The Corel morale

We have all been entertained by Michael Cowpland’s running of Corel.

Whatever you think of his methods, he is undoubtedly up there with the legends of the computer industry (what other Canadian captain of industry would advertise by spending a reputed $1 million on a dress complete with mound-mounted precious stone?)

In May, some years back, I was asked by Corel to develop a fax program but wisely declined when I was told it had to be ready by August of that year to meet the set-in-stone release date of the next version of the Corel package. Apparently it was a Copeland rule that releases would be made on a prescribed date rather than when the package was ready to ship.

I had never released software before it was fully tested and ready to ship to users, and this do-or-die method was not for me. When I left the Corel offices, I would have gone straight to my broker and sold my shares in Corel if I had had any. No wonder some pundits claimed Corel’s software was buggy.

But one has to consider the broad picture.

Corel has been fighting the big U.S. companies for years. It made the spectacular effort of buying WordPerfect only to find that, for this supreme effort, they were denied support from their own government. The Department of National Defence spent huge amounts of money to retrain their staff and buy Word – now there’s support for you.

I would have imagined that Michael was considerably hurt by this lack of support, and it always surprises me that he never decamped and set up in the States. But Word’s Mr. Gates was not slow to make a move on one of Canada’s powerhouses, and now he has a big stake in Corel which not only has WordPerfect but which was one of the foremost promoters of Linux.

Strange is it not? Will we see more effort given to WordPerfect and Linux, or will they die gently on the vine? Both of these products are thorns in the massive flanks of Microsoft and it seems reasonable to suppose Mr. Gates will want to remove them.

Such a downsizing of Corel’s product line will no doubt reduce the staffing requirement of the Canadian offices, and so we see yet another bloodletting of the Canadian technical base.

It is probably not fair to lay blame at the doors of the DND, but it certainly did not help, especially if other Canadian organizations followed that lead.

The danger here is not the bite put on Corel, but that Microsoft now has a taste for such machinations. It would be interesting to know how many visitors from Microsoft have entered the halls of our other software manufacturers. Perhaps I should go look in the visitors’ books?

Robinson has been involved with high-tech Canadian start-up companies – including Cisco, Sytek, and Comten – for more than 30 years. He can be reached at