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WordPerfect & Claris?

With Novell placing WordPerfect and Quattro Pro up for sale, it may be time for people to put some pressure on Claris to make an offer – assuming Claris isn’t already a serious bidder for the products. Even if Claris has started negotiations, a flood of calls supporting the purchase could make sure the company doesn’t back off.

Why would it matter if Claris bought the pair? For starters, a company without strong Macintosh development experience could just let WordPerfect for Macintosh stagnate, with no further development and less-than-optimal technical support. A relatively new, smaller company is risky because potential customers and investors may worry about the company’s endurance as well as their ability to handle cross-platform development and support for two big products. A new, small company might also have more trouble shipping a Mac Quattro Pro.

Why Claris, rather than Adobe, Quark, or another company with a strong Mac presence? Why shouldn’t Apple – through Claris – do what Microsoft has been doing for years? Microsoft makes word processors and spreadsheets for use on their operating systems, competing directly with third-party developers. Why can’t Apple do the same thing? MacWrite Pro doesn’t have much chance on its own, but the idea of combining the best elements of WordPerfect and MacWrite has great potential.

Claris already has a cross-platform mindset. Buying WordPerfect would give them a popular DOS/Windows word processor with a large installed base, plus a Mac version to which increasing numbers of Macintosh users are switching in an attempt to escape Microsoft’s Mac applications. Quattro Pro would give Claris a start towards building their own office suite; they already have FileMaker Pro for Macintosh and Windows. Imagine a cross-platform business applications package (or set of OpenDoc parts) centered around WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, FileMaker Pro, and ClarisDraw. Toss in Emailer and Claris Organizer and you have an excellent bundle, especially if the price is right.

Of course, Claris would face obstacles. Unless Novell worked on a Macintosh port of Quattro Pro (and this strikes me as unlikely), Claris would have to develop a Mac version from scratch. Also, the programs won’t be well integrated – even Claris products don’t quite blend well on interface, and at the moment WordPerfect certainly doesn’t work and look like a Claris application. There is also the question of product longevity: Claris tried an application suite once before. How many people bought Claris Resolve only to have the program abandoned? Claris SmartForms met the same fate.

There’s also no doubt whoever buys WordPerfect and/or Quattro Pro will be purchasing a technical support nightmare due to the size of the installed bases of those programs. Unless the buyer can acquire the lion’s share of existing technical support resources with the purchase, sizable tech support groups would have to be created and trained.

In the long run, however, it seems that WordPerfect and Quattro Pro may have a better chance for a viable future on the Macintosh if Claris adopts them. The Macintosh version of WordPerfect has come a long way in recent years, quickly offering new Apple technologies and trying hard to be a serious contender. It would be a shame to see all that effort go to waste.

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