The Power Of The Small-minded

Small-minded: tending to fuss about unimportant things; contemptibly narrow in outlook. (Web)

This is the story of how the most successful commercial software company in Canadian history was destroyed by the Canadian government because it was alleged that its award-winning product could not import an inconsequential file from its main competitor Microsoft of Redmond, WA.

In 1996 the Department of Public Works and Government Services on behalf of the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) announced that it had chosen Word from Microsoft of Redmond Washington as the de facto standard for the department instead of WordPerfect from the Corel Corporation, Canada's biggest software company at the time and Microsoft's main rival in the "office suite" business.

The people of Ottawa were understandably incensed at the snubbing of Corel, a Canadian success story, a company that was the only serious competitor for the Microsoft juggernaut in office suite software.

In the face of opposition to the choice of Word over WordPerfect, the Liberal Minister of Public Works and Government Services made possibly the most unhelpful, untrue and unnecessary comment concerning the choice of Word. Her pronouncements, for all intents and purposes, sealed the fate of the Corel Corporation. She was quoted as saying that the Department of National Defence had picked the better product.


According to a well-informed consultant with National Defence who was a neighbour at the time, the Department had picked the runner up because they had no other choice, our membership in NATO demanded it, it was the NATO standard. A standard that used to include Novell PerfectOffice until it was acquired by the Canadian Corel Corporation.

The Minister’s remarks may also have been the signal to other government departments to start dumping WordPerfect in favour of Word. After all, the Liberal Minister responsible for procurement for all government departments and agencies had said the American item was the superior product.

As Mr. Cowpland remarked: "It's not the lost sales that hurt the most, it's the perception in the rest of the world that we couldn't sell our product in our own backyard."

I find it easy to feel sorry for Michael Cowpland, one level of government torpedoes his ship and another level takes him to task for trying to save some of his belongings. The shell that Corel has become is about, or will be by the time you read this, sold to an American company for probably less than a dollar a share.

In spite of what happened, the Canadian from Wales cared enough about his adopted country to again use his own money to try to save another high tech victim of bureaucratic small-mindedness (ZIM, Nortel's Lasting Legacy).

A short timeline to the screwing of Corel by the Canadian government.

1. On June 16, 1995, by means of a Request for Information, DND made it known that it was seeking information to standardize on an office suite. "This process resulted in Novell PerfectOffice being identified as the DND “Preferred Office Suite Product.” (Canadian International Trade Tribunal).

2. Corel makes its intentions known to acquire PerfectOffice from the American company Novell Corporation, Provo, Utah.

3. " ... between November 29 and December 18, 1995, DND in conjunction with the Department [of Public Works and Government Services] decided to cancel the competitive selection process started on June 16, 1995, by means of the Request for Information. This process [had] resulted in Novell PerfectOffice OA Suite being identified as the DND “Preferred Office Suite Product.” (Canadian International Trade Tribunal)

4. January 1996, the purchase of PerfectOffice by Corel is made public.

5. The Department of National Defence initiates a Request for Proposal where one key requirement has changed from its Request For Information.

6. "The complainant [Corel] also states that it was required to meet the import/export function of the latest version of a particular brand-name product, Microsoft PowerPoint version 4.0, while a similar requirement was omitted in respect of Lotus and Novell products [when it was an American company]." (Canadian International Trade Tribunal)

7. On June 28, 1996, the complainant was informed that its proposal was found to be non-compliant with one of the mandatory requirements specified in the RFP. That requirement was identified as the ability of the software submitted as part of the complainant’s proposal to import PowerPoint version 4.0 files." (Canadian International Trade Tribunal)

8. The tribunal would dismiss all claims and evidence that the bid was "rigged' in favour of Microsoft. The reason given, NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. It would rule against Corel of Ottawa on the basis of the Department of National Defence's allegation (an allegation that Corel denied) that PerfectOffice could not import a Microsoft Office file (Microsoft was not required to import a similar file from PerfectOffice).

9. In August of 2003, Vector Capital Group of California acquired what was left of Canada's biggest software success story. As could have been predicted, after the ill-fated purchasing decision, all government departments began to faze out WordPerfect in favour of what the Minister of Public Works and Government Services said was the better product. The Canadian government and most of the world became a Microsoft Office shop with Microsoft capturing more than 90% of the world market for desktop office suites.

Bernard Payeur, April 12, 2005, Revised July 19, 2007

Tombstones to what might have been!