Software Maker, Anyone? No?

WORDPERFECT: WHO WILL BUY it? Potential buyers are treating the once popular word processing software maker like the leisure suit of the high-tech world. Novell, which picked up WordPerfect for $855 million in stock just 16 months ago, announced Oct. 30 that it wanted to shed most of the new acquisition so it could focus on networking software.

Novell executives say they have two potential suitors, which perplexes analysts. Most rumored candidates say they have zip interest. Insiders at Oracle, for example, say they're targeting the Internet--not stand-alone PC applications a la WordPerfect. Computer Associates insiders also pooh-pooh a deal, preferring to concentrate on high-end databases. And IBM? Officials say they have no interest. Analysts doubt there will be a marriage, given Big Blue's acquiring Lotus, which includes a software package rivaling WordPerfect's.

At least WordPerfect seems to be cheap, which could help ease a sale. Analysts' estimate: about the same as revenues, or about $300 million. Company sales chief Joe Marengi does not dismiss rumors of an investment group, perhaps of venture capitalists, taking over and shaving jobs. He rules out--for now--an employee buyout.

Plagued by late products, the unprofitable WordPerfect is in neck-and-neck competition for word processing with Microsoft Word. Yet in the increasingly hot suite market (bundled office software), Microsoft has a big lead over WordPerfect.

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