WordPerfect enjoys second chance with OEMs

The tough economics of the PC market are allowing Corel Corp.’s WordPerfect software to enjoy a renaissance of sorts among original equipment manufacturers.

The Ottawa-based firm said Monday that Hewlett-Packard would pre-install WordPerfect 10 and Quattro 10 as part of a “”productivity pack”” on the entire Pavillion line across North America. The pack will also include Task Manager, which Corel said it tailored specifically to improve usability for Pavillion users.

The HP deal comes less than one week after Corel scored a similar win with Dell Computer Corp. Dell had already been using WordPerfect on its low-end SmartStep PCs, which it said it would discontinue earlier this month. Last Wednesday, however, Dell said WordPerfect would be pre-loaded on its Dimension 2300 desktops and Inspiron 2600 notebook computer systems, starting next month.

Steve Houck, Corel’s executive vice-president of strategic relations, said he has been trying for years to get WordPerfect on major OEM lines.

“”Over the last year some things fell into place where the OEMs started looking at the alternatives to Microsoft,”” he said. “”One of them, I think, was just the general state of the economy. All the manufacturers have done a really good job of getting strong margins out of manufacturing processes, so they’re turning to software now.””

Corel’s success on the OEM side comes at the same time the company is making inroads with users. In May, Corel signed three upgrade agreements with the federal government which will see the departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Industry Canada and Health Canada standardize on WordPerfect.

“”I think it’s bringing back the awareness of WordPerfect as the legitimate alternative to Microsoft,”” he said. “”For a number of reasons, people are looking at it.””

David Smith, an analyst with research firm Gartner Inc., said it may be premature for Corel to break out the party hats.

“”You certainly can’t spin it as a negative,”” he said, but added “”they’re up against a tremendous share battle. Even ones that have been free, like StarOffice, have had limited success.””

Houck acknowledged that the office productivity space is far from a two-horse race.

“”All of those guys combined take up anywhere between eight and 12 per cent of the market,”” he said. “”We’re not going to take 50 per cent of the overall market, but if you take 20 per cent, it’s not bad.””

There was a time, Houck added, when WordPerfect was outselling Microsoft at retail — a fact that Corel may have trumpeted once too often.

“”If anything, I think that was our mistake,”” he said. “”I think we were a little too loud about unseating Microsoft and a bit unrealistic. They came back fierce.””

In the short term, Smith said, companies like Corel could take advantage of dissatisfaction among Microsoft’s OEM customers. “”Microsoft has kind of created this opening to get a little bit of a beachhead,”” he said. “”It makes sense to try and do that.””

Houck said WordPerfect 11 is scheduled for release next spring.

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