The LUG is dead - Long live the soulless marketing corporate junket

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I can still remember my first LUG meeting; the Greater London Linux User Group at the GND building, London. I met developers, end users, geeks, sysadmins, and a magazine editor who, although neither of us knew it at the time, would later publish my first articles on Linux. These were people with intelligence, soul, and consideration. I had finally found a like-minded milieu for my free software tendancies.

To contrast, in my capacity as the local “geek about town", I recently attended a one-off event intended to bring together the local geek community to examine the future of the Web 2.0 technology platform. Of all the people present I met only three geeks. Everyone else was a corporate schill wanting to tell me of how their corporate strategy was going to change the face of Web 2.0. Or a marketroid relentless pushing their closed-source buzzword-compliant platform. Or bourgeois recruiters intent solely on badmouthing every employer they didn’t represent. Or a hanger-on, desperate for free beer. Alas, this was not the first geek event hijacked by corporate import.

So what happened to the community?

In my mind, there have been two changes: the decrease in popularity of the LUG as a place for users to meet, and an increase in corporate events aimed at promoting [insert arbitrary technology or company here]. There are only so many evenings in the week, and so the LUG is squeezed out.

Demise of the LUG

So where has the LUG gone wrong? In truth, probably nowhere. I think that times have just moved on. In the beginning, a 28.8 dial-up connection was cutting edge, Google didn’t exist, desktop wars involved the preference of LF over CRLF, and it took longer to download a PDF than it did to walk to the shop and buy the equivalent book.

In those days, the only way of learning the opinions, thoughts, solutions, and situations involved in GNU/Linux was to work with a mentor. Installation is now so easy that even my boss can do it, and any problems can be solved by disengaged the brain and typing Who needs humans?

In those days, attending a LUG was the cheapest way to get a complete Linux distribution, either on disk or CD. And that would include the train fare. Now, with broadband being incredibly common, there’s less need for the sellers.

In those days, everyone was a newbie. To some extent, at least, since GNU/Linux was still quite a new operating system. But it’s been around for so long, that now the difference between the most experienced in the group, and the least, is so large that you have splinter groups of each ability level in the same crowd. Only, you don’t! A lot of newbies get turned off by the over-their-heads chatter of the uber-geeks, and many of the top brass are bored with the newbies who should FAQ off first. Many of these users have opted instead to organize their own meetings outside of the LUG, leaving only would-be learners from which no one can, er, learn.

In those days, everyone was new to the LUG, and every stranger was a new friend that hadn’t been met. Now, the old hands huddle together in their allotted groups to exchange gossip of the month, as new users are left without a friend or mentor-to-be. Those that do try to integrate often get side-lined quickly because they have no starting reference point, or try and pitch themselves above their station and annoy those already there.

In those days, the speakers hadn’t spoken. Every talk was a first draft. Now, they’ve done the circuit so many times I could probably give their presentation for them. And when speakers originate from within the group, it only takes a few months before you start at the top of the list again. Familiarity breeds boredom and non-attendance, rather than contempt.

Rise of the junket

Nowadays, companies have discovered that there’s money in them thar hills. So companies are providing technical speakers to deliver marketing spiels to whichever corporate event might turn them a short term profit, ignoring the grass roots support they used to gain by engaging the community directly.

Nowadays, the technical problems have been solved, documented, and printed onto t-shirts. Our next problem is to monetize, and corporate events help facilitate that. This is the domain of money men and business brains; something very few old school geeks have.

Nowadays, us humans are comfortable with virtual meetings and discussions, so we have less need for meetings.

But personally, I would die without at least two geek-oriented pub meetings a month. The buzz of technology got me into this industry, and the LUGs have kept my buzz alive for the last ten years. I can feel a direct correlation between my internal buzz-o-meter, and the fervor of LUG meetings.

Don’t let the junket dominate.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

this is the second waste of time i've read this morning. what purpose do you serve by falsely declaring LUGs as dead when what they need is positive coverage to encourage users to attend?

i'll tell you what has really happened. at some point in the past few years the media has begun hyping the need for linux to become more like windows while at the same time making it sound like it's time for the average end-use to abandon MS and install linux.

windows users are the most arrogant, ignorant, demanding, impatient and lazy jerks on this planet and as you've seen, linux geeks want nothing to do with them.

so, you gave yourself a clue in the first paragraph of your article, at the meeting you attended, you met 3 geeks. okay, find where the other geeks are and you will have the address of your next LUG meeting.

i've been using linux for just over a year now and for the past 8 months i've been actively helping other newbies in forums and irc. not so much anymore, i can't stand the new version of newbie who act like they just paid me $400 for a new OS and $120 an hour to install and configure it while also teaching them how to use it, instead of $0 for the OS and volunteers offering help.

for some reason the same media has also made it bad form to use the term RTFM. But guess what, that's exactly what they need to do and also learn to use google and be patient and courteous to the help.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

I think you need to ease up a little here (and also find the Shift key when starting a sentence :o) ).

By my reading, Steve is not declaring LUGs are dead but lamenting that they have lost their place in a tried and trusted learning curve for new GNU/Linux users.

Some (not all as you imply) Windows users are arrogant but no more so than some of the Free Software users I've come across and that applies across all skill levels.

If some of those Windows users are ignorant and lazy it's not always their fault and blindly telling them to RTFM is not helpful at all. For a start they may not even know where the FM is! IME experience those users that are ignorant and lazy are generally those who a) believe the sales hype from Microsoft and others and b) have bought into the (mistaken) ideal that a computer is a consumer electrical device like a TV or Radio.

What they need to learn (and probably don't know it) is that - with freedom - PCs can be a lot more fun that changing the red-eye on your holiday snaps. What they need is patience (on both sides), what they need is someone with time (and the desire to spend it on them), what they need is mentor, what they need is what used to be provided at LUG meetings. In that respect Steve is right to lament the LUG - particularly in it's "replacement" by the corporate junket.

Yes newbies can be annoying and frustrating and all those other things but - like learner drivers - most of us start life as one and we would do well to remember it. We need to teach them how not to be annoying and frustrating (just like we are? :o) ) and that takes time and patience. Some of them won't want to change - that's fine let them pay Microsoft then but the others are some of the "strangers waiting to become friends".

LUG meetings *have* changed but it was kind of inevitable that they would as the nature of the LUG changed. A lot of LUG activity now takes place in mailing lists and IRC. In the end though if LUGs have changed it's because the members have grown and changed. That is not unique to Linus User Groups and it is likely to be the case for a while.

People are like savings accounts. if you want any interest you have invest something.

mogmios's picture

The main reason I participate less in LUGs is because I work now and have a family. I don't have nearly as much free time as I did when I was younger. I still try to drop into different LUG mailing lists and online forums now and then and throw out some useful information but I don't have a lot of time to invest in doing this anymore. Also, I've found that my experience has gone beyond what most newbies can appreciate so that if I get involved in conversation with other ubergeeks it's just over the heads of newbies and even most normal geeks. I throw down useful tidbits of knowledge now and then when I see people stuck on some issue but usually the geeks help each other and newbies and I'm no longer needed. With this exclusion from the normal people combined with a lot of unrelated chatter about politics, religion, etc there just isn't a lot of reason to interact with those people. Finally, I've moved around a lot over the years and that has made it difficult to get really comfortable in local LUGs.

On the other hand, I now influence decisions in the work place so we've switched a lot of our systems to opensource and Linux. I get to give co-workers useful knowledge that once I would have spent time giving to LUG members.

Rather than sitting around chatting about how to install a program I'd rather get together and go bowling, play paint ball, or even sit down and build robots and fight them against each other. If any fellow ubergeeks, geeks, or even newbies want to get together for something less dorky than sitting in an empty classroom discussion yum versus apt then maybe I'd be interested.

Penguin Pete's picture

Posters might find the parent comment harsh, but it does tell some truth.

I hear lots of Linux users saying "We need to convert more Windows users." as if it were that easy. Truth is, the human race will have to go on many more decades before the Luddites die off and assertive computing is no longer synonymous with witchcraft. In the mean time, a new Linux user ends up with the experience just like the parent comment: having buckled down and done the work and earned their reward, they are now confronted with the expectation that they have to humor every loud-mouth troll accusing them of being elitist.

Political democracy is earned, not bestowed from On High, through hard work - it is maintained with vigilance and continuous strife. You don't just sit back and ride; you have to participate in your own and the public's continued well-being. Technology freedom will prove to be no different. And yes, really, people SHOULD read the manual - it's how the rest of us got where we are.

What a radical proposition! Work==reward! I await the arrival of the lynch mob.

skypjack's picture
Submitted by skypjack on

Geeks belong to the epoch when Linux users was a elite, in my opinion.
Now, there are Linux distros like *Ubuntu that everyone can install and more people delude himself to be a geek.
Real geeks laugh off coming to the aid of poor users ...
... So, elite groups come back, or better they are ever being forgotten! :-)

JJS's picture
Submitted by JJS (not verified) on

Our local LUG is still having regular meetings, and we are even going to participate in an installfest being sponsored by the local Ubuntu UG (UUG? ;-). However, we are struggling to get speakers for the meetings. We had a little bit of discussion about other events, but that withered on the vine.

My impression of LUGs (at least the 4 I have attended over the past decade) is that they are mostly (geek) boy's (and a lamentable few girl's) night out. We get to talk tech with people who understand what we're talking about. But then we go home to our real lives. And if it weren't for a handful of volunteers running the website and scheduling meetings, even that much wouldn't happen.

Except for a few LUGs with really enthusiatic members, I believe that is all it ever was. The installfests were fun, but a lot more work than most could manage more than 2 or 3 times.

If you are really looking for geek cameradery with with a purpose, I suggest you start a FOSS business. At least then you get to set the topic of conversations.

Later . . . Jim

mogmios's picture

Whenever I find a woman lamenting about being unable to find any single, intelligent, nice guys I send them to the local LUG. It's the perfect place for slightly desperate women to meet guys with decent earning potential and the ability to overlook that extra ten pounds and weird laugh.

It's a funny idea but there are worse ways to hook up than by talking about computers. To often I think that intelligent, less-than-cool, people have trouble meeting likeminded people so there is definately room for geeky social events.

Maybe some LUG groups should put up fliers at womens gyms and places like that?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I was one of a handful of chicks at a LUG that I attended for years, thinking the same thing that "geeky girls can snag geeky guys at a LUG". I had heard that it happened, was intrigued by it. I wasn't deperate but wanted a like mind because its tough to explain that you're not ignoring them and exactly why you're always at the computer when XYZ is on TV...

And you know what?! That group of guys wasn't so much for girls as it was for the guys. In the beginning yes, there were many active call for "women to participate" they calls occured to other men, never directly to women... Mind you, women did attend but always in noticable minorities.

My take after the experience is that women don't do LUGs so much because (a) the stylish guys are weird - i.e. gay (b) the straight guys are weirder - i.e. straight, geek'd, stragly, pale and marked by skin desease (c) not to mention all the woman biting that occurs if she happens to be pretty and linux aware...

Be careful what you wish for... you might get it...

skypjack's picture
Submitted by skypjack on

Yes, it's a matter of time.
I'd like to work in my free software project, I'd like to study my favourite subject, I'd like to assemble and I'd like to disassemble my dear personal computer nonstop, I'd like (why not) to work together with LUGs members because I believe in these groups, of course, and so on.
The main problem is the time that it takes.
I have to study, I have to drive from home to university (three hours a day, not so much!), I have to solve my problem and I'd like to meet with my friends ... That's right; like everyone, I have to survive in this world!
The main problem remains the same, the time.
I need to drive more than one hour to take part in LUGs and I come back to home at night; sometimes I do it, sometimes I prefer to stay home because next morning I need to get up early.
Geeks, in my opinion, are really engaged in any kind of projects and they are really busy! So, more "simple" boys (and lamentable girls) have a part in LUGs meeting, but they don't know what it's means, what is it! They have Linux, of course, maybe they don't are aware of what ls or cd command does and they are KDE- o Gnome-addicted, someone uses Linux because it's latest fashion ...
This is the problem: geeks don't have time as much as no-geeks ones!

Of course, I hope to mistake! :-)

Emiliano G's picture
Submitted by Emiliano G (not verified) on

Why should LUG be dead? Here in Italy LUGs are healthy. we have LUG in every city and in some village too ;-) LUG-guys and LUG-ladies are actives in the propaganda of freesoftware(we say "software libero") into society. For example, in the Trentino Alto-Adige(an italian county) the local LUG converted the school system software from MyKroStuff to GNU/Linux and administrative-educative freesoftware. The low chamber of the national parliament adopted in these days a rule to permit parlamentarian administration to migrate to GNU/Linux thanks to the lobbing of the freesoftware supporters. There other examples like these, but the point is that LUG is not dead, not here at least...

So long and sorry for my euroenglish.

Geoff Foster's picture

This is a chance for LUGs/ Open Source projects/ Campaigns to stand toe-to-toe with the industry big guns and show that most of the excitement in Open Source comes from the people not the corporate giants:

Thanks to generous sponsorship space is available once again, FREE of charge, in the .Org Village for Linux projects, groups & campaigns.

LinuxWorld Conference & Expo will take place over two days, 23 & 24th October 2007 at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in London, UK.

Sadly space is limited at the Expo. However unlike other LinuxWorld Expo's we do not allocate space on a first come first served basis or based on the perceived size of you .Org.

Submissions are welcome up until the 31st July. At that time we will announce which entrants have been accepted. Whilst some priority will be made to UK based .Orgs the size of your Org will not be either a benefit or hindrance. Some space will be reserved specifically for small or new Orgs.

Please submit your application at

Any decisions made will be based on numerous factors but specifically on their relevance to a UK Linux expo.

Your project/ group/ campaign will be provided with exhibition space including electrics, storage etc. at no cost.

This is a great opportunity to promote your project to a large audience at minimal (no) cost, and also to help make the .Org Village a lively discussion and meeting place for the whole Linux and Open Source community.

For further details on the exhibition see

If you know of any worthy projects, please pass this information to them and ask them to apply.

Geoff Foster (geoff at uklinux dot net)
Peter Russell (peter.russell at mac dot com)
.Org-anisers - Sponsors of the .org Village.

maravind's picture
Submitted by maravind on

I don't know why. But whenever I raised this issue in our local LUG [] there were oppositions. I used to point out the lack of spirit the newcomers display. Some people just don't want to agree the play times are over. Linux is mature now. Its the new thingy in the corporate world!

Of late, a friend of mine migrated to Ubuntu Fiesty (the easiest you can get these days) after years of my persuasion. He also joined for a Linux certification programme to gain familiarity with the system. He ringed me for a solution to a display problem. When I told him to edit xorg.conf, he was quizzing me of his options of switching the distros — one which don't exhibit any "troubles". He says its too much of a head-ache to actually "edit" conf files. The reason he switched was to compensate the problems his XP box showed.

What good these people do if they attend any LUG? I used to see many of these new-era newbies. "Can't take Linux -- won't work well with my SoundBlaster!". Even if there are solutions, they don't want to touch the command-line. For them, its worse than leprosy!! What you've to compile this so-called tarball? Aargh!!

All I do now is sit at home and think about the nostalgic past; when at the next LUG meeting someone would teach you how to add a new kernel module, or get to try out distcc to compile the kernel source, or ... whatever!

Therefore, its not the LUG that is dead, just the old timers are! They have migrated to more lucrative (shall I say greener pastures) opportunities. The new-era newbie don't want to "learn". They have to outwit some other lamer in a forum and show off. Or get their name in every other wiki on this planet.

Or get "Linux" in their resume and hope for a big fish to hire them. For them, Linux is just a cash cow. Boost their geek factor, earn them good job. There's no time to tweak the kernel, tune the fs, or anything that you do to "learn". Actually.

Of course, I wouldn't imply all the old-timer geeks have died and gone to Mars or anything. They are just gone missing...

... Or not visible under the Evil Corporate glares!

Author information

Steven Goodwin's picture


When builders go down to the pub they talk about football. Presumably therefore, when footballers go down to the pub they talk about builders! When Steven Goodwin goes down the pub he doesn’t talk about football. Or builders. He talks about computers. Constantly...

He is also known as the angry man of open source.

Steven Goodwin a blog that no one reads that, and a beer podcast that no one listens to :)