Linux User Group HOWTO
Kendall Grant Clark
v.1.6.2, 24 April 1998
The Linux User Group HOWTO is a guide to founding, maintaining, and
growing a Linux User Group.
Table of Contents
1.2 Other sources of information
2. What is a Linux User Group?
2.1 What is Linux?
2.2 How is Linux unique?
2.3 What is a user group?
3. What LUGs are there?
3.1 Lists of LUGs
3.2 Solidarity versus convenience
4. What does a LUG do?
4.1 Linux advocacy
4.2 Linux education
4.3 Linux support
4.3.3 Businesses, non-profit organizations, and schools
4.3.4 Free software development
220.127.116.11 Chris Browne on free software philanthropy
4.3.5 Linux Movement
4.4 Linux socializing
5. Local LUG activities
5.2 Online resources
6. Practical suggestions
6.1 LUG support organizations
6.2 Founding a LUG
6.3 Maintaining and growing a LUG
7. Legal and political issues
7.1 Legal issues
7.2 United States
7.4 Political issues
7.4.1 People have different feelings about free software.
7.4.2 Nonprofit organizations and money don't mix terribly well.
8. About this document
8.2 New versions
8.3 Please contribute to this HOWTO
8.4 Document history
The Linux User Group HOWTO is intended to serve as a guide to
founding, maintaining, and growing a Linux User Group.
Linux is a freely-distributable implementation of Unix for personal
computers, servers and workstations. It was developed on the i386 and
now supports i486, Pentium, Pentium Pro, and Pentium II processors, as
well as x86-clones from AMD, Cyrix, and others. It also supports many
SPARC, DEC Alpha, PowerPC/PowerMac, Motorola 68x0 Mac/Amiga machines.
1.2. Other sources of information
If you want to learn more about Linux, the Linux Documentation Project
is a good place to start.
For general information about computer user groups, please see the
Association of PC Users Groups .
2. What is a Linux User Group?
2.1. What is Linux?
In order to appreciate and understand fully the significant role of
LUGs in the Linux Movement, it is important to understand what makes
Linux unique among computer operating systems.
Linux as an operating system is very efficient and very powerful. But,
Linux as an idea about how software ought to be developed is even more
powerful. Linux is a free operating system: it is licensed under the
GNU Public License. The source code is freely available to anyone who
wants it and always will be. It is developed by a unstructured group
of programmers from around the world, under the technical direction of
Linus Torvalds and other key developers. Linux is a world-wide
movement without any central structure, bureaucracy, or entity to
control, coordinate, or otherwise direct its affairs. While this
situation is a powerful part of the appeal and technical quality of
Linux as an computer operating system, it can make for inefficient
allocation of human resources, ineffective and even detrimental
advocacy, public relations, user education and training.
2.2. How is Linux unique?
This loose structure is not likely to change with regard to Linux as a
software project. And it's a good thing, too. Linux works precisely
because people are free to come and go as they please: free
programmers are happy programmers are effective programmers.
But this loose structure can make the average Linux user's life a
little complicated--especially if that user isn't a programmer by
profession or by vocation. Who does she call for support, training, or
education? How does she know the kinds of uses for which Linux is
In large part local LUGs provide the answers to these kinds of
question. This is why LUGs are a crucial part of the Linux Movement.
Because there is no ``regional office'' of the Linux Corporation in
your town or village or metropolis, the local LUG takes on many of the
same roles that a regional office does for a large multi-national
Linux is unique because it does not have, nor is it burdened by, a
central structure or bureaucracy to allocate its resources, train its
users, or provide support for its products. These jobs get done in a
variety of ways: the Internet, consultants, VARs, support companies,
colleges and universities. But, increasingly, in many places around
the globe, they get done by a local LUG.
2.3. What is a user group?
Computer user groups, at least in the United States, are not a new
phenomenon; in fact, they played an important role in the history of
the personal computer. The personal computer arose in large part to
satisfy the demand of electronics, Ham Radio, and other hobbyist user
groups, as well as trade shows and swap meets, for affordable,
personal access to computing resources. Of course eventually giants
like IBM discovered that the PC was a good and profitable thing, but
the impetus for the PC came from the people, by the people, and for
In the United States, user groups have changed, and many for the
worse, with the times. The financial woes of the largest user group
ever, the Boston Computer Society have been
well-reported; but all over the U.S. most of the big PC user groups
have seen a decline in real membership. American user groups in their
heyday concentrated on the production of newsletters, the maintenance
of shareware and diskette libraries, meetings, social events, and,
sometimes, even Bulletin Board Systems. With the advent of the
Internet, however, many of the services that user groups once provided
were transferred to things like CompuServe, AOL, and the Web.
The rise of Linux, however, coincided with and was intensified by
general public's ``discovery'' of the Internet. As the Internet grew
more popular, so did Linux: the Internet brought new users,
developers, and vendors to the Linux Movement.
So just when traditional PC user groups were declining because of the
Internet's popularity, this popularity propelled Linux forward,
creating new demand for new user groups dedicated exclusively to
Linux. To give just one indication of the ways in which a LUG is
different than a traditional user group, I call the reader's attention
to a curious fact: traditional user groups have had to maintain a
fairly tight control over the kinds of software that its users copy
and trade at its meetings. While illegal copying of commercial
software certainly occurred at these meetings, it was officially
discouraged and for good reason.
At a LUG meeting, however, this entire mindset simply does not apply.
Far from being the kind of thing that a LUG ought to discourage, the
free copying of Linux itself ought to be one of the primary activities
of a LUG. In fact there is anecdotal evidence that traditional user
groups sometimes have a difficult time adapting to the fact that Linux
can be freely copied as many times as one needs or wants.
In order for the Linux Movement to continue to flourish, the
proliferation and success of local LUGs, along with other factors, is
an absolute requirement. Because of the unique status of Linux, the
local LUG must provide some of the same functions that a ``regional
office'' provides for large computer corporations like IBM, Microsoft,
or Sun. LUGs can and must train, support, and educate Linux users,
coordinate Linux consultants, advocate Linux as a computing solution,
and even serve as a liason to local media outlets like newspapers and
3. What LUGs are there?
Since this document is meant as a guide not only to maintaining and
growing LUGs but also to founding them, it would be well before we go
much further to determine what LUGs there are.
3.1. Lists of LUGs
There are several lists of LUGs available on the Web. If you want to
found a local LUG, one of the first things to do is to determine where
the nearest LUG is. Your best bet may be to join a LUG that is already
established in your area rather than founding a new one.
As of the mid-1997, there are LUGs in all 50 states, the District of
Columbia, and 26 other countries, including India, Russia, and most of
Western and Eastern Europe.
Note: the biggest untapped computing market on the planet, China, does
not yet appear to have a LUG, and India, the second most populous
country on the planet, has only a few.
o Finding Groups of Linux Users Everywhere
o LUG List Project
o LUG Registry
It appears that the GLUE list is more comprehensive for American LUGs,
while the LUG List Project offers more comprehensive international
3.2. Solidarity versus convenience
While the lists of LUGs on the Web are well-maintained, it is likely
that they do not list every LUG. In addition to consulting these
lists, I suggest, if you are considering founding a LUG, that you post
a short message asking about the existence of a local LUG to
comp.os.linux.misc , or an appropriate
regional Usenet hierarchy. If there isn't a LUG already in your area,
then posting mesages to these groups will alert potential members of
If you plan to found a local LUG, you should carefully balance
convenience against solidarity. In other words, if there is a LUG in
your metropolitan area, but on the other side of the city, it may be
better to start a new group for the sake of convenience. But it may be
better to join the pre-existing group for the sake of unity and
solidarity. Greater numbers almost always means greater power,
influence, and efficiency. While it might be nice to have two groups
of 100 members each, there are certain advantages to one group of 200
members. Of course if you live in a small town or village, any group
is better than no group at all.
The point is that starting a LUG is an arduous undertaking, and one
that ought to be entered into with all the relevant facts, and with
some appreciation of the effect on other groups.
4. What does a LUG do?
The goals of local LUGs are as varied as the locales in which they
operate. There is no master plan for LUGs, nor is this document meant
to supply one. Remember: Linux is free from bureaucracy and
centralized control and so are local LUGs.
It is possible, however, to identify a core set of goals for a local
Each local LUG will combine these and other goals in a unique way in
order to satisfy the unique needs of its membership.
4.1. Linux advocacy
The urge to advocate the use of Linux is as natural to computer users
as is eating or sleeping. When you find something that works and works
well, the natural urge is to tell as many people about it as you can.
The role of LUGs in Linux advocacy cannot be overestimated, especially
since the wide-scale commercial acceptance of Linux which it so richly
deserves has not yet been achieved. While it is certainly beneficial
to the Linux Movement each and every time a computer journalist writes
a positive review of Linux, it is also beneficial every time satisfied
Linux users tell their friends, colleagues, employees or employers
There is effective advocacy and there is ineffective carping: as Linux
users, we must be constantly vigilant to advocate Linux in such a way
as to reflect positively on both the product, its creators and
developers, and our fellow users. The Linux Advocacy mini-HOWTO,
available at the Linux Documentation Project, gives some helpful
suggestions in this regard. Suffice it to say that advocacy is an
important aspect of the mission of a local LUG.
There may come a time when Linux advocacy is pretty much beside the
point because Linux has more or less won the day, when the phrase ``No
one ever got fired for using Linux'' becomes a reality. Until that
time, however, the local LUG plays an indispensable role in promoting
the use of Linux. It does so because its advocacy is free, well-
intentioned, and backed up by organizational commitment. If a person
comes to know about Linux through the efforts of a local LUG, then
that person, as a new Linux user, is already ahead of the game: she is
already aware of the existence of an organization that will help her
install, configure, and even maintain Linux on whatever computers she
is willing to dedicate to it.
New Linux users who are already in contact with a local LUG are ahead
of those whose interest in Linux has been piqued by a computer
journalist, but who have no one to whom to turn to aid them in their
quest to install, run, and learn Linux.
It is, therefore, important for local LUGs to advocate Linux because
their advocacy is effective, well-supported, and free.
4.2. Linux education
Not only is it the business of a local LUG to advocate the use of
Linux, it may also turn its efforts to training its members, as well
as the computing public in its area, to use Linux and associated
components. In my own estimation, the goal of user education is the
single most important goal a LUG may undertake. Of course, as I have
already pointed out, LUGs are perfectly free to organize themselves
and their activities around any of these, or other, goals. I believe,
however, that LUGs can have the greatest impact on the Linux Movement
by educating and training Linux users.
Local LUGs may choose to undertake the goal of education simply
because there is no other local entity from which a Linux user may
receive technically-oriented education. While it is certainly the case
that universities, colleges, and junior colleges are increassingly
turning to Linux as a way to educate their students, both efficiently
and cheaply, about Unix-like operating systems, some Linux users are
either unable or unwilling to register for courses in order to learn
Linux. For these users the local LUG is a valuable resource for
enhancement or creation of advanced computer skills: Unix-like system
administration, system programming, support and creation of Internet
and Intranet technologies, etc.
In an ironic twist, many local LUGs are even sharing the burden of
worker training with large corporations. Every worker at Acme Corp
that expands her computer skills by participating in a local LUG is
one less worker Acme Corp has to train or pay to train. Even though
using and administering a Linux PC at home isn't the same as
administering a corporate data warehouse, call center, or similar
high-availability facility, it is light years more complex, more
rewarding, and more educational than using and administering a Windows
95 PC at home. As Linux itself advances toward things like journalling
filesystems, high-availability, real-time capacity, and other high-end
Unix features, the already blurry line between Linux and the ``real''
Unixes will get even more indistinct.
Not only is such education a form of worker training, but it will also
serve, as information technology becomes an increasingly vital part of
the global economy, as a kind of community service. In most
metropolitan areas in the United States, for example, it is possible
for a local LUG to take Linux into local schools, small businesses,
community and social organizations, and other non-corporate
environments. This accomplishes the task of Linux advocacy and also
helps train the general public about Linux as a Unix-like operating
system. As more and more of these kinds of organizations seek to
establish an Internet presence or provide dial-in access to their
workers, students, and constituents, the opportunities arise for local
LUGs to participate in the life of their community by educating it
about a free and freely-available operating system. This kind of
community service allows the average Linux user to emulate the kind of
generosity that has characterized Linux, and the free software
community, from the very beginning. Most Linux users can't program
like Linus Torvalds, but we can all all give our time and abilities to
other Linux users, the Linux community, and the broader community in
which work and live.
Linux is a natural fit for these kinds of organization because
deploying it doesn't commit them to expensive license, upgrade, or
maintenance fees. Because Linux is also technically elegant and
economical, it runs very well on the the kinds of disposable hardware
that corporations typically cast off and that non-profit organizations
are only too happy to use. As more and more people discover every day,
that old 486 collecting dust in the closet can do real work if someone
will install Linux on it.
In addition, Linux education has a cumulative effect on the other
goals of a local LUG, in particular the goal of Linux support
discussed below. Better Linux education means better Linux support.
The more people that a LUG can count on to reach its support goals,
the easier support becomes and, therefore, the more of it can be done.
The more new and inexperienced users a local LUG can support and
eventually educate about Linux, the larger and more effective the LUG
can become. In other words, if a LUG focuses solely on Linux support
to the neglect of Linux education, the natural barriers to
organizational growth will be more restrictive. If only two or three
percent of the members of a LUG take upon themselves the task of
supporting the others, the growth of the LUG will be stifled. One
thing you can count on: if new and inexperienced users don't get the
help with Linux they need from a local LUG, they won't participate in
that LUG for very long. If a larger percentage of members support the
others, the LUG will be able to grow much larger. Linux education is
the key to this dynamic: education turns new Linux users into
Free education about free Linux also highlights the degree to which
Linux is part and parcel of the free software Community. So it seems
appropriate that local LUGs focus not solely on Linux education but
also education about all of the various software systems and
technologies that run under Linux. These include, for instance, the
GNU suite of programs and utilities, the Apache Web server, the
XFree86 implementation of X Windows, TeX, LaTeX, etc. Fortunately the
list of free software that runs under Linux is a long and diverse one.
Finally, Linux is a self-documenting operating environment; in other
words, if we don't write the documentation, nobody is going to do it
for us. Toward that end, make sure that LUG members are well aware of
the Linux Documentation Project , which
can be found at mirrors worldwide. Consider providing an LDP mirror
for the local Linux community and for LUG members. Also make sure to
publicize---through comp.os.linux.announce, the LDP, and other
pertinent sources of Linux information---any relevant documentation
that is developed by the LUG: technical presentations, tutorials,
local FAQs, etc. There is a lot of Linux documentation produced in
LUGs that doesn't benefit the worldwide Linux community because no one
outside the LUG knows about it. Don't let the LUGs efforts in this
regard go to waste: it is highly probable that if someone at one LUG
had a question or problem with something, then people at other LUGs
around the world will have the same questions and problems.
4.3. Linux support
Of course for the desperate newbie the primary role of a local LUG is
Linux support. But it is a mistake to suppose that Linux support only
means technical support for new Linux users. It can and should mean
Local LUGs have the opportunity to support:
o businesses, non-profit organizations, and schools
o the Linux Movement
The most frequent complaint from new Linux users, once they have
gotten Linux installed, is the steep learning curve which is not at
all unique to Linux but is, rather, a characteristic of all modern
Unixes. With the steepness of the learning curve, however, comes the
power and flexibility of a complex operating system. A local LUG is
often the only resource that a new Linux user has available to help
flatten out the learning curve.
But even if a new Linux user doesn't know it yet, she needs more than
just technical support: Linux and the free software worlds are both
rapidly moving targets. The local LUGs form an invaluable conduit of
information about Linux and other free software products. Not only
does Linux lack a central bureaucracy, but it also for the most part
lacks the kind of journalistic infrastructure from which users of
other computer systems benefit. The Linux Movement does have resources
like Linux Journal and Linux Gazette
, but many new Linux users are unaware of
these resources. In addition, as monthly publications they are often
already out of date about bugfixes, security problems, patches, new
kernels, etc. This is where the local LUG as a source and conduit of
timely information is so vital to new and experienced Linux users
For example, until a new Linux user knows that the newest kernels are
available from ftp.kernel.org or that the Linux
Documentation Project usually has newer versions of Linux HOWTOs than
a CD-based Linux distribution, it is up to the local LUG, as the
primary support entity, to be a conduit of timely and useful
In fact it may be just a bit misleading to focus on the support role
that local LUGs provide to new users: intermediate and advanced users
also benefit from the proliferation of timely and useful tips, facts,
and secrets about Linux. Because of the complexity of Linux, even
advanced users often learn new tricks or techniques simply by becoming
involved in a local LUG. Sometimes they learn about software packages
they didn't know existed, sometimes they just remember that arcane vi
command sequence they've not used since college.
It is, I think, rather obvious to claim that local LUGs ought to be in
the business of supporting new Linux users. After all, if they're not
supposed to be doing that, what are they to do? It may not be as
obvious that local LUGs can play an important role in supporting local
Linux consultants. Whether they do Linux consulting full-time or only
part-time, consultants can be an important part of a local LUG. How
can the LUG support them?
The answer to that question is just the answer to another question:
what is it that Linux consultants want and need? They need someone for
whom to consult. A local LUG provides the best way for those who offer
Linux consulting to find those who need Linux consulting. The local
LUG can informally broker connections between consulting suppliers and
consulting consumers simply by getting all, or as many as possible, of
the people interested in Linux in a local area together and talking
with one another. How LUGs do that will occupy us below. What is
important here is to point out that LUGs can and should play this role
as well. The Linux Consultants HOWTO is an important document in this
regard, but it is surely the case that only a fraction of the full-
time and part-time Linux consultants worldwide are registered in the
The relationship is mutually beneficial. Consultants aid LUGs by
providing experienced leadership, both technically and
organizationally, while LUGs aid consultants by putting them in
contact with the kinds of people who need their services. New and
inexperienced users gain benefit from both LUGs and consultants since
their routine or simple requests for support are handled by LUGs
gratis, and their complex needs and problems---the kind that obviously
require the services of a paid consultant---can be handled by the
consultants whom the local LUG helps them contact.
The line between support requests that need a consultant and those
that do not is sometimes indistinct; but in most cases the difference
is clear. While a local LUG doesn't want to gain the reputation for
pawning new users off unnecessarily on consultants--as this is simply
rude and very anti-Linux behavior--there is no reason for LUGs not to
help broker contacts between the users who need consulting services
and the professionals who offer them.
Please see Martin Michlmayr's Linux Consultants HOWTO
international list of Linux consultants.
4.3.3. Businesses, non-profit organizations, and schools
LUGs also have the opportunity to support local businesses and
organizations. This support has two aspects. First, LUGs can support
businesses and organizations that want to use Linux as a part of their
computing and IT efforts. Second, LUGs can support local businesses
and organizations that develop for Linux, cater to Linux users,
support or install Linux, etc.
The kinds of support that LUGs can provide to local businesses that
want to use Linux as a part of their computing operations isn't really
all that different from the kinds of support LUGs give to individuals
who want to run Linux at home. For example, compiling the Linux kernel
doesn't really vary from home to business. Supporting businesses using
Linux, however, may mean that a LUG needs to concentrate on commercial
software that runs on Linux, rather than concentrating solely on free
software. If Linux is going to continue to maintain its momentum as a
viable computing alternative, then it's going to take software vendors
who are willing to write for and port to Linux as a commercially-
viable platform. If local LUGs can play a role in helping business
users evaluate commercial Linux solutions, then more software vendors
will be encouraged to consider Linux in their development and
This leads us directly to the second kind of support that a local LUG
can give to local businesses. Local LUGs can serve as a clearing house
for the kind of information that is available in very few other
places. For example:
o Which local ISP is Linux-friendly?
o Are there any local hardware vendors that build Linux PCs?
o Does anyone sell Linux CDs locally?
Maintaining and making this kind of information public not only helps
the members of a local LUG, but it also helps Linux-friendly local
businesses as well, and it encourages them to continue to be Linux-
friendly. It may even, in some cases, help contribute to a competitive
atmosphere in which other businesses are encouraged to become Linux-
4.3.4. Free software development
Finally, LUGs may also support the Linux Movement by soliciting and
organizing charitable giving. Chris Browne
has thought about this issue as much as anyone I know, and he
contributes the following.
18.104.22.168. Chris Browne on free software philanthropy
A further involvement can be to encourage sponsorship of various
Linux-related organizations in a financial way. With the multiple
millions of Linux users, it would be entirely
plausible for grateful users to individually contribute a little.
Given millions of users, and the not unreasonable sum of a hundred
dollars of ``gratefulness'' per Linux user ($100 being roughly the sum
not spent this year upgrading a Microsoft OS), that could add up to
hundreds of millions of dollars towards development of improved tools
and applications for Linux.
A users group can encourage members to contribute to various
``development projects.'' If it has some form of ``charitable tax
exemption'' status, that can encourage members to contribute directly
to the group, getting tax deductions as appropriate, with
contributions flowing on to other organizations.
It is appropriate, in any case, to encourage LUG members to direct
contributions to organizations with projects and goals that they
individually wish to support.
This section lists possible candidates. None are explicitly being
recommended here, but the list can represent useful ``food for
thought.'' Many are registered as charities in the United States,
thus making U.S. contributions tax deductible.
Here are organizations with activities particularly directed towards
development of software that works with Linux:
o Linux International Project Sponsorship Fund
o Debian/Software In the Public Interest
o Free Software Foundation
o The XFree86 Project
Contributions to these organizations has the direct effect of
supporting the creation of freely redistributable software usable with
Linux. Dollar for dollar, such contributions almost certainly have
greater effect on the Linux community as a whole than any other
specific kind of spending.
There are also organizations that are less directly associated with
Linux that may nonetheless be worthy of assistance, such as:
o League for Programming Freedom
This is not a Linux-specific organization; they are involved in
general advocacy activities that touch on people involved with
software development. Involvement in this organization represents
something closer to involvement in a ``political lobby'' group.
There is somewhat of a ``USA bias;'' there are nonetheless
international implications, and the international community as
often follows the American lead in computing-related matters as
o The LaTeX3 Project Fund
The TeX Users Group (TUG) is working on the
``next generation'' version of the LaTeX publishing system, known
as LaTeX3. Linux is one of the platforms on which TeX and LaTeX
are best supported.
Donations for the project can be sent to:
TeX Users Group
P.O. Box 1239
Three Rivers, CA 93271-1239
or, for those in Europe,
1 Eymore Close
Burmingham B29 4LB
o Project Gutenberg
Their purpose is to make freely available in electronic form the
texts of out-of-copyright books. This isn't directly a ``Linux
thing,'' but it seems fairly worthy, and they actively encourage
platform independence, which means that their ``products'' are
quite usable with Linux.
4.3.5. Linux Movement
I have referred throughout this HOWTO to something I call the Linux
Movement. There really is no better way to describe the international
Linux phenomenon than to call it a movement: it isn't a bureaucracy,
but it is organized; it isn't a corporation, but it is important to
businesses all over the world. The best way for a local LUG to support
the international Linux movement is to work to insure that the local
Linux community is robust, vibrant, and growing. Linux is developed
internationally, which is easy enough to see by reading
/usr/src/linux/MAINTAINERS. But Linux is also used internationally.
And this ever-expanding user base is the key to Linux's continued
success. And that is where the local LUG plays an incalculably
The strength of the Linux Movement internationally is the simple fact
that Linux offers unprecedented computing power and sophistication for
its cost and for its freedom. The keys are value and independence from
proprietary control. Every time a new person, group, business, or
organization has the opportunity to be exposed to Linux's inherent
value the Linux Movement grows in strength and numbers. Local LUGs can
make that happen.
4.4. Linux socializing
The last goal of a local LUG that I will mention here is socializing.
In some ways this is the most difficult goal to discuss because it is
not clear how many or to what degree LUGs engage in it. While it would
be strange to have a local LUG that didn't engage in the other goals,
there very well may be local LUGs somewhere in the world for which
socialization isn't an important consideration.
It seems, however, that whenever two or three Linux users get together
fun, highjinks, and, often, beer are sure to follow. Linus Tovalds has
always had one enduring goal for Linux: to have more fun. For hackers,
kernel developers, and Linux users, there's nothing quite like
downloading a new kernel, recompiling an old one, twittering with a
window manager, or hacking some code. It is the sheer fun of Linux
that keeps many LUGs together, and it is this kind of fun that leads
many LUGs naturally to socializing.
By ``socializing'' here I mean primarily sharing experiences, forming
friendships, and mutually-shared admiration and respect. There is
another meaning, however, one that social scientists call
socialization. In any movement, institution, or human community, there
is the need for some process or pattern of events in and by which, to
put it in Linux terms, newbies are turned into hackers. In other
words, socialization turns you from ``one of them'' to ``one of us''.
For armed forces in the U.S. and in most countries, this process is
called boot camp or basic training. This is the process whereby
civilians are transformed into soldiers. The Linux movement has
analogous requirements. It is important that new Linux users come to
learn what it means to be a Linux user, what is expected of them as a
member of an international community, the special vocabulary of the
Linux movement, its unique requirements and opportunities. This may be
as simple as how Linux users in a partcicular locale pronounce
``Linux''. It may be as profound as the ways in which Linux users
should advocate, and the ways in which they should, more importantly,
refrain from advocating Linux.
Linux socialization, unlike `real world' socialization, can occur on
mailing lists and Usenet, although the efficacy of the latter is
constantly challenged precisely by poorly socialized users. In my
view, socialization and socializing are both done best in the company
of real, flesh-and-blood fellow human beings, and not by incorporeal
voices on a mailing list or Usenet group.
5. Local LUG activities
In the previous section I focused exclusively on what LUGs do and what
they ought to be doing. In this section the focus shifts to practical
strategies for accomplishing these goals.
There are, despite the endless permutations of form, two basic things
that local LUGs do: first, they meet together in physical space;
second, they communicate with each other in cyberspace. Everything or
nearly everything that LUGs do can be seen in terms of meetings and
As I said above, physical meetings are synonymous with LUGs and with
most computer user groups. LUGs have these kinds of meetings:
o technical presentations
o informal discussion groups
o user group business
o Linux installation
o configuration and bug-squashing
What do LUGs do at these meetings?
o Install Linux for newbies and strangers
o Teach members about Linux
o Compare Linux to other operating systems
o Teach members about the software that runs on Linux
o Discuss the ways in which Linux can be advocated
o Discuss the importance of the Free Software Movement
o Discuss the business of the user group
o Eat, drink, and be merry
5.2. Online resources
The commercial rise of the Internet coincided roughly with the rise of
Linux, and the latter in large part owes something to the former. The
Internet has always been an important asset for Linux development. It
is no different for LUGs. Most LUGs have web pages if not whole Web
sites. In fact, I am not sure how else to find a local LUG but to
check the Web.
It makes sense, then, for a local LUG to make use of whatever Internet
technologies they can appropriate: Web sites, mailing lists, gopher,
FTP, e-mail, WAIS, finger, news, etc. As the world of commerce is
discovering, the Internet can be an effective way to advertise,
inform, educate, and even sell. The other reason that LUGs make
extensive use of Internet technologies is that it is the very essence
of Linux to provide a stable and rich platform for the deployment of
these technologies. So not only do LUGs benefit from, say, the
establishment of a Web site because it advertizes their existence and
helps organize their members, but in deploying these technologies, the
members of the LUG are provided an opportunity to learn about this
technology and see Linux at work.
Some LUGs that use the Internet effectively:
o Atlanta Linux Enthusiasts
o North Texas Linux Users Group
o Boston Linux and Unix
o Colorado Linux Users and Enthusiasts
o BLUG - BHZ Linux Users Group (Brazil)
o Ottawa Carleton Linux Users Group
o Provence Linux Users Group
o Duesseldorf Linux Users Group
o Linux User Group Austria
o Israeli Linux Users Group
o Tokyo Linux Users Group
o Linux in Mexico
o Netherlands Linux Users Group (NLLGG)
o St. Petersburg Linux User Group
o Linux User Group of Singapore
o Victoria Linux User Group
o Essex Linux User Group
o Turkish Linux User Group
o Linux User Group of Rochester
o Korean Linux Users Group
Please let me know if your LUG uses the Internet in an important or
interesting way; I'd like this list to include your group.
6. Practical suggestions
Finally, I want to make some very practical, even mundane, suggestions
for anyone wanting to found, maintain, or grow a LUG.
6.1. LUG support organizations
There are several organizations that offer assistance to local LUGs.
Groups of Linux Users Everywhere is a user group coordination
and support program started by SSC, the same people who publish
Linux Journal. The GLUE program is an
inexpensive way for a local LUG to provide some benefits to its
Linux Systems Labs
LSL offers their Tri-Linux Disk set (Three
Linux distributions on four CDs: Red Hat, Slackware, and Debian)
to LUGs for resale at a considerable discount.
Linux Mall User Group Program
Sponsored by WorkGroup Solutions, the Linux Mall User Group
Program offers a
range of benefits for participating User Groups. LUGs are also
free to participate in Linux Mall's Referral Program
Cleveland Linux User's Group
Owns the Internet domain, lug.net. They will provide your LUG an
Internet domain name at lug.net: your-LUG-name-or-citylug.net.
More information may be found at LUG.NET
or by e-mailing Jeff Garvas.
Red Hat Software's User Group Program
Assists LUGs to develop and grow. More information may be found
at Red Hat Web site
6.2. Founding a LUG
o Determine the nearest pre-existing LUG
o Announce your intentions on comp.os.linux.announce and on an
appropriate regional hierarchy
o Announce your intention wherever computer users are in your area:
bookstores, swap meets, cybercafes, colleges and universities,
corporations, Internet service providers, etc.
o Find Linux-friendly businesses or institutions in your area that
may be willing to help you form the LUG
o Form a mailing list or some means of communication between the
people who express an interest in forming a LUG
o Ask key people specifically for help in spreading the word about
your intention to form a LUG
o Solicit space on a Web server to put a few HTML pages together
about the group
o Begin looking for a meeting place
o Schedule an initial meeting
o Discuss at the initial meeting the goals for the LUG
6.3. Maintaining and growing a LUG
o Make the barriers to LUG membership as low as possible
o Make the LUG's Web site a priority: keep all information current,
make it easy to find details about meetings (who, what, and where),
and make contact information and feedback mechanisms prominent
o Install Linux for anyone who wants it
o Post flyers, messages, or handbills wherever computer users are in
o Secure dedicated leadership
o Follow Linus's benevolent dictator model of leadership
o Take the big decisions to the members for a vote
o Start a mailing list devoted to technical support and ask the
``gurus'' to participate on it
o Schedule a mixture of advanced and basic, formal and informal,
o Support the software development efforts of your members
o Find way to raise money without dues: for instance, selling Linux
merchandise to your members and to others
o Consider securing formal legal standing for the group, such as
incorporation or tax-exempt status
o Find out if your meeting place is restricting growth of the LUG
o Meet in conjunction with swap meets, computer shows, or other
community events where computer users---i.e., potential Linux
converts---are likely to gather
o Elect formal leadership for the LUG as soon as is practical: some
helpful officers might include President, Treasurer, Secretary,
Meeting Host (general announcements, speaker introductions, opening
and closing remarks, etc.), Publicity Coordinator (handles Usenet
and e-mail postings, local publicity), and Program Coordinator
(organizes and schedules speakers at LUG meetings)
o Provide ways for members and others to give feedback about the
direction, goals, and strategies of the LUG
o Support Linux and Free Software development efforts by donating Web
space, a mailing list, or FTP site
o Establish an FTP site for relevant software
o Archive everything the LUG does for the Web site
o Solicit ``door prizes'' from Linux vendors, VARs, etc. to give away
o Give credit where credit is due
o Join SSC's GLUE (Groups of Linux Users Everywhere) but be aware
they charge a membership fee
o Submit your LUG's information to all of the Lists of LUGs
o Publicize your meetings on appropriate Usenet groups and in local
computer publications and newspapers
o Compose promotional materials, like Postscript files, for instance,
that members can use to help publicize the LUG at workplaces,
bookstores, computer stores, etc.
o Make sure you know what LUG members want the LUG to do
o Release press releases to local media outlets about any unusual LUG
events like an Installation Fest, Net Day, etc.
o Use LUG resources and members to help local non-profit
organizations and schools with their Information Technology needs
o Advocate the use of Linux zealously but responsibly
o Play to the strengths of LUG members
o Maintain good relations with Linux vendors, VARs, developers, etc.
o Identify and contact Linux consultants in your area
o Network with the leaders of other LUGs in your area, state, region,
or country to share experiences, tricks, and resources
o Keep LUG members advised on the state of Linux software---new
kernels, bugs, fixes, patches, security advisories---and the state
of the Linux world at large---new ports, trademark and licensing
issues, where Linus is living and working, etc.
o Notify the Linux Documentation Project---and other pertinent
sources of Linux information---about the documentation that the LUG
produces: technical presentations, tutorials, local HOWTOs, etc.
7. Legal and political issues
7.1. Legal issues
7.2. United States
There is a strong case to be made for formal organization of local
LUGs. I will not make that case here. If, however, you are interested
in formally organizing your local LUG, then this section will
introduce you to some of the relevant issues.
Note: this section should not be construed as competent legal counsel.
These issues require the expertise of competent legal counsel; you
should, before acting on any of the statements made in this section,
consult an attorney.
There are at least two different legal statuses that a local LUG in
the United States may attain:
1. incorporation as a non-profit entity
Although the relevant statutes differ from state to state, most states
allow user groups to incorporate as non-profit entitites. The benefits
of incorporation for a local LUG may include limitations of liability
of LUG members and volunteers, as well as limitation or even exemption
from state corporate franchise taxes.
While you should consult competent legal counsel before incorporating
your LUG as a non-profit entity, you can probably reduce your legal
fees if you are acquainted with the relevant issues before consulting
with an attorney. I recommend the Non-Lawyers Non-Profit Corporation
Kit (ISBN 0-937434-35-3).
As for the second status, tax-exemption, this is not a legal status so
much as a judgment by the Internal Revenue Service. It is important
for you to know that incorporation as a non-profit entity does not
insure that the IRS will rule that your LUG is to be tax-exempt. It is
possible to have a non-profit corporation that is not also tax-exempt.
The IRS has a relatively simple document that explains the criteria
and process for tax-exemption. It is Publication 557: Tax-Exempt
Status for Your Organization. It is available as an Adobe Acrobat file
from the IRS's Web site. I strongly recommend that you read this
document before filing for incorporation as a non-profit entity. While
becoming a non-profit corporation cannot insure that your LUG will be
declared tax-exempt by the IRS, there are ways to incorporate that
will prevent the IRS from declaring your LUG to be tax-exempt. Tax-
Exempt Status for Your Organization clearly sets out the necessary
conditions for your LUG to be declared tax-exempt.
Finally, there are resources available on the Internet for non-profit
and tax-exempt organizations. Some of the material is probably
relevant to your local LUG.
Thanks to Chris Browne for the following comments about the Canadian
The Canadian tax environment strongly parallels the US environment, in
that the ``charitable organization'' status confers similar tax
advantages for donors over mere ``not for profit'' status, while
requiring that similar sorts of added paperwork be filed by the
``charity'' with the tax authorities in order to attain and maintain
certified charity status.
7.4. Political issues
Chris Browne has the following to say about
the kinds of inter-LUG political dynamics that often crop up.
7.4.1. People have different feelings about free software.
Linux users are a diverse bunch. As soon as you try to put a lot of
them together, there are some problem issues that can come up.There
are those that are nearly political radicals that believe that all
software, always, should be ``free.'' Because Caldera charges quite a
lot of money for their distribution, and doesn't give all profits over
to (pick favorite advocacy organization), they must be ``evil.''
Ditto for Red Hat or S.u.S.E. Keep in mind that all three of these
companies have made and continue to make significant contributions to
Others may figure that they can find some way to highly exploit the
``freeness'' of the Linux platform for their fun and profit. Be aware
that many users of the BSD UNIX variants consider that their licenses
that do permit companies to build ``privatized'' custom versions of
their OSes are preferable to the ``enforced permanent freeness'' of
the GPL as applied to Linux. Do not presume that all people promoting
this sort of view are necessarily greedy leeches.
If these people are put together in one place, disagreements can
Leaders should be clear on the following facts:
o There are a lot of opinions about the GPL and how it is supposed to
work. It is easy to misunderstand both the GPL and alternative
o Linux benefits from contributions from many places, and can support
some freeloaders, particularly if this encourages more people to
get involved, thus pulling in further contributors.
o Many significant contributions have been made to Linux by
commercial enterprises. Examining the sources to the Linux kernel,
and notable subsystems such as XFree86 and GCC show a surprising
number of commercial contributors.
o Commercial does not always imply ``better,'' but it also does not
always imply ``horrible.''
The main principle can be extended well beyond this; computer ``holy
wars'' have long been waged over the virtues of one system over
another, whether that be (in modern day) between Linux, other UNIX
variants, and Microsoft OSes, or between the ``IBM PC'' and the
various Motorola 68000-based systems, or between the many 8 bit
systems of the 1970s. Or of KDE versus GNOME.
A wise LUG leader will seek to smooth over such differences, rather
than inciting them. LUG leaders must have thick skins.
There will be disagreements at some point as diverse views collide
with one another, and leaders must be able to cope with this,
resolving disagreements rather than contributing to the problem.
7.4.2. Nonprofit organizations and money don't mix terribly well.
It is important to be quite careful in dealing with finances in a
nonprofit organization of any sort. In businesses, where profitable
flows of monies are the goal, people are not typically too worried
about ``nagging details'' such as possible misspending of immaterial
sums of money.
The same cannot be said about nonprofit organizations. Some people
are involved for reasons of principle, and can easily give minor
problems inordinate attention. And the potential for wide
participation at business meetings correspondingly expands the
potential for inordinate attention to be drawn to things.
As a result, it is probably preferable for there to not be a
membership fee for a LUG, as that provides a specific thing for which
people can reasonably demand accountability. Fees that are not
collected cannot, by virtue of the fact that they don't exist, be
If there is a lot of money and/or other such resources floating
around, it is important for the user group to be accountable to its
members for it.
In a vital, growing group, there should be more than one person
involved. In troubled nonprofit organizations, financial information
is often tightly held by someone who will not willingly relinquish
control of funds. Ideally, there should be some rotation of duties
in a LUG including that of control of the finances.
Regular useful financial reports should be made available to those
that wish them. A LUG that maintains an official ``charitable status''
for tax purposes will have to file at least annual financial reports
with the local tax authorities, which would represent a minimum
financial disclosure for the purposes of the members.
With the growth of Linux-based financial software, it should be
readily possible to create reports on a regular basis. With the
growth of the Internet, it should even be possible to publish these on
the World Wide Web.
8. About this document
Copyright (c) 1997 by Kendall Grant Clark. This document may be
distributed under the terms set forth in the LDP license at
8.2. New versions
New versions of the Linux User Group HOWTO will be periodically
uploaded to various Linux WWW and FTP sites, principally my homepage
and the Linux Documentation Project
8.3. Please contribute to this HOWTO
I welcome questions about and feedback on this document. Please send
them to me at email@example.com. I am especially interested in hearing
from leaders of LUGs from around the world. I would like to include
real-life examples of the things described here. I would also like to
include a section on LUGs outside the United States, since this HOWTO
as it stands now is rather US-centric. Please let me know if your
group does things that should be mentioned in this HOWTO.
8.4. Document history
o 1.0 released on 13 July 1997
o 1.1: expanded online resources section
o 1.3: added LUG Support Organizations and expanded the Legal and
Organizational Issues section
o 1.3.1: general editing for clarity and conciseness
o 1.4: general editing, added new LUG resources
o 1.4.1: general editing for clarity
o 1.5: added some resources, some discussion of LUG documentation,
also general editing
o 1.5.1: changed Web location for this document and author's email
o 1.5.2: new copyright and license
o 1.5.3: miscellaneous edits and minor re-organizations
o 1.6: added Chris Browne's material: Linux philanthropic donations
and LUG political considerations
o 1.6.1: very minor additions
o 1.6.2: minor corrections
I want to thank all the great people I've met and worked with during
the time I've served as President of the North Texas Linux Users
Group. They helped inspire me to use Linux full-time. The best thing
about Linux really is the people you meet.
I especially want to thank Chris Browne for
describing the situation with non-profit and charitable groups in
Canada, his thoughts on financial donations as a way to participate in
Linux and the free software movement, and his ideas about the kinds of
political issues that may arise within LUGs.
In addition, the following people have made helpful comments and
o Hugo van der Kooij
o Greg Hankins
o Charles Lindahl
o Rick Moen
o Jeff Garvas
o James Hertzler