With startling explosions on the Abravanel Hall stage, Corel Corp. completed its successful daylong formal launch party for its WordPerfect 7 and Perfect-Office 7 software suite.

As the 2,000 or so party goers streamed out of Symphony Hall Wednesday evening, they were greeted by the sight of Corel's hot air balloon preparing for liftoff.Interestingly, on Thursday, Corel President Michael Cowpland and his associates were scheduled to be at the JavaOne Conference in San Francisco demonstrating the company's next generation of products.

Talk about storming forward.

In retrospect

When Novell announced some nine months ago it was looking for buyers for its beleaguered WordPerfect product line, IBM, Oracle and Adobe were among some of the notable companies bandied about as potential suitors.

Nowhere, on anyone's list, was Ottawa-based Corel.

And when rumors first began to surface that Corel was becoming Novell's first choice, there were more than a few snickers of disbelief from the many industry-watchers and analysts, including me.

But now that the deal's all put to bed, and Corel's had a mere three months to tie everything together, I must admit I am pleasantly surprised.

When I was invited onto Novell's Orem campus in mid-December to get my first look at WordPerfect 7 and PerfectOffice 7, I was impressed. As a WordPerfect user, it was apparent that the company had taken the next logical steps in improving the programs, as well as adding some new and interesting features.

In general, I felt that Novell had another winner on its hands.

Favorable impression

However, by the time Jeff Hunsaker, Corel director of product marketing, had completed his demonstration of Corel's new products and all the presentations had been given and the questions all answered, I was blown away.

The new products look awesome and performed flawlessly during the demonstration.

WordPerfect 6.1 and Perfect- Office 6.1 are demonstrably superior to Microsoft Word and Office. WP6.1 and PO6.1 have been critically acclaimed in the trade and general media.

Corel's newest software iterations dramatically increase its lead over the competition in multiple areas: ease of use, functionality, Internet-connectedness, and price/performance.

Looking forward

In fiscal 1995, ended Nov. 30, Corel had revenues of $196 million and profits of $7.3 million (all figures are in U.S. dollars). Analyst projections for fiscal 1996 sales are pegged at $400 to $485 million, including sales of WordPerfect products.

During a question and answer period Wednesday, Cowpland projected sales for fiscal 1997 of $700 to $750 million.

At the same time, he suggested that Corel may be able to capture up to 30 percent of the suite market in business applications.

If anyone had suggested six months ago that WordPerfect could win a 30 percent market share in the business suite marketplace, I would have pointed them toward the nearest psychiatric ward.

My reaction would have been much the same if someone had suggested that Corel could nearly quadruple its revenues in a two-year period.

Today, I'm not so skeptical, particularly when I think of the turnaround at Roy-based Iomega.

When I factor in all that Corel has done in such a short period and learn that it has already developed its next generation of WordPerfect products based upon Java, the Internet savvy development tool from Sun Microsystems, I think Corel may just pull it off.

How quickly or how successfully? I'm not sure yet. But I am convinced that this is not a company that's going into the tank, which is what I thought several months ago when it announced its intent to acquire WordPerfect.

In fact, if I was an investor in the stock market (which I'm not), I'd take a pretty close look at Corel stock (NASDAQ:COSFF).

It's traded as low as $9 per share within the past year and was trading last week at near $13.