One of the frustrations of editing a monthly magazine, as opposed to a daily newspaper, is that I seldom get to scoop the rest of the press. With our lead times, breaking news is more or less old by the time you hear it from me. So by now you've heard that Corel has merged with Inprise, maker of my favorite IDE, JBuilder.
Corel has been quietly positioning itself as the new challenger to Microsoft's monopoly on the PC desktop. Capitalizing on the open-source revolution that is Linux, Corel has brought forth several different offerings to compete with Microsoft.
There are a good number of Linux vendors, but Corel has a fairly unique position among them. If you looked at it strictly from an operating system standpoint, you might pass on Corel in favor of Red Hat, which is the mindshare leader in the Linux world.
But operating systems are only a part of what makes Microsoft great -or greatly feared, depending on your viewpoint. Strong, integrated software and development tools, such as Office, C++, Visual Basic and SQL Server, round out the story for Microsoft. The ability to one-stop shop is a strong selling point for many IT shops, more because of the reduced finger pointing than overall suitability to task.
Seen from that viewpoint, Corel is building a case to be your one-stop vendor. For productivity purposes they offer WordPerfect Office. Die-hard devotees of WordPerfect can get an operating system with more power and stability than Windows 98, and support from a single source.
The addition of Inprise to the team brings a whole new level to the development aspect of Corel. While public domain tools have long been available on Linux, the addition of JBuilder, C++ Builder and Delphi to the Linux platform will bring the commercial-grade development tools needed to do serious development. Inprise also brings a CORBA ORB, an EJB server and a moderately powerful SQL database server.
Obviously, Corel faces significant technical challenges. Porting JBuilder shouldn't be too difficult, seeing that it already runs on Solaris and is about 80% pure Java. Moving C++ Builder and Delphi may be more difficult, as their IDEs are Windows based. But Corel seems up for the task.
To round out the company and make it truly a competitor of Microsoft, some additional acquisitions are definitely needed. A strong SQL database is necessary to compete with SQL Server. Who better to acquire for the task than the originator of that product Sybase? Over the past two years I've watched the company as its stock has slowly rebounded from the basement to a more respectable position in the mid-20s (I should have bought at 4). Their new CEO has stemmed the worst of the bleeding and the company is making significant inroads with its mobile database. A Corel purchase or merger, followed by a spin-off of the Powersoft group, would give Corel the database muscle and hard-core UNIX expertise to continue to innovate and integrate their product line.
A strong EJB server would also help make them a key market player. Persistence and BEA may be out of reach, but companies like Secant or possibly Iona might round out the product line nicely. Can you imagine getting any ORB you like, as long as it's from Corel?
Making this all work will be an interesting task for Corel. I like Linux, and run it on one of my machines at home. It's powerful, gets better mileage from the CPU and has finally gotten a modern interface to rival Windows (I use KDE, but I also like Gnome). But Linux is still hard to install. It doesn't recognize a lot of hardware, and it's hard to reconfigure if you add something (just try changing a network card). Ease of installation and use, coupled with strong technical support, is what will make or break Corel's dream of being a giant. In the meantime, I'll be waiting for my copy of JBuilder for Linux.
Sean Rhody is the editor-in-chief of Java Developer's Journal. He is also a principal consultant with Computer Sciences Corporation
where he specilaizes in application architecture particularly distributed systems.