML, as well as with Microsoft VBA and file compatibility with VBA and Microsoft Office. Back from the doldrums Corel expects to emerge victorious from the doldrums with a series of new releases, including WordPerfect Office 2000, CorelDRAW 9, as well as WordPerfect Office for Linux in Q4, and CorelDRAW 9 for Linux in Q1 2000. Corel's income is derived about 55 per cent from its Office suite, and 45 percent from graphics software, with Europe providing around 40 per cent of Corel's revenue. The active user base for WordPerfect is 35 million worldwide, Cowpland claimed. Cowpland sees his deal with PC Chips, a Chinese company with 30,000 employees making no-name boxes, as "a big coup". Of the 100 million PCs sold each year, half come from well-known companies, with the remainder coming primarily from PC Chips, "the largest manufacturer in the world" of motherboards, making more than Intel, Cowpland said. The result will be that Corel's Office suite will be included with 20 per cent of the world's PCs as a result of this single deal. Corel sees the exercise as being one that will gain mindshare at the bottom of the pyramid, and expects the use of Corel products will move upwards, especially when it has finished its Linux version. Cowpland on... Free PCs Cowpland thinks ISPs will increasingly give away Web access devices, which would cost them around $300 per user per year. In the second year, however, the OEM would make money. This will happen worldwide, he thinks, with the US market being about a year ahead than the remainder of the world. Cowpland drew the analogy of Amazon.com effectively giving away $30 in the first year, and recovering the outlay in the second year. Next Page

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