In a bid to prove that Corel Corp.’s software can interact with that of its largest competitor, the firm’s chief executive went before federal government clients Tuesday.

Along with other employees of the Ottawa-based

firm and reseller Softchoice, Amish Mehta addressed close to 50 public servants during a seminar entitled “”What’s New on the Desktop.”” And like some of his counterparts, Mehta emphasized many times that WordPerfect Office 12 is compatible with Microsoft’s wares.

Mehta took over as CEO from Derek Burney last November, who has since stepped into a chairman role. Mehta was one of the principals at Vector Capital, the company that recently acquired Corel.

The compatibility issue is a critical one for Corel. The federal government, along with other national governments and the legal sector, is a big user of Corel’s word-processing and graphics software. In the past, this has created compatibility and interoperability challenges for those who transfer documents to the large mass of external clients who use Microsoft Word, as well as usability issues for internal workers who are more accustomed to using Microsoft software.

“”We can’t afford to lose your business,”” Mehta told the audience, adding governments comprise roughly 20 per cent of the firm’s customer base. “”We understand your unique needs. Governments will remain a critical part of this company’s focus.””

Corel staff demonstrated how it’s possible to work in “”Microsoft mode”” from WordPerfect Office 12, flipping back and forth from both versions without losing any formatting.

For Darren Robichaud, a systems analyst at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the experience with Corel software has been a good one. He said AAFC has successfully worked with a collection of macros using WordPerfect Office 10 for correspondence documents, such as briefing notes, Question Period notes, memorandums to the minister and parliamentary secretary, as well as transmittal slips.

The focus on macros has allowed for consistent formatting of important documents, he said, adding new or temporary employees don’t need to be trained on how to format such documents. New macros under development at the department include memorandums to Cabinet, which can be very complex, as well as issue briefs, he said.

However, there are some restrictions. To date, WordPerfect software cannot read PDF files, something that the company is currently working on, said Richard Carriére, director of office productivity at Corel.

“”It is one piece of the puzzle that’s still missing. PDF compatibility is certainly at the top of our minds. We also have to consider the upcoming Longhorn version of Microsoft Windows and Office. And we’re also considering what the other modules are to connecting into that Microsoft ecosystem.””

Carriére said Corel has heard from federal civil servants who have said they “”need to find a way to exchange files with the outside world”” and have expressed concern over whether there is a big training effort for new employees who are not familiar with the firm’s software.

By addressing these concerns, Corel is more on track than it has been in the past, said Warren Shiau, research manager for IDC Canada’s software research program.

“”(Corel) is embracing the fact that the Microsoft position is not about to change. So they must deal with their product from that perspective. Their willingness to address all these interoperability and compatibility issues point to a recognition that … they should get off their (initial) product plan.””

Shiau believes Corel has gone to an area of development that is better suited to its position in the market. It’s a move that will help the company retain their market share, he said.

“”Prior to this, if you look back through past Corel products with regards to the office suite, you’ll see a lot of focus on functionality, when functionality is not a burning issue that would get a enterprise customer using Microsoft to switch to Corel. This wasn’t an optimal allocation of product development and marketing resources.””

“”I think the change they’ve had in direction shows a different way of thinking that’s probably a good thing.””

As part of Corel’s drive to assure government clients they need not worry about compatibility issues, Carriére is going to Brazil next.

Meanwhile, Mehta said the company has recognized the demand for Linux, especially in Europe. And when consumers are ready to embrace the system on their desktop, he said Corel will be there with a product to address that demand. He added that while the company has no plans for a standalone XML product, it does plan on integrating the language into future products “”as things advance.””

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