Builders and VisionariesTop 20 Channel ExecutivesMichael Cowpland

Michael Cowpland is determined that Corel will not be the only thing for which he is remembered.

For several years he has been building Zim, which connects users through short message service (SMS) documents sent over mobile phones.

The company describes itself as a “monetization gateway” for carriers and merchants, competing with the BlackBerry. And yet it is RIM that Cowpland singles out as one of young high-tech companies he admires.

“Their success was based on keeping it simple – they didn’t try to be an iPaq and put an entire PC in mobile form, they just did a really good job on e-mail. I think that’s a good lesson to a lot of companies.” Corel once tried to do many things well, often with IT that customers weren’t prepared to adopt, like Java, thin-client PCs and desktop Linux.

Cowpland doesn’t regret the chances he took, however, and has seen some of what he championed early on making inroads. WordPerfect, he points out, remains a viable alternative thanks to a bundling deal with Dell. Desktop Linux is a reality in South America, and J2EE is becoming standard on the mobile phones Zim is targeting with its services.

“If you’re just trying to play in an existing field with entrenched competition, that’s a tough game to play. For example, I wouldn’t want to do a new word processor right now,” he says, laughing. The last laugh may yet be his.

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