updated 3/7/2005 12:57:05 PM ET 2005-03-07T17:57:05

The Justice Department, which challenged Microsoft Corp. in courtrooms for nearly a decade over antitrust violations, will pay more than $2 million each year to buy business software from Corel Corp., a leading Microsoft rival.

The new purchase agreement, announced Monday, makes the latest version of Corel's WordPerfect Office software available to more than 50,000 lawyers and other Justice employees.

That includes the department's antitrust division, which successfully sued Microsoft over illegal efforts to dominate the software industry but negotiated a settlement later to end the company's court appeals.

The deal, worth up $13.2 million over five years for Ontario-based Corel, illustrates that Microsoft, the world's largest software company, still faces pockets of intense competition in the industry it dominates. It also represents a high-profile sale for Corel among lawyers, where it traditionally has enjoyed a loyal following.

"It's a big win for them," said Joe Wilcox, a software analyst for Jupiter Media. "The Justice Department is kind of a showcase agency."

Corel's chief executive, Amish Mehta, said the software sale was among the company's largest worldwide. Corel is initially charging the government $40 per copy to upgrade from an earlier WordPerfect version to its newest software, the government said.

Privately held Corel does not disclose sales figures. Microsoft sold $2.8 billion worth of its Office software programs in the final three months of 2004.

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The Justice Department will make WordPerfect software available to more than 20 organizations inside the agency, but not the FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration, which use Microsoft's Office business software exclusively, said Mary Aileen O'Donovan, a program manager in the Justice Management Division.

She said when the department considered its purchase, it was acutely aware of its courtroom struggles against Microsoft. Until last month, Justice employees used rival Web browsing software from the former Netscape Communications Corp., O'Donovan said.

"We picked the underdog," she said.

O'Donovan said U.S. courts require all electronic filings to be submitted as WordPerfect documents, and Justice has thousands of programmed shortcuts designed to work with WordPerfect.

Still, the department hardly rejects all Microsoft products. It also buys the company's Office software -- for roughly $150 per copy -- and pays more for its Windows operating system, O'Donovan said.

She said Justice also is urging employees to switch to Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser, which was the subject of the government's antitrust case.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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