[Originally published on the FreeOS site as http://www.freeos.com/linux/interviews/mikecowpland.ephtml. Reprinted here at the author's request. -Ed.]
Dr. Michael Cowpland, president and CEO of Corel Corporation, hardly needs an introduction. An engineer by qualification, Dr Cowpland began his career at Bell Northern Research in 1964. In 1985, he founded Corel one of the largest software companies in the world. The company is now helping develop the fast growing Linux platform; in fact, Corel plans to port a majority of its applications to Linux. Mike Cowpland talks of his plans for Corel and his views on Linux to FreeOS.com.
What is Corel doing with Linux?
Corel is basically offering really comprehensive solutions to Linux. We are doing more than any other company and are also providing complete connectivity to the Windows world. We have recently launched Corel Linux for the desktop. This is currently available in North America and can be downloaded from our Web site. We have made an extremely easy to use distribution that can be installed even quicker than Windows. The user can also connect seamlessly to the all the Windows files on the network including Microsoft public files. With the announcement that we made a few weeks ago, he can also connect to Windows applications to run those. If someone has the legacy applications that they want to connect and still enjoy the benefits of Linux, they can do that by having a single application server serving up the group. So you can have a cluster of Linux desktops and one Windows NT server and they can all load up their Windows applications from there and while using their own native Linux applications on the desktop. So that provides a complete solution where we provide the basic software, which is the browser, the office suite and the graphic suite. Then they may have their human resource or accounting software that they still have on Windows. They can run on their server without having to run them on the desktop.
Will Corel become a Linux company in the near future?
Well, we are already very heavily a Linux company. That is supported by the fact that we are we are the most popular download on the Web. If you look at CNET the number one download site, we have been the number one Linux download consistently so effectively we are already a Linux company. We are introducing our Linux suite very shortly and that would give us more exposure and capability in Linux.
Where do you see Linux 5 years from now?
In 5 years, Linux will become the more dominant operating system in terms of Unix. Windows will be more involved with back-end applications like it is today.
Why did Corel decide to develop its own distribution rather than adopting or embracing an existing one?
We did look at several distributions but found them very limited. They were difficult to install and use and required an expert, which we did not find acceptable. In Linux, when something is not happening, the best thing is to do it yourself and that is exactly what we did. As compared to any other distribution, we received the highest rating of 9 from CNET in addition to being CNET's Editor's Choice, whereas Red Hat has received a rating of 8.
Corel is primarily known as a company developing Graphic suites and Office suites. Does this give a feeling that Corel is losing its focus of developing applications?
Not really, a tremendous amount of User Interface has been worked at with programs such as CorelDraw. In Linux, it is a world team effort with each organization doing what its best at. The kernel is still being developed by the kernel people and we simply use it. We don't have to reduplicate that work. We are best at the user interface and we are doing that. With our 50 million Windows users worldwide we have very rich experience with that. We have made the user interface really easy to use and the fact that our distribution has been well received proves it.
Corel has been a Windows developers and is now a Linux developer. Does it affect your relationship with Microsoft?
We have always had a good relationship with Microsoft and continue to do so. We use Visual Basic and they use our components. We can focus in certain other areas, which I think in some ways it is going to be good for Microsoft. They are, as you know, getting hammered for being a monopoly. Microsoft will do better when they have competition OS around.
What do you think is better. Being a Linux Developer or being a Windows developer?
We actually like being a multi-platform developer. Otherwise one company has too much control over computer manufacturers - they can dictate terms. They can insist that you bundle certain things or put logos in certain places, which Microsoft has been known to do. I don't think that's good for anybody. Being in the multi-platform world is healthier while maintaining connectivity, because you don't want to have different islands which cannot talk to each other. We consider connectivity as the biggest thing that Corel is doing for Linux. We have our Windows experience and while we don't expect Windows to go away, we do expect Linux to be just as important as Windows. Much of the work that we will be doing on applications will be shared between the platforms.
How is Corel helping the Linux community?
We have been doing work with Corel Linux in the GPL or Mozilla open source licenses. The Wine work that we are doing is been put back into the community. The Corel File Manager, all of which we wrote ourselves, has been put back into the community. We are actually very supportive of the open source concept. On the applications side we don't see those as being open source because there are dozens and dozens of third party utilities that we select, tune-up and include. That's what makes a very rich applications because the core software is only part of the source. It is the other utilities that make them useful. As we have to pay royalties for many of these, its impossible to give them free.
Which are the big vendors who have agreed to pre-install Corel Linux on their systems?
PC Chips, that makes more motherboards than anybody else is installing Corel Linux as we speak. We are working with other big vendors too which we will make announcements over the next 6 months. I think a lot of end-user computer manufacturers are waiting for applications such as Corel's office applications and graphic applications to be available before they can really offer a consumer product. We will have those available soon and we expect them to make announcements then.
There are some installation-related issues regarding Corel Linux 1.0. What is Corel doing about those?
There are some issues regarding legacy hardware such as ISA, which has not been as automated as the latest Bus. The fact is that developers are now focusing on the high volume situation first. It will take a lot before it can cover every legacy hardware and this is typical of any Linux distribution.
Corel had the Netwinder Project, which for some reason did not take-off and Corel decided to spin it off. What was the reason behind that?
The project has divested to rebel.com, and we are an active partner there. They are doing very well and just went through a private round of financing. They have a product similar to Cobalt, which has a market capitalization of 3-4 billion US$. We are very happy with our 25% ownership of rebel that we got in the Netwinder project. We just felt it was better off as a separate company because hardware does require a separate focus.
Will Corel do something similar with Corel Linux?
No, because we are enabling 90% of the work between Windows applications and Linux applications and to some extent Macintosh applications. That is more proficient than other companies doing both Linux applications and Windows applications.
Are all Corel applications going to be available for Linux?
Yes, absolutely. We are also considering acquisition of other applications of Windows to port over to Linux, to make our portfolio even more complete. We are also looking at companies who have a dual platform strategy. It is easier to buy technologies than to buy the whole company in a non-exclusive way.
(Mike Cowpland refused to give any further details about the companies that they plan to or are considering to acquire. Said it was too pre-mature to discuss this now.)
Corel Office for Linux was expected by the year-end of 1999? Apart from Word Perfect none of the other applications are ported to Linux yet. What is the progress on that?
It should be available in beta form in a week's time and that's very close to year-end.
What about the competition to your office suite from Star Office?
The downloads of their office suite are running at 10% of our volumes which is not very competitive. If you look at Sun's history of software it has been dismal. Even now people complain that they are not even freeing up Java. IBM is very upset that they are charging 3% license fees for anybody using Java program. Sun's history on software has been the pits.
What would happen if Microsoft office were available for Linux?
That would be good for the industry. More the applications on Linux, the better. In fact we are working on that. With our GraphOn Bridges you will be able to run Microsoft applications on Corel Linux without Microsoft having to do any work. You still have to pay Microsoft's license but it will enable people to rely on Linux without giving up on their favorite Windows applications.
Both Microsoft and Sun are offering their office suites over the servers with the concept of application service providers. What are Corel's plans?
We are doing that too. We have an offering for ASP's as that provides very low cost of ownership.
Does Corel plan to sell computers with Linux and Corel apps preinstalled?
No we would rather work with partners to do that.
There have been some controversies about the Corel Linux licensing which wasn't 100% GPL?
Even Richard Stallman has been happy with our license. Being a big commercial company, we have to be more careful of copyright than other smaller companies. We had certain terms, which had to be introduced to ensure that everything was legal.
Will Corel support other free operating systems in the future?
No. We think it is important to focus on Linux, as it is clearly the one.
There were some talks about Red Hat taking over Corel, is that going to happen?
No, I don't think they would do that, because Red Hat is a much smaller company than Corel. They have only 40-50 developers where as we have got 800 developers. We understand the Windows market, Red Hat does not.
What if it happens?
It is not going to happen (laughs).
If you had a choice to be taken over by a company, which company would you prefer?
How does Corel plan to make money out of the open source model?
Corel has always been known to offer enormous value for money and thereby the paradigm suits us very well. If you put a software in a box along with a manual, it typically costs between 50 and 100 US$ and that's what an upgrade sells for. It is really no different to our Windows model. The only difference is that you get a good CD in the market with free downloads and that's why we have had 2 million Word Perfect downloads, the number one rate of free download of Corel Linux.
In my point of view, it is very similar to the Windows model. It goes even faster and you still make money on the boxes because some people don't want to wait for the downloads. They want the CD and the manuals or they want the extra bells and whistles such as the high level of support or may be some more bells and whistles such as content. For example, on our Web site we have 50,000 images but if you want to access 2 million then you have to join up and pay 30 US$ a year as subscription. So it fits into a subscription model. We are looking at the Web site as a revenue generator and are keen to develop a lot more traffic to our portal Corelcity.com.
Is Corel's Web site powered by Corel Linux?
Some part of it is on Solaris and Window NT, but the trend would be towards moving to Corel Linux.
What are Corel's plans for India?
We are optimistic about the potential of the Indian market and are very very keen on it. It is a huge market and English is commonly used. We also think India is natural for Linux because it needs computers at the lowest possible cost. Why would they want to pay the high price of Windows when they don't have to? At the same time it is full of computer scientist who can improve Linux because they have access to the source code. So India can become a major contributor to Linux since they can all see the source code, use the source code and be a part of the improvement. So it's much more exciting for India than simply being a part of Microsoft's monopoly.
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