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Earth to Corel: open your Office, or give it up

Comment Why an 'expensive wannabe' if there's 'OK and free'?
Wed May 21 2008, 11:31

THE OFFICE is moving to the web or so the pundits proclaim. While it's true that Google's web-based productivity suite Google Docs is a lifesaver don't count out traditional office suites.

Yes, Google Docs works great and centralises document management and makes you knock your head against the wall when your country's fibre link to the " cloud" is cut by aliens. But in our view both types of productivity software have a purpose and complement one another nicely. It's "me too", Windows-only, commercial and proprietary MS Office copycat suites like Corel's Wordperfect Office which increasingly look like chickens running around without heads. In fact, I can think of no other big candidate in that category than Corel's Suite that fits that description. So let's change the allegory to a singular chicken.

In other words, it's dead, but it just hasn't realised it yet. First, consider Microsoft's Office suite and its market share. Now consider Corel's commercial Microsoft Office wannabe, selling for $399 in the Professional version and $115 for the 'Home and Student' version. For readers in Blighty, the standard version will cost you around £276 inc VAT from Corel UK.

Now let's compare both. Microsoft Office runs in Windows. Corel's Wordperfect Office runs in Windows. Microsoft's suite is the standard and everyone knows it. People know how it works (or pretend to know how it works then just ask anyone else in the office when they get stuck).

Now compare that to Corel's proposition. Both are expensive. One is the de-facto standard. The other requires re-training. What's the edge, the advantage for Corel? Better features? A cleaner screen in Wordperfect?. That's a hard, hard sell for corporate types and anyone who's cost-conscious.

Now compare Corel's Wordperfect Office to Sun's inexpensive and commercially supported StarOffice or its open source sibling: Now the latter runs on most modern OSs out there, Linux, Windows, Unix, and soon Mac OS X (get the beta released a couple weeks ago here). Corel's doesn't. and since is based on community-supported, open source code you avoid vendor lock-in, and you can help debug it, if you so wish.

So let's recap: StarOffice and OpenOffice are compatible, run in almost every popular OS out there, and are very inexpensive or free, respectively. So, just considering those few factors, both SO and OO offer several key differentiating and compelling features. Again, what are Wordperfect Office's advantages? "You can use your ancient Wordperfect 5.0 keyboard macros"? *BZZZT* Boring! Sorry, not good enough. and StarOffice are succeeding by imitating Mozilla's recipe for success with its Firefox browser. Both are open, both are free - as in no cos t-, both are community-supported (and commercially-supported, in the case of StarOffice). And both provide the ways and means for users to code creative, useful extensions, available both as open source code or even as closed code under a commercial licence, depending on what the developer wants.

In a nutshell, StarOffice and give users freedom. Both run on almost every modern popular OS the user might choose to run. Corel's Wordperfect Office? "Windows!", "as expensive as Microsoft's Office", "no freedom, same kind of vendor lock-in, only with a different owner at the end of the dog collar".

In short: Wordperfect Office has a niche, and will continue to have one. It won't get very far into the 21st century if Corel doesn't open its code. They could sell support and an enhanced version, just like Sun does with StarOffice - and it embraces mutiple operating systems - as the OS is increasingly irrelevant, as Linux-based tablets and Ubuntu pre-loaded Dell machines show.

I don't see Corel's Office Suite ever getting away from the small niche market corner it painted itself into, unless it gives users outside its fan base a compelling advantage in comparison with open source based solutions.

Now, in my defence and before the Wordperfect Jihad attacks poor Editor Paul Hales demanding my bald head on a silver platter, let me say that I loved Quattro Pro 5.0 for DOS. It ran circles around any other spreadsheet, specially under OS/2's virtual DOS machines. I even tried Wordperfect for OS/2 an ugly port a couple of times before finally selling my soul to Lotus' Word Pro 96.

But all that is ancient industry. That was in the dark ages, before OpenOffice, when software only came in cardboard boxes and was expensive and proprietary, just like Corel's Wordperfect Office.µ


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