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Does Corel still mean business for graphics professionals?

By Daniel Will-Harris

10/12/97 - Find Draw. A few days ago I visited Corel’s home page. To my amazement, CorelDraw was not mentioned, except in a link to a Conference about the software. You could not link directly to information about Draw. You could, however, link to: “Corel® WordPerfect® Suite 8, Corel® Paradox® 8, Corel Print & Photo House™ Addition- Weddings, Corel® WordPerfect® Suite 7 - For Windows 3.1x, and Corel® WordPerfect® Suite 7 - Legal Edition.”

This is telling, and chilling.

I recently saw figures that said less than 40% of Corel’s business is now in Draw and its graphic suite. While it’s clear that less than half of Corel’s business is now in Draw, lately it seems like much less than half of Corel’s attention has been there.

>Seeds of trouble

I think the trouble started when Corel went public. Suddenly, instead of focusing on the users who bought the product and made money for the company, the company seemed to focus on the stock market and analysts, which could change the value of the company just by what they said. But if a company stops focusing on users, then sooner or later, analysts are going to see this, and the company is going to lose from both directions.


Illustration by Gary David Bouton

When Corel bought WordPerfect, things started to turn nasty. Corel wasn’t just going to make software. Mike Cowpland, the head of the company, announced to the world that he was going to beat Microsoft. To some this might not seem like a bright move, since announcing that you’re not just going to compete but “destroy” your competition tends to make your competition mad. Not a good thing to do to Microsoft.

But it was full-ego’s ahead, and soon analysts were starting to wonder if Corel had lost sight of its market. Creating software for your market is a good idea. Creating software merely to try to crush the competition is not a good idea. It’s not positive, it’s not well focused, and it’s not constructive.

>Confused directions

Then, in yet another attempt to knock Microsoft, Corel became the “Java Office Suite Company.” Or so they said. Just recently, they recanted, saying they were shifting their focus away from a Java-based office suite.

Maybe they just couldn’t make it work. Lotus President Jeff Papows said, “The problem is not Java, the language or Java the technology, it’s Corel the company and its design.” Lotus is building its own Java-based office applets, such as a 500K spreadsheet, “As opposed to this 8MB blob Corel made.”

Now Corel says they’ll be the client/server company with new technology. Corel has always had a lot of new technology, but unfortunately, they’re not well-known for reliable new technology. Graphic designers forgave Corel many things for many years, because Draw was the best game in town for Windows. But when Corel starts to move into mission-critical business applications, computer professionals are not going to give them the same leeway. It has to work, and work right. You don’t get second and third and seventh chances, as you might with graphics people who tend to be unusually loyal to their tools (something I think is a mistake and will talk about in a future column). You get one chance. Then you’re history.

But Corel still doesn’t seem to have learned this. A recent bug in WordPerfect Suite 8 worked like this: If you have version control on and try to use a program called ZipMagic, instead of viewing a folder of files, you actually deleted them. Nice. Even nicer--Corel charges you $9.95 for a fix to this potentially very destructive bug!

As Corel’s stock dives even more deeply than Apple’s, Corel once again announces something new. The latest is that Corel is going to focus on their “core” market. Unfortunately, no one from Corel specified just what that “core” was. Draw? WordPerfect? Office suites? Client/Server? Or is it the new Corel Computer Corp., created to build video-NCs? If they haven’t even articulated their core market, how can they focus on it?

One former paid Draw beta tester quoted Dr. Cowpland from Upside Magazine, where he said "Nobody can turn around more quickly in the software business than Corel." The beta tester added, “When you're directionless, it's only natural to turn around constantly.”

Worse, Corel announced they were going to cut their ad budget in half. Product not selling? Advertise it LESS so fewer people know about it. Corel was built not just on software, but advertising. This is the wrong time to cut back.

They also cut back on their presence at the important publishing trade show, Seybold SF. Corel had a tiny booth, half of it showing WPwin, half showing Draw7. No Xara in sight--one employee even said, “We sold that product last week,” before another chimed in that he was confusing it with the CAD program.

>Laughable quality

I recently spoke at a web design conference for designers. When I mentioned the word “Corel,” the audience burst into laughter, as if the sheer mention of this word was a huge joke among professionals. Why? Because despite the fact that they have, in the past, released cutting edge software, it wasn’t reliable enough for a professional to stake their job on. I know, it nearly cost me several jobs, and I’m not alone.

I’d work for hours or days on a project, making countless backups. Then I’d try to open a file and it simply wouldn’t open. No how. No way. And I’d discover that my backup, too, was unopenable. So I’d either have to go to an old backup and redo a lot of work, or redo it from scratch in another program. Since I’d lost a lot of time, I usually opted for another program, just to be safe.

I know several other designers who missed deadlines or ended up having to pay large sums of money to redo film because Draw’s output was faulty. Service bureaus still complain about Draw because its PS files can be unreliable.

>Professional users defect

Professionals can’t afford this, and after being burned, they will look elsewhere. Versions like Draw6 were so unreliable for some users, that it opened the door for users to move to FreeHand. Even Illustrator 4, an ancient, limited program, showed tremendous sales growth from angry Draw users.

At one time, there was logic behind focusing on the mass market, rather than on the professional graphics market. The mass market is huge--easily ten times bigger than the professional graphics market. Bigger markets mean more money. That makes sense. Even though Draw was always marketed to the masses, Windows-based professional designers ran to Draw in record numbers, giving them the leading market share in the graphics area. Business users followed the lead of the pros, thinking, “if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.”

But if you want professionals to continue to buy your products, your products have to be professional caliber tools. While Draw added innovative features (and borrowed some choice ones from Xara), it still wasn’t reliable enough for many professionals, including myself.

Xara is reliable. Xara has tremendous performance that really boosts your own productivity. Corel should be pushing Xara, after all, they own the worldwide distribution rights, so they make money off the product even if they didn’t create it in that big gold building in Ottawa. But either Corel is suffering from an ill-conceived “not-created-here” syndrome, or they’re just afraid that if they push Xara it will take sales away from Draw.

But that’s a bad attitude. Some companies have a good attitude about competition: “We’ll just create a better product and beat them.” Instead of being scared, Corel should work harder, listen to their users, and make their products better. They should also actively work to sell the products they have that do work, such as Xara. They can do it. They should do it. And they must do it before it’s too late.

Give Corel your 2 cents worth. Tell them (and the world) what you think in OpenWire. Have you had trouble with CorelDraw? Do you think Corel is doing the “right thing?” Make your voice heard in OpenWire.

DWH

 

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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the web’s only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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