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Montreal Linux Expo: Cold Enough for a Real Penguin

Linux partisans love nothing more than to meet, and this was made abundantly clear this week at Linux Expo North America: neither bad weather nor a general malaise on the business side of Linux failed to deter thousands of penguinistas from attending the show in Montreal's Palais des Congres.

They were met by over 100 Linux vendors, ranging from leading Linux distribution vendors -- Red Hat, Stormix, Linux-Mandrake, all of which are either headquartered in Canada or have Canadian offices -- to smaller vendors such as Zend, TimeSys, VMware) to venerable Linux grassroots organizations (Linux Documentation Project, Free Software Foundation.

Over 700 attendees crammed a lecture hall on April 11 to hear a series of keynotes. Making the most news was Dr. Michael Cowpland, president and CEO of Corel Corp. A true swashbuckler in an industry filled with pirates, Cowpland surprised the audience by announcing Corel's ambitious plans for the future.

"Corel has a tremendous Linux push underway," he said. "We expect to have more than 18 Linux applications of our own by the end of the year."

He added that a vote on the Inprise/Corel merger had cleared antitrust hurdles and should be put to a vote of both boards within 90 days.

Before the show there had been talk that this show would be noteworthy for two reasons: it was the first Linux gathering after Microsoft's defeat in court, and it was the biggest show held in Canada to date. While the crowd was large, it wasn't necessarily the corporate crowd organizers were hoping for: "This feels more like the McGill student union than a real trade show," said one vendor who asked for anonymity.

The general malaise comes from the devaluation of Linux stocks in the marketplace (Red Hat, VA Linux, Cobalt Networks, and Ottawa's Corel Corp. -- all have seen their stock prices slip in recent weeks -- even though as a whole Linux usage keeps rising dramatically.

"We got to valuation levels that were away from reality and potential," Michel DeLavergne, technology analyst at BLC Securities Inc. in Montreal, told The National Post. "In the case of Linux I think it's still a very early game and a lot of these stocks got way beyond that. They've corrected to more reasonable levels now."

There weren't many major announcements at the show (notables like Linuxcare passed on the show, while other major players like VA Linux System had a minimal presence), as most vendors are waiting until next week's Linux Business Expo, held in conjunction with Spring COMDEX, to unveil new products. Worth noting: Acrylis Inc. announced a service, whatiflinux.com, that would monitor Linux workstations and servers, alerting system administrators when there are potential incompatibilities or problems when changing software versions. Noteworthy is a "what-if" feature that will predict what will happen should software packages be updated.