Originally Published: Monday, 10 April 2000 Author: Jeff Alami
Published to: columnists/Jeff Alami Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Linux User Groups

One thing distinguishes Linux from other operating systems: its diverse and vibrant community. One such manifestation of the Linux community is the Linux User Group, or LUG. A LUG is a group of users in the same geographical region which gets together to discuss everyone's favourite OS, and to educate others about the virtues and challenges posed by Linux.

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Introduction

One thing distinguishes Linux from other operating systems: its diverse and vibrant community. One such manifestation of the Linux community is the Linux User Group, or LUG. A LUG is a group of users in the same geographical region which gets together to discuss everyone's favourite OS, and to educate others about the virtues and challenges posed by Linux.

From personal experience, I'd have to say that LUGs are one of the best things that have happened to the Linux community. Without a LUG, I would have a much harder time learning new things about Linux. Without a LUG, I wouldn't have found my first Linux job. And most importantly, without a LUG, I would have a much harder time finding people nearby who share the same interests in Linux.

My local LUG, Vancouver Linux User Group (VanLUG), has been a boon to the local Linux community. VanLUG has been around since 1995 as a mailing list, and has had formal meetings since 1998. One of the larger LUGs, VanLUG has over 1000 registered members, and the monthly meetings attract up to 200 attendees. By taking examples from my experience in VanLUG, I hope to give you a glimpse of how a LUG operates, and what you can do to make your local LUG better -- or to start one if you don't have a local LUG.

First things first. If you're not participating in a LUG at the moment, and you have a bit of spare time to get involved, give it a try. You can search for existing local LUGs at Linux.com's LUGs section, or at GLUE, "Group of Linux Users Everywhere." If you cannot find a nearby LUG, and you know a few local Linux users who are interested, you can found your own LUG. If you want to take this initiative, check out the HOWTOs first -- they provide invaluable information about starting your own LUG.

Communication

Once you've joined your local LUG, or started one, you'll need to check out some of the avenues of electronic communication between LUG members that are available. The most common is the mailing list. At VanLUG we have several mailing lists, including: vanlug-general, a high-traffic mailing list with all sorts of things; and vanlug-announce, a mailing list for announcements and important messages.

Our local guru Brian Edmonds was ingenious enough to "mirror" these mailing lists in a news server as well. Whenever a member sends mail to the mailing list, it gets posted to the associated newsgroup, and vice versa. I would suggest this setup for any LUG as some people prefer to read newsgroups and others prefer to receive e-mail.

Other forms of electronic communication exist, such as Internet Relay Chat (IRC) for real-time communication between LUG members. If you're looking to start your own IRC channel for LUG members, I would suggest hosting it on the OpenProjects Network, whose mandate is to serve the open source community with services such as IRC servers.

Meetings

Of course, electronic communication can only go so far, and it only makes sense for a group of people interested in Linux to get together in person. That's why the hallmark of a LUG is its meetings. VanLUG has monthly meetings open to everyone, and I find that to be a good arrangement. Specifically, we meet on the third Monday of each month.

As for the content of these meetings, it's preferable to keep the presentations and guests under control. VanLUG used to have two major presentations in its monthly meetings, but that seemed to take up too much time. When we changed to one major presentation per meeting, the meetings got quite a bit more interesting and less time-consuming.

Events and Tradeshows

The more a LUG participates in events, the better it can be for community participation. People who come to local tradeshows and conferences are already quite interested in Linux and are quite open to the advantages of being part of a Linux user group. Events are one of the most powerful ways for LUG to reach out to the local community.

If you have a local tradeshow in town, find out if you can have a booth of sorts for the LUG. In VanLUG's case, Comdex/Canada West comes around once a year, and at the last Comdex, ZD Events provided VanLUG with a Linux Pavilion to place LUG information and booths for Linux companies. This proved to be a tremendous success; Comdex/Canada West is where VanLUG got its thousandth member.

Aside from "invading" local tradeshows -- much to the tradeshow organizers' glee, however, due to the excitement over Linux -- a LUG can organize its own events. The most popular of such events is the installfest. The only advice I can give about organizing an installfest is to prepare for it. In VanLUG's first installfest, people brought in computers without pre-registering and we had trouble accommodating them. Oh, and 300 other people showed up too.

What we ended up doing was extending the installfest to a full-blown Linux event of its own. LinuxFest '99, held at the University of British Columbia in early October, featured exhibits from both companies and volunteers willing to demonstrate some features of Linux, a presentation schedule, prizes, and of course, the installfest. LinuxFest '99 was a resounding success, attracting on the order of 500 attendees.

Conclusion

Getting involved in a Linux user group can be one of the best things that happens to you as a Linux enthusiast. You get to learn more about Linux, help the Linux community, help the local community, and if you're lucky, land a Linux job. If there's a LUG in the area, and you're hesitant to join, my advice is to get involved now. You don't know what you're missing!

Jeff Alami (jeff@linux.com) should get more involved with VanLUG. He has helped out a bit with their events and activities, but there's so much more to do.





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