Making Open Source Better with LUGs

>When I tell people I work “with Linux”, most of them have a vague idea of what I do for a living. Granted, some of them think if involves dark basements full of hardware that looks like it’s from War Games, but at least they’re in the right ballpark.

A (very) few of them actually perk up and mention that they’re interested in Linux a little. Usually this is phrased as “Oh, I tried out Ubuntu on an old laptop for a while”. This is when I go into something that looks a little more like this scene from Tommy Boy than I care to admit.

Unless I’ve seen this person previously at my local LUG meeting, odds are the first impression is out. 
My poor salesmanship notwithstanding, I often find myself wondering why desktop use of Linux is still lagging behind. With the debut of Gnome 3 recently, I find myself wondering that even more, because that experience is at least as good as the one with Mac OSX 10.6 (I use them both every day). 
So how do we, as the ambassadors and experts of Linux, make our own community better?
The LUG. 
I know. It sounds weird. The first thing that most people think of when they hear “Linux User Group” is acne, debates about kernel logging, and nerd-sweat. But I truly believe that the Linux User Group can be a game-changer in how Linux is perceived and used. 
Take a look at the Mac Genius Bar. Come in. Test drive a Mac, and talk to people who know way too much about it who can show you how and why it’s better than Microsoft. And if you have a Mac, come in and learn cool new stuff whenever you want in a very comfortable, low-hurdle environment.
Why can’t a LUG do that? And do it better?
Make it the focus of a LUG meeting, and take away the $2k price tags. You can have people come in who are interested in Linux (or just interested in not paying for Windows or Mac OSX), and have your own community of experts show them how Linux can be superior for them no matter what their needs are for a computer. Lots of LUGs have “Install Fairs” already. Why not make them “Welcome to Linux Fairs”, and include some basics on the user experience, as well?
The second thing that the Genius Bar does so well is that softening of the initial learning curve and offering soft support to people when they come in.  A LUG could easily man an email address that new users could ask questions on, or have online forums for that purpose, or make videos, or any of a thousand other cool things that would help someone get comfortable in Linux more easily. And if the LUG takes it on as a community it could easily be a superior experience for everyone involved. Not only would more people use Linux, but the people in the LUG grow, and the current members would gain experience by generating that support network. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, and well worth the effort.
The long and the short of it is that even now we people in the Linux community like to walk around and feel a little bit superior about using Linux to solve our problems better. That’s great. But instead of just walking around I think we should be showing other people how they can do it, too.

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