Corel Linux focuses on front end

Microsoft Windows users will recognize some of the features in the upcoming version of Corel Linux from Corel Corp., which is aiming to expand its reach by offering a familiar working environment.

“What we really want to do to reach a much broader market is to create an environment that’s similar to the Macintosh or Windows world, which is, let’s face it, what most users are comfortable with,” said Erich Forler, product development manager for Corel Linux at Corel Corp. in Ottawa.

Based on the Debian, GNU distribution of the Linux OS and the K Desktop Environment, Corel Linux comes with an enhanced graphical user interface and a new installation program.

Derik Belair, brand manger for Corel Linux said the company’s design was not “so much to shape the back end of it…but really focus on Linux front-end usability and making sure as an operating system it lives very well within a Windows environment so it’s very easy to install and easy to configure.”

Featured in Corel’s distribution will be a similar network configuration to Windows, a file manager with integrated Web browsing, FTP support and access to local and network drives, on-line updating and automatic installation of the latest Linux files and patches and an event viewer that shows all system messages that occur on a system, according to the company.

Another addition is the inclusion of a package manager. According to Forler, “in one central utility you start it up, it checks your system and looks for the versions of all the applications you have installed. It will go out and check an FTP site or a Web site or even a local CD-ROM drive or network drive, wherever you tell it to look, it will check and see what applications are there and compare it to what’s on your system and tell you what is out of date.”

The advantage, he explained, is that “you never have to install an operating system again… you’ll always be able to keep your system live,” he explained.

Another addition is the install program which “essentially asks you four questions and then it installs,” Forler said.

Dan Kusnetzky, program director of operating environments and serverware services at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., caught a glimpse of the product at this year’s LinuxWorld.

Kusnetzky said Corel looks to be targeting ease of installation and support “and if the final product looks anything like the beta, they’ve done a very good job of that.”

Kusnetzky, who called the demonstration “very impressive,” said Corel Linux “was fast and it ran on a machine that was much smaller than the biggest available today.” And not only did it look “very easy to use,” it also looked very similar to Windows, he said.

One such similarity exists between the Corel Linux file manager and Windows Explorer file manager. It’s “no coincidence” that the two have a similar look and feel, Forler said.

“The paradigm is similar, but you won’t find it exactly identical.” The difference is “not only can it browse the Microsoft network but it can browse a Linux network.”

But for Mark Olson, principal of Folon Technology Consultants in Calgary, a similar look may offer a degree of familiarity but the potential is “if it doesn’t match exactly with Windows file manager it’s going to confuse people. They’re going to try and do the same thing and it won’t work.”

According to Corel’s Forler, there is a philosophical difference between what Corel has done and what other distributions of Linux are doing on the desktop side of things.

“What they typically do is take everything that’s available from those open source projects and install it onto the users systems…we try not to overwhelm the users by giving them everything under the sun.”

According to IDC’s Kusnetzky, most distributions vary only slightly and “for the most part everybody is distributing the same thing.” Where the differences exist revolve mainly around what open source software is packaged together, he said.

“If you look at the product that Corel is going to be offering, it’s basically Debian Linux with some improvements in the installation procedure and Debian is Red Hat with some improvements in a couple of other areas. And if you look at Caldera, there is Red Hat technology in Caldera. And if you look at Red Hat there is Caldera technology in the Red Hat.”

When it comes to Linux, the competitors are simply playing the bleach game, Kusnetzky said. “The majority of what’s in there is the same chemical. The differences are in perfume, colouring and packaging.”

A beta version of Corel Linux will be available in September 1999 with the first release planned for the end of the year. Corel Linux will be available as a stand-alone product and bundled with the upcoming WordPerfect Office for Linux suite, scheduled for release in early 2000.

Corel Linux ( will be priced at under US$100, according to the company.

Corel in Ottawa is at (613) 728-8200.