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WordPerfect’s golden legacy

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An amazing chapter in entrepreneurship will end soon in Utah, following Wednesday's announcement that WordPerfect is leaving the state.

Canada's Corel Corp., which purchased WordPerfect from Novell in 1996, will close its research and development division in Orem over the next two months, putting 530 employees out of work. WordPerfect's operations will continue at Corel's corporate headquarters in Ottawa.This marks the second time in a week that a major high-tech employer has sent Utahns scrambling for new jobs. Iomega announced June 18 that it will lay off about 400 people from its Roy headquarters.

It would be hard to overestimate the impact WordPerfect has had on Utah and the software industry since Alan Ashton and Bruce Bastian founded the company in 1980. The perseverance of Ashton and Bastian mirrored that of their company.

Ashton, a graduate of the University of Utah, had an idea for a word-processing program while a graduate student at the U. Later, while a computer science professor at Brigham Young University, he teamed with Bastian in 1979 to write such a program for personal computers.

The two persevered during discouraging times, even when backers withdrew financial support - an investment decision the backers obviously later regretted as WordPerfect underwent explosive growth in the mid-to-late 1980s, reaching annual sales of hundreds of millions of dollars while providing employment for thousands.

WordPerfect set the course and standard for the high-tech industry in Utah, which now numbers 2,200 information technology companies employing just under 40,000 people, generating more than $6.6 billion in sales.

As those in the industry know, it's constantly evolving. WordPerfect underwent a number of changes over the years as it struggled to gain its dominant market share in competition with Microsoft.

Novell acquired WordPerfect in 1994 for $855 million. Corel bought WordPerfect from Novell in January 1996 for $185 million. Some 21/2 years later, Corel decided to close the Orem operations.

While the closure is certainly traumatic for the more than 500 employees based in Orem, the good news is that the technical skills they possess are in high demand.

WordPerfect and its Utah employees are charting new courses. We wish the company and the employees well. And we thank them for ushering in a truly golden era in technology in Utah.