What do you do when the chance of a lifetime comes along to break out of the basement? If you're Corel, you stick your head in the sand.
Upon the bones of hesitation bleach,
The bones of countless millions
Who, upon the dawn of victory,
Sat down to rest,
And resting, died.
– Swinburne, The Garden of Proserpina
When I was researching the Feature Article on Massachusetts and Open Document in the September issue of the Consortium Standards Bulletin (Massachusetts and OpenDocument: The Commonwealth Leads the Way), one of the questions I (unsuccessfully) tried to find the answer to was where Corel stood on OpenDocument.
Why? For several reasons: first, Corel was a founding member of the OpenDocument Working Group at OASIS. Second, Corel’s office suite continues to have a meaningful beachhead in government (one of its only remaining loyal markets). And finally, I remember WordPerfect with nostalgia, and continue to miss many of the wonderful and easy to use features that Microsoft never bothered to replicate after it ceased to have any meaningful competition in the marketplace.
While I was not successful in getting a clear answer to this question in my interviews, a story by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in eWeek on September 28 indicated that Corel would support OpenDocument “someday”. That story, based on an interview with Corel communications manager for WordPerfect Greg Wood, was less than satisfying, concluding: “While Corel won’t commit to a date for adding OpenDocument to WordPerfect, the company made it clear that it is working towards that goal.” To underline the point, they quote Wood to the effect that, “it is not appropriate at this time for Corel to disclose its plans for OpenDocument in future versions of WordPerfect Office.”
What a strange statement for Corel to make after a decade in the wilderness, especially as Sun, IBM and others are pressing the attack like baying lhounds that have at last caught the fresh scent of their quarry, and are energized by the prospect of blood after an endless night on the trail?
My puzzlement turned to disappointment this evening when I read an interview by Ed Oswald at BetaNews.com with Corel’s Richard Carriere and Wood at BetaNews.com. The way I read it, Corel has decided that playing it safe as a small number two without meaningful competition is better than going for the gold, but having to worry about new competitors (e.g., the free, open source OpenOffice.org, Sun’s StarOffice and IBM Workplace, among others). As a result, Carriere falls in behind the Microsoft party line, calling OpenDocument “a non-supported free product that has been around for many, many years and still does not have any meaningful user base,” and then asking, “Is it a competitor? I’m not sure.”
Am I being uncharitable? Well, see for yourself whether you think that Corel has flipped the coin towards sticking with its non-adventurous, traditional “small piece of a big pie” strategy rather than taking what may be a once in a generation chance to lead the charge to displace Microsoft Office.
Here’s Carriere again, responding to the question “With the recent news surrounding the release of StarOffice 8 and Massachusetts supporting OpenOffice.org, it seems like the market is ready for alternatives to Microsoft. What do you make of this news, and why is Corel speaking up?”:
[W]hat is very, very interesting is the interest for alternative office suites. And here we are the clear number two with a proven alternative to Microsoft Office, which is highly compatible, has the same feature richness, and where the look and feel acts like Microsoft Office. WordPerfect has been endorsed by very large OEMs like Dell who are distributing millions of copies every year.
In case the “We’re number two!” point was a little too subtle, he goes on to say:
To me, it’s much better news even to companies like Sun, which has a worldwide market share of less than one tenth of a percent by any measurable metric. So in that sense, it’s great news for us. That is the big “so what” of all this news.
What a guy! I imagine that Sun has already sent him a thank you note for the vote of confidence. And in case you *still* haven’t twigged, here he goes again:
Granted, we haven’t done the same kind of extravagant marketing activities or announcements that some other players have done, like Sun with StarOffice, but reality is in the numbers, and we’re selling millions of copies of WordPerfect. To me, this is the bottom line: Sure there is interest and a lot of press around the alternatives, and to me its good news because in the end people look at what’s out there. As I said, we’re the clear number two regardless of the noise that’s made by Sun around StarOffice or OpenOffice.
Got it — you’re number two, and they’re not. But how about OpenDocument itself? On that score, Carriere says:
We are a founding member of OASIS and on the committee for the OpenDocument format, so we are participating in the creation of that standard. The reality is that, today, this standard is not adopted or being used, period. Of course, we hear news about open standards, because when you create one you don’t need to necessarily rely on one single vendor, and we’re fully supportive of it.
Lest we have any concern over Corel’s faith in the standard, however, Wood helpfully adds:
We’re heavily involved in OASIS and very strong supporters of the evolution of that ODF standard to be sure. No question. That’s one fine, unsupported standard you’ve got there. One of the best.
While Corel was smart enough not to adopt Microsoft’s own anti-OpenDocument Massachusetts Talking Points, it’s points are FUD in their own right. But rather than giving you more examples, give it a read yourself, and then tell me what you think by adding some comments below.
So what can I say? After what seems like 40 years in the wilderness, Corel has a chance to reach the promised land, with a dynamite product, a quick path towards supporting OpenDocument, the number two market position (did they mention that?), and an established reputation in government, where Massachusetts has just blazed a trail.
But what did it decide to do? Stick with a “we’re number two” strategy” that gives Sun, IBM, OpenOffice.org, KOffice and anyone else a clear field, a formidable combined budget, a nothing-to-lose and everything-to-gain motive, and a unified marketing message.
Will it work? What do you think?
Enjoy the rest, Corel. And shame on you.