Other activities of LUGs include (1) encouraging and assisting new users, (2) distributing software, (3) listening to presentations on specific topics, (4) exchanging job information, (5) developing projects and (6) socializing. A popular form of assistance to new users is the holding of installfests, during which more experienced users help new users install Linux and other free software on their computers.
One important way in which LUGs differ from traditional computer user groups is that participants can freely distribute software to other participants without having to be concerned about the legalities of copying and pirated programs. The reason is that the unlimited copying and distribution of Linux and other free software is not only legal, but is also actually encouraged by its developers! This is, of course, in sharp contrast to proprietary (i.e., commercial) software (such as Microsoft and Adobe products), for which copying and redistributing is generally forbidden.
An important part of the Linux philosophy is that freedom and diversity are good things, as can be seen, for example, in the large number of Linux distributions (i.e., versions) that are available and the ease with which they can be customized. Likewise, there is also considerable diversity among LUGs. For example, some are very formal (with constitutions, elected officers, dues, mailing lists, etc.), while others are very informal. Most fall somewhere in between. There are also differences in focus: for example, some are mainly social, others emphasize Linux education and advocacy, and still others also engage in a variety of additional activities (including providing ISP services, serving as consultants and promoting the development of projects by members).
There are no rules about starting LUGs. They can be established by anyone, including people with little or no knowledge about Linux but only with a desire to learn and to help others learn. Likewise, they can be started anywhere, including in a private home, in a business, in a coffee shop, on a university campus or even on a military base.
The number of LUGs has increased rapidly during the past several years accompanying the surge of interest in Linux and other free software. As of mid-2005 there were in excess of 670 LUGs in more than 90 countries.
Although lists of LUGs by country have been compiled, the accuracy of the counts is not completely reliable. This is largely because some LUGs are not publicized and others have become dormant or have gone out of existence. But there is little doubt that the United States has the largest number by far, with more than 170. This appears to be followed by Germany and Italy, each at more than 50, then by India at around 40. Many countries have only a single LUG, while some metropolitan areas have multiple LUGs.
Created March, 2004. Updated September 15, 2005.