The first event that made me raise an eyebrow to the concept that LUGs were helping to marginalize Linux occurred while I was hanging posters to promote the install fest. An individual walked up to me and asked why I was hanging up a poster with a penguin on it. I responded by giving him a brief run-down of Linux and why we were having an install fest.
His response: "So, it's tough enough to install and set up that you have to have a meeting to do it?"
I didn't know what to say to that, so I responded that most of the time it wasn't difficult to install at all.
He says, "Having an install fest says to me that it's going to be tough to install."
With a slurp on his Coke, he walked away.
I considered this for a while. I can clearly see the basis for his reaction, as anything that would suggest needing a meeting to even begin to use something indicates a high level of technical knowledge to use it. It's clear from the poster and from our promotion of the event that this is provided as a service for those who want help, as opposed to help being necessary, but his viewpoint is still quite clear to me.
It wasn't until the install fest itself that I realized that the fellow might have a stronger point than I realized. We held the install fest in a building shared by a number of other groups that were also holding activities, and at one point an individual strolled into the room, curious as to what we were doing with all the computers. Being something of the PR person in the group, I explained the situation briefly to him and he seemed quite interested. Then this fellow dropped a logical bomb upon me.
"It sounds interesting, but does it bode well for Linux when this," waving his hand around the room, "is the support that's available for installing it?"
When one is installing a Microsoft operating system, it's easy to walk down the floor or pick up the phone and ask someone for help, as a vast majority of computer users are already using it. What if you're installing Linux, though? You might be lucky enough to know someone that is a Linux guru, but if one's not available, then you're reduced to shuffling through man pages or online documentation, hoping for an answer.
Windows users generally don't need to have a user's group for support because the support is already there. You can ask your neighbor or nearly anyone for help with Windows and they can provide it. With Linux, it's not so clear.
The presence of a user's group for an operating system seems to reflect that there is some need for support for the operating system that cannot be found elsewhere. The clues that a group of users gives the public is that there is support for the system, but it also gives the reflection that there needs to be support for the system and that this support isn't readily available elsewhere.
I think that LUGs are their own double-edged sword. I realize that, although many LUGs state as part of their mission the desire to promote Linux and open-source software, some LUGs do not. In that case, this article doesn't really apply. However, groups that do want to promote Linux are, in some ways, hurting their own cause.
Is there a way to avoid this type of conflict, not only with Linux user groups, but with user groups of any kind? I'm not sure that there is.