Corel aims Lightning at lite WordPerfect users

Corel will announce a free, downloadable version of its WordPerfect office suite Tuesday, with basic functionality that the company hopes will spur demand for the more sophisticated enterprise version.

Although it will be available via the Web and will connect with other online tools, WordPerfect Lightning can also be loaded locally on a desktop and used without an Internet connection. The product is composed of a navigator, viewer and notes window that resembles an instant messaging interface. It will allow users to view, edit, print and share documents, but more high-quality formatting will require the use of Corel’s WordPerfect Office X3, which was released about a year ago.

Corel is launching Lightning at a time when traditional rivals such as Microsoft are offering online versions of its Office suite and startups such as Writely are being acquired by online-only companies like Google.

“Taking an office suite and putting it online isn’t that innovative. It’s just another distribution model,” said Jay Larock, senior product manager for Corel’s WordPerfect Office division. “In the real world you’ll have some files on your desktop and some on the Web. You have to have a product with the right mix.”

Lightning is a less than 20MB download, which means users who are interested may not have to deal directly with their IT managers before experimenting with it, Larock said. The bottom of the interface features a message center that will connect to help from Corel as well as other early adopters. The idea is that users who enjoy using Lightning will want to eventually upgrade to WordPerfect Office X3, and polish their documents into something more professional that can be linked with advanced content management systems, he said.

Taking a page from Google’s strategy, Corel is launching Lightning as a beta product and hopes to integrate more functionality and improvements as it becomes more widely used.

“It’s a different approach,” Larock said. “We’re going to let people try it and hopefully create some excitement in the market.”

According to Mike Branje, a Kitchener, Ont.-based reseller who offers the WordPerfect Office X3 suite, Corel could use some more excitement from the market.

“There is absolutely zero demand. I can’t even give it away to people,” he said of WordPerfect Office X3. “In the new system we sell, I offer it as a throw-in. Customers are willing to pay for Microsoft Office instead.”

Despite its small market share next to Microsoft Word, WordPerfect remains popular among public sector users, including the Canadian federal government. Corel recently tried to give its product a lifeline by promising to support both the Open Document Format (ODF) as well as Microsoft’s Open XML file format.

Branje said Lightning could be a way to entice users, but there are no guarantees. “Nobody’s even asking about the Google stuff that’s available,” he said.

A few months ago, WordPerfect was in the news again when security vendor Entrust Inc. filed a lawsuit against Corel, alleging that the company is illegally bundling its products in with the software.

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