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October 1st, 2014

What Linux User Groups Can Do for FOSS

On a monthly basis — on the last Saturday each month — members of the Felton Linux Users Group drag their collective butts out of bed at the crack of 9:30, or possibly earlier, and make their way from various points in the sleepy little town just northeast of Santa Cruz to the solar-powered Felton Fire Station for their meeting.

It’s a good group with core regulars hosting meetings since the Lindependence Project held three open houses to introduce the town to Linux in the summer of 2008. In those open houses, various distros like Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu and Mandriva, along with hardware maker ZaReason, and even an open-source stuffed penguin maker called Open Animals based in Phoenix, appeared to show their wares to the curious in the San Lorenzo Valley area. Around 600 people appeared over the three days and more than 300 live CDs went out the door.

Lindependence 2008 Linux LUG logo

One of the logos from Lindependence 2008, used by co-coordinator Ken Starks on his site to promote the event in 2008.

As a matter of fact, a couple of Open Animals penguins — made from patterns released under an open source licence — also made it out the door, too.

But last Saturday, after the film and during the discussion that usually wraps up the Felton LUG meeting, we talked about the future of LUGs in general and our own in particular. It was an interesting exchange of ideas, mostly centering around how far we’ve come in the FOSS realm and what we can do in the future.

When the group started six years ago and when we had an influx of people coming from time to time — mostly with questions about this new operating system they’ve been using — Linux and FOSS were more of a “black magic,” and those who were new to Linux were following the proverbial Yellow Brick Road to get an audience with the Great and Powerful Oz, who had the answers to the mysteries of this new system.

Or so it seemed at the time. They might come to another meeting or two, but we wouldn’t see them again, and the assumption was that they were well on their way. Felton is not a big place, and I would see new Linux users at the weekly farmers market — where from time to time Felton LUG has a table with “Organic Software: No proprietary preservatives or artificial flavorings” — and from time to time I’d ask them how things were going, and we’d catch up on their digital activities.

So the ebb and flow of new users came and went over time, and this group settled into a team of regulars who are available to help when problems arise, as well as providing a wide range of speakers on various FOSS topics.

But where we once were rolling up our sleeves and helping out those who came to us with questions and problems, there’s not a lot of that anymore. In our discussion last Saturday, we determined that it isn’t so much that people aren’t using Linux and FOSS, but that people are finding Linux and FOSS more user friendly, more familiar and less problematic now compared to years past, which possibly rendered our being a “help desk” remotely obsolete.

Linux LUG license plate

Driving around town with this license plate, one gets a reputation for being “that Linux guy.” (Photo by Ken Starks of my car during Lindependence 2008)

This is not to say that we’re thinking about folding up shop and hanging it up. On the contrary: It just means we’re shifting gears. The monthly meeting remains a place where folks can come for a talk, have some refreshments, and discuss about their favorite distro or program, or ask one of the more experienced of us for help with a situation they might encounter.

However, we determined that for Linux and FOSS to take hold in our area — the old adage of thinking globally and acting locally — we are going to need to be more proactive in the community, making ourselves available to computer clubs at the schools and area colleges, perhaps offering a FOSS class at the local library, and turning the focus outward into the community rather than inward to our monthly gathering.

In other words, don’t call us, we’ll call you.

It’s a lofty discussion, this new wave of evangelism which we’re planning to start in Felton and the greater San Lorenzo Valley. The bugs still need working out and as we sort out what we find is the best plan of action, we’d like to know what other LUGs are doing along these same lines. Also, we’d invite other LUGs to think about how they serve their wider communities and if there are things that work for your group, we’d like to know about them.

So what works for you and your group? That comment section isn’t going to write itself, you know.

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Larry Cafiero

Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

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1 comment to What Linux User Groups Can Do for FOSS

  • Uncle Ed

    I’ll be watching this for hints, as I’d like to see a Linux group start near my new home. Unfortunately, I’m in town considerably smaller than Felton and the one local person I’ve met who even knows what Linux is heard about it from me. There is a much bigger town 40 miles away, but I haven’t found any Linux people there, either.

    The local library is going through a major renovation and it’s going to be nice when it reopens. Maybe they’ll have a bulletin board where I can post a note and a meeting room where we might get together–if there are enough to be “we.”