I had lunch in San Francisco a few weeks ago with executives from Corel. We do this a couple of times a year so I can stay up to date with what they are doing to keep WordPerfect Office relevant in a Microsoft-dominated world.
It was clear they had some good news that they really wanted to share with me, but couldnt yet discuss. I didnt push too hard. It was interesting enough to hear how they are “leasing” copies of WordPerfect Office to the governments of countries that cant afford Microsoft Office.
Only this week did I realize that I actually reside in such a country. And I heard about it on the radio while driving home. On Monday, I was surprised—pleasantly—to hear David Brown, host of public radios “Marketplace,” talking about a big sale Corel has made to the U.S. Department of Justice.
It seems that the DOJ is tossing Microsoft Office from some parts of the organization and spending $2 million a year to license 50,000 seats of WordPerfect Office 12. Interestingly, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI will remain exclusively MS Office users.
The FBI, of course, is known for its terrible IT infrastructure, and it recently had to trash a new computing infrastructure project in which it had already invested $150 million.
Corel says this is one of the largest-ever sales of an “alternative” office suite. Total value of the five-year deal is a reported $13 million, undercutting Microsoft by two-thirds, Im told.
Thats not a huge loss for Microsoft, but its worth more than mere cash to Corel, which has worked hard to keep WordPerfect Office improving from release to release. Its not just the cash; its the endorsement. And the Americans are buying a Canadian product, albeit one with strong roots in the United States.
WordPerfect Office 12 has expanded features to serve the legal community and government, where the product still has a significant number of users. It is also very file-compatible with Microsoft Office and even offers command emulation and the ability to write Microsoft file formats by default, for greater compatibility.
In its marketing, Corel takes much the same approach as does Suave, the hair-care products company, whose slogan used to be, “Suave does what theirs does, for a lot less.” For many users, WordPerfect Office is both fully file-compatible and has all of the Microsoft Office functionality they require, without the Redmond price tag.
The deal is also seen by some as answering the question as to whether there remain any hard feelings at the Justice Department following its long-running legal skirmish with Microsoft. It looks to me like there are at least 13 million of them, and they will go on for years.
Whatever the reason, the sale is important for Corel, and it makes the statement that at least for some governmental agencies, there is a life beyond Microsoft.