WordPerfect Office 2000 Deluxe
Manufacturer: Corel Corporation
Price: $159 US
Reviewer: Jon Valesh
Some ideas are so widely held, so reasonable, so attractive, so ... right, that they worm their way into your brain and are just about impossible to fight off. You hear someone talking and, without even needing to think about what they have said, you know they are talking truth. Linux is awesome. True. Microsoft is a monopoly. True. The patent office has gone insane. True. Linux will never be taken seriously by the computer industry as a whole until mainstream office software becomes available. True.
But are these truths really true? In the case of Linux, Microsoft and the patent office, of course they are! What about Linux needing mainstream office software to be accepted by mainstream users? Widely believed? Yes, but...truth, in a warm wash of golden light and trumpeting trumpets? Linux needs applications, that is true. But we need applications that are unique to Linux, applications that will force users through Linux's doors, and not provide them with another excuse for walking past.
There have always been excuses, and there will always be excuses. From “not pretty enough” to “hard to use” to “no commercial support” to, well, I've never heard anyone cite their fear of penguins, but somewhere on this planet, someone is avoiding Linux because the penguin reminds them of Big Bird-inspired nightmares they had when they were four.
Excuses or not, there are some sizable reasons why full-featured office software may be a long time coming from the GNU world. First amongst them is the nature of office-software users. Unlike development tools and Internet servers, word processors and spreadsheets are generally used by non-technical people with non-technical problems. The users don't necessarily have the skills to write their own word processor the way a programmer can write their own compiler. They don't need those skills. The second big reason is the lack of standards. There are no ANSI-standard word processor files, no central body dictates spreadsheet interfaces, no RFC explains existing file formats. In fact, it is just the opposite: the interfaces and file formats have been used as an anti-competitive trump card so many times that even mainstream office applications can have difficulty reading older versions of their own files.
Would-be office software developers can't even go their own way and ignore existing office products, because users need file compatibility and interface familiarity.
So, the options can be reduced to one: commercial software. Here, the requirements shift. You still need file compatibility and an easy interface, but you also need a company that will stand behind their product. Ideally, they will also have a name that draws users. Unlike most GNU software, commercial applications must compete not only for users but also for user money. They must be able to stand feature-to-feature against the best products from the biggest companies. In office software, that means standing against Microsoft. [Although with the recent DoJ ruling, this may change. Someday. Perhaps. —Ed]
Fighting Microsoft in the commercial world means being a company with the money and staff to go one-on-one with the richest and most aggressive corporation in the industry—and not get bought up or buried. Unlike GNU/Linux, a temporary setback isn't just a matter of spending more time coding and waiting for the next opportunity to arrive. It means angry shareholders, lawsuits, layoffs, shattered dreams and all the nasty stuff that happens when people lose their shirts.
You need a company with not only the will but the strength to fight.
Corel has uniquely positioned themselves to fill that need. While most of us sat on the sidelines and grumbled about Microsoft's tactics, Corel decided to play the game, fighting Microsoft head-on using Microsoft's own tricks. Corel and Microsoft have always had similar business strategies. Both grew from humble beginnings, in part, by augmenting their product development resources through purchasing companies and products to combine with their own development efforts—shepherding the best they could build and buy toward commercial success. Corel's office suite, containing mostly bought goods, is no different. Each of the major applications started life as another company's brainchild, but Corel has added several of their own applications and given them all a consistent look and feel.
The key word, when defining either company's strategy, has always been “opportunistic”. However, a few years ago, Corel decided to take the gloves off and face Microsoft on Microsoft's home turf. The size difference is undeniable, the strategy bold. So far, the going has been rough for Corel, but the future looks very bright if Corel's latest moves are right.
And what is their goal? To capture the business desktop. Their strategy? Do it any way they can. Sell an office suite head-to-head with Microsoft Office. Sell a desktop operating system head-to-head with Windows. Make their software multi-platform. Remove barriers to leaving Microsoft, and provide alternatives with a good mix of features and price.
Oh, and sell Linux. Corel saw Linux and realized exactly what each of us did when we encountered the Penguin: here is something truly great and truly threatening to Microsoft. Corel quickly committed themselves to providing Linux versions of their application software, developing their own Linux distribution, even making a try at Linux-based thin-network clients and other Linux-centric products—and they have shown some remarkably good judgment in the process. The Corel LinuxOS distribution is based on Debian GNU/Linux, one of the oldest and most respected distributions around. Their approach to porting their applications was equally practical. Since supporting multiple source code bases or spending the necessary time on a massive inter-OS port would take too long, they spent their time making their applications run under WINE, the GNU free Windows emulator for Linux. The bulk of the Linux-specific software in WordPerfect Office 2000 is actually in the installation program.