The Corel/Microsoft deal is apparently worse for Corel than was originally obvious. Thanks to a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing that became public last week (see the first Hot Off the Press article below), we now know the specifics: Corel has promised to support a slew of Microsoft technologies—including .NET, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), and various Windows Media Technologies—and to potentially port the .NET Framework to Linux. Most alarming, however, is the price of Corel's continued existence: Microsoft won't pay Corel for any future work. And, if Microsoft decides that Corel must undertake the Linux port, Corel is contractually obligated to complete the project within a year.

When a company's life is on the line, it will do surprising things—and Corel obviously bargained its soul away in a bid to survive. On the other hand, what choice did Corel have? The company was reeling from years of downward-spiraling financials, thanks to its previous CEO, Michael Cowpland, who left Corel last month. Cowpland is widely blamed for taking Corel down a risky path on which the fledgling Linux business consumed more attention than the bread-and-butter Windows division. But Corel's problems were even more fundamental than that: At the Fall Comdex last year, I saw a demonstration of WordPerfect 2000 and was amazed at features such as its ability to preview style changes on the fly, before applying them to the selected text. I talked to some Corel folks about this product, expecting to hear their marketing plans. In essence, however, the company had no plans: Corel was focusing its efforts on retaining as many existing WordPerfect customers as possible. It was ludicrous: The company was basically end-of-life-ing the product.

Corel's financial problems caused a planned merger with Inprise/Borland to implode, when angry Inprise shareholders demanded that the two companies remain separate. Inprise had a right to be nervous: 2000 was one of Corel's shakiest years ever, and the company foundered on the edge of insolvency more than once. The current regime, however, deserves some credit for working the deal with Microsoft. Lopsided though the deal might be, it keeps Corel afloat.

So I finally installed Norton Ghost; thanks again to everyone who recommended the product. I purchased the home edition, known as Norton Ghost 2001 (version 6.5) and installed it on my main desktop system and an older laptop that will soon be revived for my wife. Those familiar with Ghost know it's an eccentric product that boots with a special 3.5" disk and enters a DOS-based environment in which you can create images of partitions and drives, copying those images to other disks or even other systems on your network. The process effectively backs up your system. I sorely needed this tool.

I created a TCP boot disk to copy images over the network. In my case, I had to add custom support for the NIC in the laptop, although the program supports many network adapter cards natively. But even that process was surprisingly simple because I already had the drivers that the setup program required. But to use Ghost in TCP mode, you need two systems booted into its odd DOS environment—one is the master (typically, the system you're Ghosting) and one is the slave (the system that will receive the Ghosted image). This setup does work—and quickly—but I don't like putting two systems out of commission for a backup. A friend who's a network guru later told me that you could map a drive with the "net use" command and fool Ghost into using a network share as if it were a local drive, negating the need to take the second system offline. I'll try that method next time.

In case it isn't obvious, Ghost isn't for average users, despite the way it's marketed: Ghost is still a fairly arcane product that requires some networking proficiency, especially if you must use the TCP boot disk (a virtual necessity on a single-drive system, such as a laptop, because you can't Ghost a system to the same partition). However, if you partition your system ahead of time, I suspect you'd be able to get away with it. I will try that approach later as well. In any event, most newsletter readers fall within the target market for Norton Ghost, and I strongly recommend this product.