Linux helping WordPerfect gain against MS Office?

Prices, amnesties and free downloads may be adding up into a come-back

It is now clear that WordPerfect is making progress against Microsoft Word in North America, although there's been a little spat over US over government sales. Corel claims 22 million seats at the end of 1998, quoting PC Data, with 40 per cent of the federal government and 53 per cent of state and local government using WP. Not so, says Microsoft, although it hasn't produced any independent data to support its claim. Channel sales data support Corel's claims, with a recent report showing the Canadian company achieving a 60 percent gain in the federal market in the last six months, helped no doubt by the doubling of its Washington sales force. WP does well in this market because its prices and licensing terms are considerably better than Microsoft's. But away from WP's niches (which includes lawyers - and even Microsoft's outside lawyers for the trial), the product has been seeing gains of 50 per cent in the general business market. There are additional positive factors working in Corel's favour. One, which has probably not yet registered very significantly although it could account for some of the business market upswing, is the free WP for Linux, only slightly cut down from the full version, and which has just passed the million downloads mark, despite it being 23.6MB. Some 70,000 downloads a week are being seen. With the WordPerfect Office 2000 suite now being distributed, it will be most interesting to compare it objectively with Microsoft's Office 2000, since for the first time the production cycles are in synchronisation, allowing a meaningful comparison. Working against Microsoft is the inexorable fall in PC prices. OEMs are just not bundling MS Office, in order to remain price competitive, while Corel CEO Michael Cowpland has had some success in persuading OEMs making low-cost PCs to bundle WP. Corel's amnesty campaign, whereby WP versions 5 to 7 can be legally licensed for $30, no questions asked, is paying off - especially as there was an executive order in October that required all US government software to be licensed. It had been known for some time that one of the most blatant pirates was the US government. Although the campaign ends at the end of May, it looks as though a single extension would make sense. Perhaps the greatest problem for Corel is that people tend to stick with the first word processor that they use, for as long as possible, and are reluctant to change because of the learning curve. That's where Corel really stands to gain from its WP for Linux give-away: by making WP the first word processor that many users encounter (and it's included in some Linux distributions, for example Caldera's), this barrier will be breached for a new generation. Lotus SmartSuite is still there, but it has declined significantly. When we spoke to Michael Cowpland in Amsterdam last month (Cowpland interview), he was optimistic about the future for the WordPerfect suite. It's the last chance for WordPerfect, but the best news for users could be that the odds are that there will remain competitive products in the most important market after operating systems. ®

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