- By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols -
Without any fanfare, Corel, once a leading Linux light, first abandoned Linux and is now
abandoning Open Source. Its Open Source site, OpenSource Corel, closes on March 1. Along with it goes Corel's well received WINE fork, its work on Debian and other file packaging techniques, and other projects. The code lives on, but the site is done.In truth, though, as a walk through the dusty Web site shows, even before the closing sign appeared on their virtual front door Corel's work on its Open Source projects had already declined to near nothing.
Corel is under contract to Microsoft to bring .NET shared-source-code versions of Microsoft's C# language and Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) to FreeBSD -- not
NetBSD as reported elsewhere. That project was part of Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative, but there's no sign of the project on the OpenSource.Corel site. A Corel
spokesperson said the shared .NET program is still ongoing, with Microsoft managing it.
Not so long ago, November 1999 to be exact, Corel was a leading Linux light. Its Debian-based desktop Linux distribution was designed to convert Windows users to Linux and it was extremely well received. In the meantime, Corel
brought the first major Windows desktop application -- WordPerfect -- to Linux using WINE. Not long after that, other leading Corel Windows programs, like CorelDraw, arrived on Linux via WINE. By February 2000, according to PCData (now NPD Intelect Market Tracking) Corel's Linux OS retail market share had increased in the United States from 2.3% in November 1999 to 19.3% in February 2000. That was then. This is now.
Since those halcyon days of a Linux desktop that Windows users could love, Corel has moved away from Linux and Open Source. Ravished by ill-timed moves into the application server provider (ASP) market, a lack of profits from Linux and its application lines, and the powerful, but eccentric, leadership of one-time CEO Michael Cowpland, Corel took a new turn -- and it was a turn away from Linux.
In August 2000, Cowpland stepped down, and by that November, Corel was rumored to be looking for a buyer for its Linux distribution. While Derek Burney, current president and CEO, denied this in December 2000, it was already an open secret that with the Linux operations showing little, if any, profit, and Microsoft having rescued Corel from its miserable financial position with a $135 million stock buyout, Corel was moving away from Linux.
Corel was also abandoning its brief flirtation with ASP software. Since Burney took the reins, Corel has focused on Windows and Mac application development. The company has also been acquiring other independent software vendors such as SGML leader SoftQuad and the maker of the popular low-end desktop photograph program Picture Publisher, Micrografx.
Selling the Linux OS
But getting out of Linux proved little easier for Burney than Brer Fox trying to get free of a tar baby. Finally, though, in August 2001, Corel sold its Corel Linux OS division to Linux Global Partners (LGP), a NY based software investment firm, for an undisclosed sum.
LGP quickly formed Xandros to house it. Xandros is continuing Corel's original mission of delivering a Windows-user friendly version of the Linux desktop with its Xandros Desktop 1.0. This product is in late beta and is a Debian-based system by way of the Corel Linux OS 3.0. It will include the 2.4.16 Linux Kernel, KDE 2.2.2, and user-friendly control panels, connection and printer wizards, a new file manager, and an easy-to-use Windows networking interoperability interface.
Is there any future for Linux at Corel?
As for Corel's Linux desktop applications, while they are still supported, there have been no new releases since WordPerfect 2000, and it doesn't take a software engineer to see that there won't be any new Linux office programs coming from Corel.
A Corel spokesperson said that the company was still considering new Linux product releases in the summer of 2001 if there was sufficient customer demand. Because there wasn't enough demand, Corel decided by early fall to cease developing Linux versions of its programs. Soon afterwards, Corel stopped selling its Linux programs. Buyers report that the shrink-wrapped packages still appear from time to time, but they're almost as hard to find as a Linux programmer using C#.
So it is not with a bang, but with a whimper, that the only major Windows application company to ever venture into Linux software now leaves us. While Corel's Linux projects were never a commercial success, Corel's arrival in Linux seemed to herald a new day for the Linux desktop at the time. Today, its quiet, final departure reminds us that the Linux desktop has still to prove itself with both consumers and businesses.