Corel has released a beta version of its WordPerfect Office suite, which it claims reflects a shift in the office productivity arena towards open standards compatibility.

The new WordPerfect Office version supports ODF (Open Document Format) and Microsoft OOXML (Office Open XML) - a capability that spells a strong industry differentiator, said Jason Larock, the company’s director of product management for WordPerfect Office.

“As things open up, things become easier to interoperate, compatibility gets better. It’s a very positive story for the industry in general,” he said.

ODF and OOXML are freely-available and implementable XML-based file format specifications for electronic documents, like spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents.

Corel, a developer of graphics, productivity and digital media software, wants to target consumers and small-to-medium-sized businesses, said Larock, as well as CIOs of enterprise and government who typically have to address issues of long-term use of the business’s IT architecture.

Therefore, he said, the company is adopting a “format-neutral approach in terms of our vendor support, whatever will make it easier for a customer to adopt and have a long life and be able to extend their architecture is where we're coming from.”

With the release, Corel intends to continue serving its customers in the government and legal sectors by offering them those compatibility choices, he added.

Given the large degree of interest that the public sector has for OOXML, it’s a natural target market for Corel, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with research firm The Enderle Group. Furthermore, the move makes sense given the company has “always positioned itself as the product that has the strongest cross-compatibility between what Microsoft uses and other things,” he said.

Having open format support alone, however, won't be enough for Corel WordPerfect to break into the enterprise arena, besides strengthening the presence it already has in the legal department, Enderle said. "As far as I can tell, the corporate market is not all that interested in OOXML right now," he said, adding that corporations are generally interested in continuing to use what they're already using.

In fact, Corel's beta release is probably a reflection of IBM’s launch of its OpenOffice Symphony software, said Enderle.

IBM is a “power broker in some of [Corel's] target markets, particularly in government, with what appears to be a viable offering, puts both Microsoft and Corel at a little bit of risk. I think what Corel is doing is making sure they can defend their turf.”

Enderle added that Corel's beta release might actually be enough to hold down the fort if they provide their customers with what they're looking for in the product they're already using.

According to Corel’s Greg Wood, senior communications manager for office productivity, its offering “remains a leading alternative to Microsoft Office.”

“But more importantly, as things become more open and as open formats up the market to better compatibility and more choice, that will further enable Corel to get its product to market,” he added.