WordPerfect is getting a new lease on life.

Novell Inc. of Orem, Utah, said yesterday it had sold the division that makes the once-dominant word processor to Corel Corp., Canada's largest software company. The payment in stock, cash and royalties is estimated to be worth $186 million.

The sale ensures that the millions of users of WordPerfect software, as well as Quattro Pro spreadsheet software and other office products made by the division, can look forward to fresh versions of the products. According to Charles Norris, chief financial officer of Corel, versions tuned to work with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95 software will be released by May.

WordPerfect formerly commanded as much as 70 percent of the market for word-processing software. But it has lost significant market share during the past five years as Microsoft bundled its Microsoft Word word-processing software, spreadsheet and other office products together into a relatively low-priced "suite" of applications.

Novell acquired WordPerfect Corp., then an independent company, two years ago. But the marriage of Novell's main product, computer networking software, to the word-processing and spreadsheet business has been an uneasy one.

"That piece . . . didn't fit well with Novell," said Jim Tolonen, Novell's chief financial officer. The division dragged down Novell's results during its last two financial quarters, he said.

Wall Street noticed. Novell's stock has been sliding downward since last May, when it peaked at $22.87 1/2 Novell hit a recent low of $12.25 late last week and yesterday closed at $13.50, up $1.00. Corel, which is listed on both the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market, closed yesterday at $11.37 1/2, up 81.25 cents.

According to PC Data Inc., a Reston market research firm, WordPerfect won about 47.9 percent of the sales of stand-alone word-processing packages in December. But it has lost out in the increasingly important market for software suites. Microsoft's Office suite (which includes its Word word-processing package) won 86.5 percent of the suite sales, in contrast to WordPerfect's 5.4 percent.

"Even still, there are a lot of people out there who believe that WordPerfect is the best word processor on the market," said Anne Stephens, president of the market research firm. "But it is a tough nut to crack. There's a reason why this company was sold for a song," she added.

Novell bought WordPerfect for about $855 million in stock. The $186 million price that it is getting from Corel represents a major loss, though it is difficult to calculate, because it is not selling all of what it bought. Novell will keep several pieces of the former WordPerfect Corp., notably its business in "groupware" software, which helps people work together on projects.

The $186 million consists of 9.95 million shares of Corel, $10.75 million in cash and $70 million in licensing fees that will be paid over the next five years by Corel.

For Corel, which makes a variety of graphics software packages, the acquisition marks its first foray into mainstream office applications. It will more than double the number of employees -- and, executives believe, triple its revenue, which was $200 million last fiscal year.

"I don't think you'll ever beat" Microsoft in the office products business, Norris said, "but it's a case of increasing the market share." Reviews consistently rank WordPerfect above Microsoft's products, he said. "Novell didn't market {WordPerfect}. We're a consumer product company . . . so the fit is excellent." CAPTION: Novell chief executive Robert J. Frankenberg, left, and Michael Coupland, president of Corel Corp, after signing the agreement.