Where to now, Mr. Cowpland?

No one was overly surprised at hearing the Corel merger with Borland/Inprise was deader than a kipper on a cracker. It was always a questionable alliance: Borland/Inprise is a Windows tools company, Corel is a personal-productivity app vendor trying to make a Linux splash.

But as strange as the bedfellows were, the two may have been better off snuggled up together. At least they could hide under the covers and trade pillow talk on strategy, funding and market forces. Although the alliance was unlikely, it was just possible that two committed partners could come up with some magic formula which would profitably mix their products.

Now, as the erstwhile couple wander separately into a cold dawn, they have to find their own way. And the way, sad to say, is foggy.

The view from Ottawa

When it comes to shifting, desert sands have nothing on Michael Cowpland.

Not too long ago, Cowpland was pointing to Java as Corel’s next big market. That didn’t work and it was replaced by network computers. The future, Mike told us, is thin. Then that was out, and Linux-based hardware was the foundation. Now that has crumbled, and Linux as software is the new rage.

Corel, to its credit, generated about US$3.2 billion in revenue from the Linux stream between November and the end of 1999, according to IDC. That makes Corel Linux a bona fide success, and Cowpland decided to further his investment in the OS. Not a bad business target, but the shot in the dark that hit Inprise was an unfortunate one.

While sitting on the sidelines playing Monday quarterback is always easy, the point here is not to bash Cowpland but to wonder where he goes next.

Option One is to hold fast to Corel Linux, WordPerfect Office and Corel Draw and be satisfied with the quality and credibility of those products.

But Mike won’t do that. He has never been one to sit around on his laurels. Enter Option Two: push forward. Look for Corel to buy someone else, move into a new field. The question is, which field? In a press release following the collapse of the merger, Cowpland said, “Although we are disappointed the merger didn’t proceed as planned, it hasn’t changed our strategic focus.”

Strategic focus? Well, whatever that ends up being, we wish Corel well.

The world according to Borland

Borland has been caught in an identity tail-spin ever since this whole Inprise thing was conceived. Borland was a very well-respected tools vendor. Developers knew who they were, liked their stuff, and everything was fine.

Then Borland decided to integrate the enterprise, and they came up with the snazzy contraction “Inprise” to prove it. And everything got confusing.

For a while, Inprise was the thrust, although exactly how a PC tool company could convince big business to hand over the amalgamation of corporate databases, aging boxes and legacy apps went largely unexplained. But Inprise did indeed land some big clients, so OK, the pundits were wrong.

But then it changed again. A few months ago Inprise as a name almost disappeared completely from corporate packaging and promo material. Borland was back. The company was returning to its roots. OK.

But wait – then Borland merged with Corel and was suddenly a Linux vendor, and not, as we all thought, a Windows-based company.

Except, not now. It has broken with Corel and it is doing…what?

Only time will tell. The biggest fear is that the company will not be able to hold itself together, and that its formidable tools will be sold piecemeal to different bidders.

That would be sad, but it is the most likely outcome of this convoluted tale.