Where next for Corel?

Few degrees of separation in Middleware graveyard

Analysis Last week, Corel's former Linux project lead, and now CEO, Derek Burney gave an equivocal backing to the company's Quixotic free software initiative.

"We made it very clear that there are no sacred cows and we'll leave no stone unturned in determining our strategy," he told IDG News Service. Burney also said that he thought open source is fine for operating systems "and nothing else" Which will have caused rue smiles from EMACS or Apache users.

But at least that's consistent with the Cowpland-era point of view, though. His predecessor never promised to turn Corel's applications into software libre, and went the quick and dirty route using WINE translation hooks.

So the question is - if not Linux, then where?

Covenant not to sue

Microsoft's recent investment has induced Corel to .NET its applications, and the pair kissed and made up in a SECC filing delightfully headed Covenant Not To Sue.

The deal suggests that Corel could pick up some valuable expertise in Microsoft-flavoured middleware. But if so, it would do well to heed the example of Borland, the company it so nearly acquired earlier this year, which also went paddling furiously up Middleware Creek about three years ago.

Ironically, Borland too had just received a shed load of cash from Redmond, on that occasion as part of an out-of-court settlement which - is this ironic enough for you? - closed a staff-poaching case Borland had brought against Microsoft: an exercise that netted Redmond Anders Heljsberg, one of the lynchpins of its .NET strategy.

Heljsberg led Borland's Turbo Pascal and Delphi projects, and it was when the latter began to roast Visual Basic in creating the client end of client/server apps, with faster development times and far superior execution, that Microsoft moved in and began hiring.

Heljsberg is co-author of C# and the accompanying (but usually ignored) common run-time: Microsoft's version of a JVM. So we make that three degrees of separation.

Quick on the Draw

However Borland blew its bounty on Visigenic, just as the bottom was dropping out of the commercial ORB business, and has only just washed up back in the land of the living as a pure tools company.

The Borland/Corel deal fell apart when Corel's stock price crashed - along with other Linux stocks and the cream of the tech business too - earlier in the spring. So the intention to take Corel into if not middleware, then at least "strategic tools" was clearly there in the pre-Burney era. How much our Derek wants to dally there, we've yet to see.

A smarter bet for Corel could be to go back to basics, and capitalise on its foothold in the creative content business. Corel Draw remains the major money earner, but over the past twelve months Corel has made a number of useful acquisitions, including Bryce and KPT, that are very much at home on the Mac.

Given Apple's ambitions to grab some of SGI's low-end workstation business with cheap multi-processing systems - Jobs was inordinately proud of SGI subsidiary Alias|Wavefront's decision to port Maya to OS X, Corel could ride that train - if it makes some shrewd acquisitions.

That way, it wouldn't be competing with a single vastly better-resourced opponent, as it does today against Microsoft in office applications and against Adobe in desktop content. Perhaps. It isn't about bundles, or volumes or packaging ... but it's an earner.

The new CEO says a three-way re-organisation is pl7anned, with spooky management consultants McKinsey advising on strategy. ®

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