LJ Interviews Mr. Eid Eid of Corel Computer
In October of last year, Corel Computer Corporation announced that its newest computer, the Corel Video Network Computer, would come with the Linux operating system installed. Wanting to know more, I asked for and was granted an e-mail interview with Corel's President, Mr. Eid Eid. This interview took place December 1, 1997.
Mr. Eid began work for Corel Corporation in 1989 and eventually rose to the position of Vice President of Technology. As Vice President, Eid was in charge of the development of all Corel products, including CorelDRAW, the Corel WordPerfect Suite and CorelVIDEO. In mid-1997, Mr. Eid was appointed to the presidency of the newly formed Corel Computer Corp., located in downtown Ottawa, Canada.
Marjorie: The Linux community is quite excited about your new Video Network Computer. Exactly what is a Video Network Computer? What are some of its features?
Eid: I want to try to resolve some of the misinformation about network computers before talking about what we are doing at Corel Computer. The concept of a network computer is very simple; let me explain.
A network computer should be based on an open software and hardware architecture.
It should have a lower cost of ownership than a PC.
It should allow for centralized software distribution and centralized hardware management.
It should increase network and data security.
Corel Computer has adhered to these concepts and developed a number of features that enhance the image of an NC. In fact, our goal was to dispel the reputation that network computers lack the performance and power of PC products.
The Corel Video Network Computer includes a Digital StrongARM processor that is clocked at 233MHz and delivers 250 MIPS. This is equivalent in horsepower to the Pentium II processor but at the power consumption of a night-light.
The processing power of the machine allows us to deliver high-end multimedia to a networked desktop. We have included a Persistent Cache or hard drive that minimizes network traffic, improves performance and allows users to work off-line should a server go down. We have designed and integrated software for greater performance and consistency. And what amazes us most is the size of the device: it measures about the size of a small hardcover book.
Marjorie: What factors influenced you to choose Linux as your operating system of choice?
Eid: Corel Computer reviewed many operating systems from most major vendors but selected Linux for some tangible and some intangible reasons. The concrete reasons why Linux has millions of supporters, including Corel Computer, are because it is:
Multitasking and multithreading
Small of footprint
Supported by thousands of developers worldwide
However, Linux offers some benefits that go beyond technology. Primarily, Linux is a highly accessible operating system. Sure it is freely available, and in the case of Linux, this means that the users and developers have access to the best technology as soon as they need it, not when a big software developer gets around to releasing the next upgrade. For example, when Corel Computer decided to use the StrongARM processor, Linux was the only serious OS that had binaries available for this chip.
Marjorie: What is your targeted market? Who do you expect will be buying this machine?
Eid: In the short term we are marketing the machine in three fundamental ways. First, we are positioning the machine as a corporate and institutional product that addresses the need for low-cost, high-value, network computing. Customers will have a choice of a Java-based user interface or a Linux-based browser interface. The main applications for such a device will be to access and gather information, communicate and collaborate. We expect that some companies will use the Corel Video Network Computer to replace aging terminals or older PCs, and that other companies will use the network computer to extend computing services to employees who do not currently have access to any.
Secondly, we are leveraging our existing communication experience and offering a compelling solution for LAN-based communications. In response to customer feedback, the device is being offered with a Java-based, integrated communications suite and user interface. Customers will be able to centralize audio, video and data communications into a single networked device.
Finally, and most importantly, we are going to position the device as a Linux workstation for Linux and Java developers. The machine will include a software development kit, documentation, support and discounts on the hardware for developers. We plan to announce the details of our developer's program early in the new year.
Marjorie: How much will these computers cost? When will we be able to buy one?
Eid: The initial design will cost about $1,000 US and will ship early in 1998. This product will include a keyboard and mouse, and integrated Java-based software running on the Linux OS. However, what we want to sell is the idea that the device will cost less to operate, manage and maintain than a PC. For example, we are currently evaluating the energy consumption of our NC compared to a PC. Our initial results indicate that the savings on an electric bill could be as much as $200 per year per network computer. Furthermore, the productivity enhancements achieved by users will all but pay for the initial cost of the machine. For example, users will no longer be responsible for the management of “corporate information” residing on their computer. Because files are stored on a central server, the loss to the company should a machine be accidentally damaged is the cost of a new network computer. However, if a PC is damaged, all the information that is stored on the PC could be lost for good.
The Linux workstation that I mentioned before will ship in the spring of 1998. We are planning to include more memory, a larger hard drive and a faster chip in the Linux workstation. Although we have not set the price of this device, it may be closer to $1,500 US because of these enhancements.
Marjorie: What flavor of Linux will be on the workstations?
Eid: As a basis for our development, we used two sources under GPL. A large part of the OS is based on pieces from Red Hat and Russell King, an independent developer who has ported much of the recent Red Hat releases to the ARM chip. Corel Computer has been developing, modifying and porting the two sources to the StrongARM chip and configuring the OS to run the Corel Computer NC peripherals. Corel Computer will follow all the rules of GPL and will publish the source code and diff files when the machine is shipped.
We are committed to returning the development work that we have done to the Linux community.
Marjorie: How many of Corel's products support Linux at this time? Will those products not currently supported be ported to Linux soon?
Eid: Currently, Corel WordPerfect 7 has been ported to Linux 2.0.25. Corel is continuing to study this market with input from partners like Caldera and input from customers. The feedback to this point has been that Linux users are looking for unique and compelling products, not necessarily product ports from Windows.
What is highly encouraging is that Java running in the Linux environment offers the opportunity to begin to address some of these customer demands. Corel Computer has been spearheading development work on Linux running on the StrongARM chip. This includes championing development on Sun's Java Application Environment for this combination. What this means is that Linux users can begin to develop for, or take advantage of, new Java-based products.
Marjorie: Tell us a bit about your Java-based multimedia software.
Eid: Corel Computer will continue to use the Java programming language to integrate products onto the Corel Video Network Computer. The first product, codenamed “Cabot”, is one part of a much larger strategy being implemented by Corel Corp. Corel is dedicated to being an industry leader in the field of web and Java-based communications and groupware applications. The products that we have announced are being designed to leverage network-centric, thin-client computing.
Besides advancing the Linux OS and developing new tools for Java development, Corel Computer has created a software product that automatically increases the value of the network computer. Cabot is an HTML and Java-based user interface and communications suite for the Corel Video Network Computer. The product includes:
A Java-based browser
An HTML editor
An e-mail client
A file manager and file browser
And much more...
Our parent company, Corel, will offer the Corel Video Network Computer and its software as part of a broader corporate solution. Corel is designing new software to complement its complete business, graphics and Internet applications. First, Corel is developing Java technology that will allow existing applications such as Corel WordPerfect or Microsoft Office to run on a server and be accessed via a thin client on any Java Virtual Machine. This product will ship early in 1998. Second, Corel is producing a new line of products that will focus on information management and knowledge gathering and publishing. This product will be modular and lightweight, and will ship in the summer of 1998.
Marjorie: Any other exciting projects involving Linux (or not) coming up?
Eid: We hope to be able to announce a formal relationship between Corel Computer and Sun Microsystems in the coming weeks. This announcement will pertain to the Java Application Environment running on Linux. We also hope to formalize our relationship with Caldera and announce exciting new projects that are in the works between our two companies.
Marjorie: How about a short history of Corel Corp. and Corel Computer? Where you started, where you are now...
Eid: The history of Corel is very interesting, but very extensive. There are many highlights from the past 12 years, but I think that the most notable are:
1985: Corel Systems Corp. founded by Dr. Michael Cowpland. The company was producing a PC system for desktop publishing using Ventura and WordPerfect. As the saying goes, Michael liked the products so much he later bought the companies.
1989: A drawing product was designed by Corel engineers and was expected to sell a couple hundred copies. CorelDRAW has sold more than 7 million stand-alone copies, and millions more have been shipped with PCs since its launch.
1992: CorelDRAW 3 is the first software suite ever sold. The package included DRAW, PhotoPaint and a raft of multimedia accessories. It also marked the first product to have mass distribution on CD-ROM.
1995: CorelDRAW 6 is the first major 32-bit application to ship for Windows 95.
1996: Corel buys WordPerfect from Novell. Since that time, Corel has shipped two major upgrades to the product in addition to increasing cross-platform support by offering new versions on DOS, Windows 3.1 and Unix.
1997: Launch of Corel Computer Corp. We are currently 90 employees including students, contractors and full-time employees. We have separate offices in Ottawa but are connected to Corel through desktop video conferencing, direct dial telephone and a shared WAN. Dr. Michael Cowpland is the chairman of the new company.
Marjorie: What do you see in the future for Corel and Linux?
Eid: It is very exciting to be involved with an active and stimulating community. It is a diverse community with a breadth of experience. I hope that Corel Computer can help champion the operating system and the development language and steward new directions based in Java. I know many of us at Corel Computer look forward to traveling to meet with user and developer groups over the coming months.
Marjorie: Thank you very much for your time.