Corel Still Hanging In There

In case you've forgotten, Corel Corp., the maker of the WordPerfect Office suite, is still around. This week, the Ottawa-based company announced a beta version of WordPerfect Office that supports the Open Document Format (ODF) as well as Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML), which is the default file format for Redmond's Office 2007. Corel is trying to get our attention this time, claiming that this release "uniquely" positions the company as the first vendor to deliver format-neutral office productivity software.

Besides ODF and OOXML, the new beta release supports the binary formats of Office, Adobe's PDF and those of about 60 others. The release includes an integrated XML editor that lets users create customized, XML-based publishing solutions.

The beta contains some improvements to its screen-reading and other access capabilities, many of which are required under Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act. Corel officials say these features, along with support for ODF, positions their product to help foster ODF's wider acceptance in a variety of public sector organizations where accessibility is a basic requirement.

Users can get more information about document conversion assessments here.

Yahoo Sharpens Its Search Capabilities
As we reported on Tuesday's Redmond Report, Yahoo -- on the heels of Microsoft updating its search capabilities last week -- recently spruced up its Internet search service in hopes of luring users away from Google as well as matching Redmond punch for punch.

Yahoo and Microsoft both are consistently looking for new ways to bring Google back to the pack, something neither one has been able to do in any large measure.

One of the more interesting new Yahoo search features is a drop-down menu that suggests related information for specific search topics. On a Yahoo blog, company executive Tim Mayer wrote that some of the new search enhancements are intended to offer assistance to users only when they ask for it. This, he wrote, should distinguish Yahoo's search from other services that provide automatic help.

As part of the announcement, Yahoo officials quoted results from a Harris Interactive study that showed that while 99 percent of adults online use a search engine, only 15 percent find what they need on the first try. The study said that to be successful, most searches need to be carried out three or four times.

Some analysts weren't overly impressed with the announcements. Jim Friedland, an analyst with Cowen and Company, said Yahoo is a company that's "following faster, not innovating." He wrote that many of the newer features of the service are already available from Google. He added that he expects Google will eventually achieve a worldwide search market share of "at least 90 percent."

What Business Will Microsoft Really Be In Come 2010?
We knew Microsoft's been wanting a piece of the advertising business during the last couple of years, judging from key acquisitions it made and its $6 billion investment in aQuantive just a couple of months ago. But this week, we found out just how big a piece of that market Microsoft wants. Speaking in Paris this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer predicted that advertising would become 25 percent of the company's business "within a few years."

Now, assuming that "a few years" means the next three or four, and assuming Microsoft continues to grow its revenues at its current pace, Redmond could be generating well over $15 and maybe be approaching $20 billion in ad revenues by 2011. Over the next few years, Ballmer said he expects all media and marketing to go digital.

"Over time, all ad money will go through a digital ad platform," Ballmer told the gathering of European ad agencies and clients. "All media goes digital, all advertising goes digital."

It makes you stop and wonder what business Microsoft will actually be in at the turn of the decade (heck, some people wonder even now what business it's in). While the company derives the vast majority of its current $51 billion in revenues from desktop and server versions of Windows and associated business applications, it's investing more and more heavily in a variety of consumer markets. And as it does so, it takes on a raft of new competitors fighting wars on multiple fronts.

It's hard to imagine Microsoft taking its eye off the business-software ball, given its laser focus there for well over two decades. But when you look at the development disaster that is Windows Vista and the delays with Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server, maybe it already has.

This could be a healthy thing for the business-software market in general if Microsoft continues to aggressively pursue this advertising course. I mean, who needs the Department of Justice or the European Union to slow down Microsoft, when the company can do that very thing on its own?

Mailbag: High Hopes for VoIP, Search Engine Shuffle, More
Peter asked recently what readers thought about the future of VoIP, especially in the wake of eBay's announcement that it was taking a big charge for its acquisition of Skype. Here are some of your thoughts:

Here's my take: I hope Internet calling has a future. What else is the point of having multiple wires (cable, phone, Internet, etc.) coming into your house? We pay for those infrastructures. Since I am in Canada, where we pay a lot for comm., I would like to have access to the SkypeIn feature. SkypeOut is cool but without Skype in it is pretty much useless (except if you make long-distance calls).

I don't think monsters like Bell will let this happen soon and easily but, again, I hope Internet calling (like Internet video, conference calls, etc.) will be the future!
-Sebastien

In February, I dumped Vonage for unlimited long distance using VoIP at $30 a month and picked up Skype for unlimited long distance using VoIP at $30 a year. Except for some missing features not offered by Skype, it seems to be working just as well as Vonage. VoIP has come a long ways since the mid-'90s so it might be safe to assume it will be around a little while longer.
-Anonymous

I can remember attending a developers' conference for FoxPro in 1994 when VoIP was the biggest thing since sliced bread. Funny thing is that I haven't since heard any good reason to use VoIP. I think eBay got itself owned.
-Angus

I've been using VoIP for my personal telephone service for almost three years now (my company is still on the older telephony tech), first with Vonage and now with Skype. My phone service prior to going with Vonage was provided by SBC. I live on the outskirts of Kansas City, and that required a $12 monthly charge, above what we were being charged for local service, to have toll-free access to metropolitan numbers. For just bare-bones phone service, I was paying over $37 a month. Any long distance added to that, and features such as voicemail or caller ID, brought the basic package to over $45 a month. When Vonage began to agressively market its service, I jumped ship as soon as I was able to get an adapter. With fees and surcharges, the Vonage unlimited package came to somewhere around $27 a month. It had so many additional features beyond our basic SBC service that I considered it to be a big win.

Finally, I determined to see what Skype would cost as a possible replacement for Vonage. The annual cost was about a quarter of what I was paying for Vonage, and I still had access to the majority of what I'd become used to on the Vonage account. I've just bought a SkypeOut unlimited calling plan, as well as a SkypeIn number, and the only additional expense I incurred was the cost of a Skype-enabled cordless phone for my house. I expect the payback on all this to occur by the middle of next year. I've also got cellphone coverage, so Skype gives us an additional, cheaper option instead of Vonage. There was nothing wrong with the Vonage service (in fact, it was quite good and definitely a superior alternative to SBC's bare-bones service), but there are cheaper alternatives available. I'm hoping that our use of Skype will allow us to save even more money on our phone bills.
-Dennis

As Russ has found out, when it comes to search engines, one site doesn't fit all:

Recently, I have been trying new search engines as my old standby, Google, has not been returning the results I want. In the past, it was always lightning-fast, which it still is, and had good "hits" right near the top of the list. However, now it often seems that I have to wade through tons of paid listings to find what I want. I have now been picking my engine based on what I am searching for. To buy something, Google. General interest, Microsoft Live Search. Academic, Ask.com. Local search, Yahoo. As an aside, Vista actually makes it much easier to choose your search provider, contrary to what some larger search providers seems to feel.
-Russ

Lafe reported yesterday on Microsoft's various Zune upgrades. Readers share their thoughts on the company's would-be iPod killer:

I like my Zune. I like having my files in folder so I can access them easily instead of some hashed version iTunes uses. iTunes on Windows is horrible, anyway. I am not about to use iTunes and five other programs in conjunction with it to classify and file my music (Winamp plug ins, etc.). If iTunes actually worked well on Windows, I might have had an iPod. I made due with my car playing MP3 and .WMA, though, until the Zune came out. Like the iPod though, the Zune player gets its meta info from random sources, so I have four different Weird Al artists all with slight variations in spelling.

The Zune has done some flaky things, like when it wiped itself out during a sync, but other than that it is fine. I have moved some media, such as ripped movies, but that turns into a major operation recoding so the Zune will accept it. There were some registry hacks that fixed this when the Zune first came out, but I haven't tried hard enough to find them again.
-Phil

Need to support podcasts before I leap to Zune.
-Joseph

Tell us what you think! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to escannell@redmondmag.com.

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