Corel Smart Graphics Vision
Corel successively bought or developed desktop publishing software (Ventura); graphics software (RayDream-3D license and PhotoPaint -bitmap graphics); the
Paradox database and Quattro Pro spreadsheet from Borland plus Word Perfect to get into the desktop Office game; XML software line from SoftQuad, and the Micrografx technical graphics line. Along the way Corel developed internally Corel Java Office and Corel Linux. Each of these ventures had substantial upside potential - but in Don Quixotean (or Murphy ) fashion - none panned out like the original Corel Draw success.
Enter Vector Capital
Vector Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm with a history of investments in tech ventures such as RealNetworks (of RealPlayer desktop media fame), UUNet, DataProducts, Cycare and a dozen others - Venture Capital seems to think the technology is promising enough to enter into an agreement to purchase Corel for $96M US. Now that Corel has as of May 31 2003 $86M US in net cash and receivables (yes, having deducted all liabilities) might make the acquisition a bit more attractive for Vector Capital. Also the fact that Corel's graphics division has quarterly revenues of $14M( with glowing reviews for the new Painter 8 and Corel Draw 11), Corel's WordPerfect Office 11 seeing $15M US in quarterly revenue increasing by 33% and the XML/Process Management group showing $2.3M US in revenue - all of these revenue streams are encouraging given the doldrums that have hit the software market in general.
But Vector Capital is hardly a chop shop, using a company's own cash to leverage a buyout only to sell off the pieces at better break up market valuation. Rather one would suspect Vector Capital sees some underlying value in the latest Corel Quixotean tilt with its Smart Graphics vision. Lets examine in a bit more detail what the nature and potential fruits of Corel Smart Graphics are to the market and Vector Capital.
The Smart Graphics Studio
Corel Developer will remind users of Macromedia Flash or an early version of Visual Basic. It has a drag and drop design surface with project tree and property sheets familiar to Java or Visual Studio developers for fast development of interfaces. This is where the presentation gets separated from logic and data/process mapping. The Developer's Design Editor, just like Flash has basic graphic design and rendering capabilities - but like Flash relies as much on imports from 3rd party resources. These include Corel's own Draw and PhotoPaint plus other major graphics programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Deneba Canvas, Macromedia Fireworks plus Jasc WebDraw and PaintShop Pro. So graphics designers should be very comfortable with Corel Developer as will be UI programmers which use the Design Editor.
But what Developer has that Flash does not
is a built in TamplateBuilder. This allows developers to create graphic
components like a window throttle or a temperature gauge that change depending
on the data they are linked to. For example the temperature gauge shows
a red bar when displaying high temperatures, but a blue bar when displaying
below freezing readings. The key is that reusable graphic components
can be built with Developer's Template Builder. Designers and developers
both should feel comfortable working with this tool.
The Microsoft Dependency
This is further complicated by the fact that Microsoft has announced that it will no longer updates its IE6.0 browser; but rather a new browser will emerge as part of the new Longhorn version of desktop Windows due out in mid 2005 - two years away. But if the SVG viewer has any problems - don't call Microsoft. And the Viewer does have the problem that it only runs in Windows - no Linux or Mac or other OS support. Clearly this Microsoft dependency on delivery is problematic in that Corel is promoting delivery on disparate channels: Desktop, PDA, mobile phone etc.
Truly Quixotean Challenge
Already we see Corel has some technical challenges ahead. Further complicating the issue is the fact that SVG, the cornerstone of Corel Smart Graphics, is going through some important revisions with SVG 1.2 due out at the end of this year with SMIL and XFORMs enhancements that will have big impacts on Corel Smart Graphics. But, Corel Smart Graphics really does deliver separation of presentation/graphic design, development/UI interface, and process building/controlling into fairly discreet and independent tasks. As well, some of the designer touches in Smart Graphics Studio are very beguiling. Will that be enough to take on such entrenched content and graphics developers as Adobe, Documentum, Lotus, Macromedia, and Microsoft ? Well don't count on the Bullboys of Bay Street to answer that question. They got aced in savvy, chutzpah, and/or trust capital by Vector Capital which plucked this "Heads - I win big, Tails - I chopshop and still come out way ahead" deal right from under their noses.
Jacques Surveyer is a consultant, see his site www.theOpenSourcery.com for further details on SVG and XML.