LJ Interviews Corel's Michael Cowpland

by Marjorie Richardson

Dr. Michael Cowpland is Corel Corporation's founder, CEO and President; he also serves as Chairman of the Board for Corel Computer Corporation. Prior to founding Corel in 1985, Michael worked for over 20 years in communications and computing, first as a design engineer at Bell Northern Research (now Northern Telecom), then as manager of circuit design for Microsystems International, and finally as co-founder and president of Mitel, a leader in the telephony, computer telephony integration (CTI) and communications industries. I interviewed Michael by e-mail in October 1998.

Corel Corporation, headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, develops software technologies for the business, graphics and Web markets. Recognized for excellence through industry awards and consumer loyalty, Corel products rank among the highest in the industry.

Marjorie: What event first brought Linux to your attention?

Michael: In the last two years, Linux has truly emerged as a viable market opportunity. Linux was the only non-Microsoft OS to gain market share in 1997. The Linux user base now exceeds seven million worldwide and all indicators show continuing growth.

Corel has been shipping Corel WordPerfect for UNIX for many years. We began to hear from a large Linux user base that they wanted a native Linux port.

Marjorie: What sort of evaluation procedures did you use to decide to support Linux?

Michael: The number of Linux users has doubled annually for the past few years—growing from half a million users in 1994 to about 7 million this year. For many users, Linux is a viable alternative to the various Windows platforms.

Linux, because of its technical merits, won the hearts and minds of developers and programmers many years ago. Because of its stability, cost and openness, a large number of institutions, governments and medium-sized businesses have been using Linux as a network operating system for the past couple of years. More recently, home-based technical enthusiasts have been using Linux because of the growing number of features and programs the OS has to offer in addition to its stability, security and openness.

Linux offers the general computer user an excellent alternative. However, the typical consumer looking at Linux is waiting for an easy-to-use, easy-to-learn operating system that runs familiar commercial applications. This is the opportunity for Corel to bring a set of premiere applications to a mass market demanding products that run on the highly stable, 32-bit, multitasking operating system, Linux.

The number of Linux requests continues to grow rapidly every month. Other large companies like Oracle, Netscape and Informix have begun to support Linux, and it is grabbing the attention of the mainstream and computer trade press.

Support for Linux also fits well with Corel's mission statement to focus our technology leadership and offer customers value, compatibility and choice.

This support also aligns with development work being done at Corel Computer division, on its NetWinder family of Linux-powered thin clients and thin server products. The reason the NetWinder is based on Linux is because it is the best technology to accomplish Corel Computer's goals. Corel Computer is taking a leading role in the promotion of open standards, thin client and server computing and the cooperative software development model, having announced in May 1998 that it will make the source code to the Linux portion of its NetWinder operating system available. By selecting Linux as its operating system, Corel Computer is providing cost-effective, value-added alternatives to customers.

Marjorie: What advantages do you see in having products that support Linux?

Michael: Corel sees customers wanting a new and much-needed choice of operating systems. We also believe Linux to be very stable, and providing our customers with a better environment on which to run Corel applications.

Marjorie: Disadvantages?

Michael: There is still some fragmentation in the Linux community with respect to the various distributions. Installation formats are still not standardized and are usually too cryptic for adoption into the computer mainstream.

Marjorie: What do you find most attractive about Linux?

Michael: Linux offers customers stability, freedom and speed. The concrete reasons why Linux has millions of supporters, including Corel, is because it is:

  • Highly stable

  • Robust

  • Multitasking and multithreading

  • A small footprint

  • Supported by thousands of developers worldwide

Corel views Linux as an up-and-coming operating system for innovators and power users in the computer industry. We see innovation in Linux where we have seen a slowdown in innovation in the computer mainstream for the past few years.

Linux also offers some benefits that go beyond technology. Primarily, it is a highly accessible operating system. Not only is it freely available, but 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: How do you compare Linux with other operating systems?

Michael: We see Linux as a more powerful and stable operating system than Windows 95 and Windows NT. However, the Linux community still has to deliver better user interfaces for configuration and both application and OS installation.

Marjorie: What other platforms do you support?

Michael: Corel presently offers its award-winning Corel WordPerfect on numerous operating systems including Linux, UNIX, Macintosh, DOS, Open VMS and various Windows platforms.

Marjorie: Do you plan to support Linux with all your products? If not, why not?

Michael: We are studying the market demand and opportunity. We are working to provide the main applications to the Linux community for the initial development phase. After the market begins to mature and attract more early adopters, then we will move to add other applications which are not as critical to the majority of Linux users.

Marjorie: Tell us about the products you have ported to Linux and why you chose to port them.

Michael: Corel beleives a word processor is the first priority for a typical Linux user. WordPerfect was the application for which we received the largest number of user requests. WordPerfect 7 was available first, and Corel WordPerfect 8 for Linux will ship in late 1998. We will be putting a major effort into porting our office suite and graphics line of products to Linux.

Marjorie: What do you think needs to be added to Linux to make it more attractive to business users?

Michael: Several issues need to be resolved before corporations will begin to officially adopt Linux. Application installations must be improved and standardized. The operating system installations must be improved. Distributions must unify and adopt standards for installations, desktops, windowing systems, etc.

Marjorie: Linux seems to be climbing rapidly in popularity with all the PR it has gotten recently. How long do you expect that to last?

Michael: We think the momentum is going to increase even more from now on. If Linux distributors can unite and application vendors continue to support Linux, we expect the demand for Linux to continue to increase rapidly every six months. We believe Linux will become a major competitor to NT within the next two years.

Marjorie: What do you see in the future for your company and Linux?

Michael: I see a huge future for Linux and Corel. Linux will be the major alternative to NT and Corel will be the major productivity and graphics software company on Linux.

Marjorie: Thanks for your time.

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