The lost world of the Xandros desktop

The latest release of the Xandros Linux desktop edition was in June 2006, which is several lifetimes in the history of Linux. Is this the end of the line for the Xandros desktop?

The purchase of WordPerfect was bold enough. At one time WordPerfect was the undisputed king of word processing, but by 1994 its market share had begun to crash and burn.

That year, Novell bought the word processor for the eye watering sum of $1.4 billion, but its fortunes didn't change, and eighteen months later Novell offloaded WordPerfect to Corel for the princely sum of $20 million in cash and $100 million in stock.

By 1999, Microsoft had more than 90 per cent of the word processing and spreadsheet market, and WordPerfect Office had become a shadow of its former self - a perfectly competent office suite, just as good as Word/Excel, but overpowered by the marketing muscle and monopoly power of Microsoft.

Realising that it was futile to compete with Microsoft on Windows, Cowpland's gambit was to hitch onto the rising star of Linux. Corel's initial Linux offering was a desktop version of Linux, built on Debian and KDE, with a much simplified installation procedure, and a proprietary file manager that looked and behaved like Windows Explorer.

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Linux for Windows users

Corel contributed a lot of code to the development of Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator) but did not feed its other proprietary extensions back to the community. A thorough port of WordPerfect to Linux might well have given Corel a springboard for Linux on the desktop. As it was, Corel chose to port versions of WordPerfect and CorelDraw to Linux on Wine.

Corel Linux was touted as the ideal distribution for the novice user coming over from Windows. The proposition was to give away Corel Linux but to charge customers for support and proprietary applications, such as WordPerfect and CorelDraw.

Cowpland's wider prediction for the future was that Linux would be used in "the next generation of internet appliances, like keyboard-equipped [mobile] phones that can surf the web."

By 2005, he predicted, Corel would "reap 50 per cent of its revenues from Linux applications. This is the year when internet appliances are going to take off."

Open source software isn't a money maker

Cowpland may have made the classic mistake of realising too early where the market was going, and running before the market could walk. Within months he was forced to step down from the company he had founded, vowing to devote his time to working with unspecified Linux start-ups.

"Personally, I intend to get my hands really dirty with a lot of Linux technology," Cowpland told reporters. "I'm fascinated by the potential that's now emerging."

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