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Linux User Group HOWTO
Rick Moen <mailto:%email@example.com%20>
The Linux User Group HOWTO is a guide to founding, maintaining, and
growing a GNU/Linux user group, co-authored by Kendall Clark and Rick
Moen (now maintained by Rick Moen).
Table of Contents
1.2 Other sources of information
2. What is a GNU/Linux user group?
2.1 What is GNU/Linux?
2.2 How is GNU/Linux unique?
2.3 What is a user group?
3. What LUGs exist?
3.1 LUG lists
3.2 Solidarity versus convenience
4. What does a LUG do?
4.1 GNU/Linux advocacy
4.2 The limits of advocacy
4.3 GNU/Linux education
4.4 GNU/Linux support
4.4.3 Businesses, non-profit organisations, and schools
4.4.4 Free / open-source software development
126.96.36.199 Chris Browne on free software / open source philanthropy
4.4.5 Linux movement
4.5 Linux socialising
5. LUG activities
5.2 Online resources
6. Practical suggestions
6.1 LUG support organisations
6.2 Founding a LUG
6.3 Maintaining and growing a LUG
7. Legal and political issues
7.1 Organisational legal issues
7.1.4 United States of America
7.2 Other legal issues
7.3 Software politics
7.3.1 People have different feelings about free / open-source software
7.3.2 Non-profit organisations and money don't mix terribly well.
7.4 Elections, democracy, and turnover
8. About this document
8.2 New versions
8.3 Please contribute to this HOWTO
8.4 Document history
The Linux User Group HOWTO is intended to serve as a guide to
founding, maintaining, and growing a GNU/Linux user group.
GNU/Linux is a freely-distributable implementation of Unix for
personal computers, servers, workstations, PDAs, and embedded systems.
It was developed on the i386 and now supports a huge range of
processors from tiny to colossal:
· Diverse PDA / embedded / microcontroller / router
· Advanced RISC Machines, Ltd. ARM <http://www.arm.uk.linux.org/>
family (StrongARM SA-1110, XScale, ARM6, ARM7, ARM2, ARM250,
ARM3i, ARM610, ARM710, ARM7TDMI, ARM720T, and ARM920T, including
Sigma Designs DVD systems using ARM cores)
· Analog Devices, Inc.'s Blackfin DSP
· Axis Communications ETRAX series
<http://developer.axis.com/software/> ("CRIS" = Code Reduced
Instruction Set RISC architecture)
· Elan SC520 and SC300
· FreeScale MC68EN302
· Fujitsu FR-V <http://sources.redhat.com/ecos/hardware.html#FR-V>
· Hitachi H8 <http://www.uclinux.org/pub/uClinux/ports/h8/> series
· Intel i960
· Intel IA32-compatibles (Cyrix MediaGX, STMicroelectronics STPC
<http://www.stmcu.com/forums-cat-132-6.html>, ZF Micro ZFx86)
· Matsushita AM3x
· MIPS-compatibles (Toshiba TMPRxxxx / TXnnnn
NEC VR <http://www.linux-vr.org/> series, Realtek 8181
· Motorola 680x0-based machines (Motorola VMEbus boards, ISICAD
Prisma <http://ds.dial.pipex.com/town/way/fr30/> machines, and
ColdFire <http://www.uclinux.org/ports/coldfire/> CPUs, and
Cisco 2500/3000/4000 series routers)
· Motorola embedded PowerPC
<http://penguinppc.org/embedded/hardware/> (including MPC /
PowerQUICC I, II, III families)
· NEC V850E <http://www.ee.nec.de/_uclinux/>
· Renesas Technology (formerly Hitachi) SH3/SH4 (SuperH: link1
· Samsung CalmRISC
· Texas Instruments's DM64x
<http://linuxdevices.com/news/NS3468265897.html> and C54x DSP
· Xilinx SoftBlaze <http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~jwilliams/mblaze-
uclinux/> (aka Microblaze) soft processor implemented on Xilinx
· Intel 8086 / 80286 <http://elks.sourceforge.net/>.
· Intel IA32 family: i386, i486, Pentium, Pentium Pro, Pentium II,
Pentium III, Celeron, Xeon, and Pentium IV processors, as well as
IA32 clones from AMD (386DX/DXL/SL/SLC/SX,
486DX/DX2/DX4/SL/SLC/SLC2/SLC3/SX/SX2, Elan, K5, K6/K6-II/K6-III),
486DLC/DLC2/DX/DX2/DX4/SL/SLC/SLC2/SLC3/SX/SX2, Cyrix III), IDT
(Winchip, Winchip 2, Winchip 2A/3), IBM
(486DX/DX2/DX4/SL/SLC/SLC2/SLC3/SX/SX2), NexGen (Nx586), Transmeta
(Crusoe), TI (486DLC/DLC2), UMC (486SX-S, U5D/U5S), VIA (C3 Ezra
"CentaurHauls", C3-2 "Nehemiah"), and others.
· Intel/HP IA64 <http://www.linuxia64.org/>: Trillian, Itanium,
· x86-64 x86-64 <http://www.x86-64.org/downloads> family including
AMD Hammer/Opteron/K8/Athlon64 and Intel Prescott/Nocona/Potomac
· Motorola 68020-68040 <http://www.linux-m68k.org/> series (with
MMU): m68k Mac <http://www.mac.linux-m68k.org/>, Amiga, Atari
ST/TT/Medusa/Falcon, HP/Apollo Domain, HP9000/300
<http://sun3.sammy.net/sun3/>, and Sinclair Q40
· Motorola/IBM PowerPC <http://linuxppc64.org/> family: Most PowerMac
<http://penguinppc.org/dev/pmac/> (including G3/G4/G5) / CHRP
<http://penguinppc.org/dev/chrp/> / PReP
<http://penguinppc.org/dev/prep/> / POP
<http://penguinppc.org/dev/pop/>, Amiga PowerUP System
<http://linux-apus.sourceforge.net/>, and IBM PPC64
<http://linuxppc64.org/> (AS/400, RS/6000, iSeries, pSeries,
· MIPS <http://www.linux-mips.org/>: most SGI, Cobalt Qube,
DECStation <http://decstation.unix-ag.org/>, Sony PlayStation2
<http://playstation2-linux.com/>, and many others
· DEC Alpha <http://www.alphalinux.org/>
· HP PA-RISC <http://www.parisc-linux.org/>
· SPARC International SPARC32 / SPARC64 <http://www.ultralinux.org/>
· Digital VAX <http://linux-vax.sourceforge.net/> minicomputers and
· Mainframes: IBM S/390 models G5 and G6 / zSeries models z800, z890,
z900, and z990
and Fujitsu AP1000+ (SuperSPARC cluster)
Note that some items listed were probably one-time forks, little or
not at all maintained since creation. On some of the rarer
architectures, NetBSD <http://www.netbsd.org/> may be more practical.
(Soon, the Debian GNU/NetBSD <http://www.debian.org/ports/netbsd/> and
Debian GNU/kFreeBSD <http://www.debian.org/ports/kfreebsd-gnu/> ports
should be solid enough to serve as a compromise option, furnishing
GNU/Linux userspace code on the highly portable NetBSD kernel and the
high performance / high stability FreeBSD kernel, respectively.)
If seriously interested in the subject of Linux ports, please see also
Xose Vazquez Perez's Linux ports page <http://www.itp.uni-
hannover.de/ports/linux_ports.html> and Jerome Pinot's Linux
(static mirrors, as both pages vanished in 2005), if only because
hardware support is more complex than just generic CPU functionality,
encompassing support for myriad bus variations and other subtle
hardware issues (especially for Linux PDA / embedded / microcontroller
/ router ports <http://www.linuxdevices.com/>). The above list aims
mostly to generally illustrate the breadth of Linux's reach.
1.2. Other sources of information
If you want to learn more, the Linux Documentation Project
<http://www.tldp.org/> is a good place to start.
For general information about computer user groups, please see the
Association of PC Users Groups <http://www.apcug.net/>.
2. What is a GNU/Linux user group?
2.1. What is GNU/Linux?
To fully appreciate LUGs' role in the GNU/Linux movement, it helps to
understand what makes GNU/Linux unique.
GNU/Linux as an operating system is powerful -- but GNU/Linux as an
idea about software development is even more so. GNU/Linux is a free
operating system: It's licensed under the GNU General Public Licence.
Thus, source code is freely available in perpetuity to anyone. It's
maintained by a unstructured group of programmers world-wide, under
technical direction from Linus Torvalds and other key developers.
GNU/Linux as a movement has no central structure, bureaucracy, or
other entity to direct its affairs. While this situation has
advantages, it poses challenges for allocation of human resources,
effective advocacy, public relations, user education, and training.
(This HOWTO credits the Free Software Foundation's GNU Project
<http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-history.html> as the crucial motive force
behind creating and furthering a free aka open source integrated
system. Thus, it refers to "distributions" comprising the GNU
operating system atop the Linux kernel as "GNU/Linux". Yes, the term
is awkward, and FSF's request for credit isn't widely honoured; but
the justice of FSF's claim is obvious.)
2.2. How is GNU/Linux unique?
GNU/Linux's loose structure is unlikely to change. That's a good
thing: It works precisely because people are free to come and go as
they please: Free programmers are happy programmers are effective
However, this loose structure can disorient the new user: Whom does
she call for support, training, or education? How does she know what
GNU/Linux is suitable for?
In part, LUGs provide the answers, which is why LUGs are vital to the
movement: Because your town, village, or metropolis sports no Linux
Corporation "regional office", the LUG takes on many of the same roles
a regional office does for a large multi-national corporation.
GNU/Linux is unique in neither having nor being burdened by central
structures or bureaucracies to allocate its resources, train its
users, and support its products. These jobs get done through diverse
means: the Internet, consultants, VARs, support companies, colleges,
and universities. However, increasingly, in many places around the
globe, they are done by a LUG.
2.3. What is a user group?
Computer user groups are not new. In fact, they were central to the
personal computer's history: Microcomputers arose in large part to
satisfy demand for affordable, personal access to computing resources
from electronics, ham radio, and other hobbyist user groups. Giants
like IBM eventually discovered the PC to be a good and profitable
thing, but initial impetus came from the grassroots.
In the USA, user groups have changed -- many for the worse -- with the
times. The financial woes and dissolution of the largest user group
ever, the Boston Computer Society, were well-reported; but, all over
the USA, most PC user groups have seen memberships decline. American
user groups in their heyday produced newsletters, maintained shareware
and diskette libraries, held meetings and social events, and,
sometimes, even ran electronic bulletin board systems (BBSes). With
the advent of the Internet, however, many services that user groups
once provided migrated to things like CompuServe and the Web.
GNU/Linux's rise, however, coincided with and was intensified by the
general public "discovering" the Internet. As the Internet grew more
popular, so did GNU/Linux: The Internet brought new users, developers,
and vendors. So, the same force that sent traditional user groups into
decline propelled GNU/Linux forward, and inspired new groups concerned
exclusively with it.
To give just one indication of how LUGs differ from traditional user
groups: Traditional groups must closely monitor what software users
redistribute at meetings. While illegal copying of restricted
proprietary software certainly occurred, it was officially discouraged
-- for good reason. At LUG meetings, however, that entire mindset
simply does not apply: Far from being forbidden, unrestricted copying
of GNU/Linux should be among a LUG's primary goals. In fact, there is
anecdotal evidence of traditional user groups having difficulty
adapting to GNU/Linux's ability to be lawfully copied at will.
(Caveat: A few distributions bundle GNU/Linux with proprietary
software packages whose terms don't permit public redistribution.
Check licence terms, if in doubt. Offers or requests to copy
distribution-restricted proprietary software of any sort should be
heavily discouraged anywhere in LUGs, and declared off-topic for all
GNU/Linux user group on-line forums, for legal reasons.)
For the GNU/Linux movement to grow, among other requirements, LUGs
must proliferate and succeed. Because of GNU/Linux's unusual nature,
LUGs must provide some of the same functions a "regional office"
provides for large computer corporations like IBM, Microsoft, and Sun.
LUGs can and must train, support, and educate users, coordinate
consultants, advocate GNU/Linux as a computing solution, and even
serve as liaison to local news outlets.
3. What LUGs exist?
Since this document is meant as a guide not only to maintaining and
growing LUGs but also to founding them, we should, before going
further, discuss what LUGs already exist.
3.1. LUG lists
There are several LUG lists on the Web. If you are considering
founding a LUG, your first task should be to find any nearby existing
LUGs. Your best bet may be to join a LUG already established in your
area, rather than founding one.
As of 2007, there are LUGs in all 50 US states plus the District of
Columbia, all of Canada's ten provinces and three territories, all six
of Australia's states plus the Australian Capital Territory, in 76
locations in India, and over 100 other countries, including Russia,
China, and most of Western and Eastern Europe.
· LUGs WorldWide Project <http://lugww.counter.li.org/>
· Linux Online -- User Groups <http://www.linux.org/groups/>
· LinuxHQ User Groups <http://www.linuxhq.com/users/groups/>
· Free Software Foundation GNU Users Groups
· Open Directory: LUGS
· Wikipedia Category:Linux User Groups
· Yahoo Linux > User Groups
· CLUE: the Canadian Linux Users' Exchange <http://www.linux.ca/>
· UK Linux User Groups <http://www.lug.org.uk/>
· Linux Australia <http://www.linux.org.au/>
· LUGs List for India and Asia <http://www.wikiwikiweb.de/LugsList>
· I Linux User Group italiani <http://www.linux.it/LUG/>
· New Zealand Linux Resource <http://www.linux.net.nz/>
3.2. Solidarity versus convenience
While (most) LUG lists on the Web are well-maintained, likely they
don't list every LUG. If considering founding a LUG, I suggest, in
addition to consulting these lists, posting a message to
comp.os.linux.misc <news:comp.os.linux.misc>, or an appropriate
regional Usenet hierarchy, inquiring about nearby LUGs. You should
also lodge a query (mailing list post, comment during a meeting) at
any existing LUG you are aware of anywhere near your area, about LUGs
near you. If no such (nearby) LUG exists, your postings will alert
potential members to your initiative.
Carefully balance convenience against solidarity: If a LUG exists in
your metropolitan area but on the other side of the city, starting a
new group may be better for convenience's sake. On the other hand,
joining the other group may be better for reasons of unity and
solidarity. Greater numbers almost always means greater power,
influence, and efficiency. While two groups of 100 members each might
be nice, one with 200 has advantages. Of course, if you live in a
small town or village, any group is better than none.
The point is that starting a LUG is a significant undertaking, which
should be commenced with all relevant facts and some appreciation of
the effect on other groups.
4. What does a LUG do?
LUGs' goals are as varied as their locales. There is no LUG master
plan, nor will this document supply one. Remember: GNU/Linux is free
from bureaucracy and centralised control; so are LUGs.
It is possible, however, to identify a core set of goals for a LUG:
Each LUG combines these and other goals uniquely, according to its
4.1. GNU/Linux advocacy
The urge to advocate the use of GNU/Linux is widely felt. When you
find something that works well, you want to tell as many people as you
can. LUGs' role in advocacy cannot be overestimated, especially since
wide-scale commercial acceptance is only newly underway. While it is
certainly beneficial to the movement, each and every time a computer
journalist writes a positive review of GNU/Linux, it is also
beneficial every time satisfied GNU/Linux users brief their friends,
colleagues, employees, or employers.
There is effective advocacy, and there is ineffective carping: As
users, we must be constantly vigilant to advocate GNU/Linux in such a
way as to reflect positively on the product, its creators and
developers, and our fellow users. The Linux Advocacy HOWTO
<http://www.tldp.org/HOWTO/Advocacy.html>, available at the Linux
Documentation Project <http://www.tldp.org/>, gives some helpful
suggestions, as does Don Marti's excellent Linuxmanship
<http://zgp.org/~dmarti/linuxmanship/> essay. Suffice it to say that
advocacy is important to a LUG's mission.
A time may come when advocacy is irrelevant, because GNU/Linux has
more or less won the day, when the phrase "no one ever got fired for
using Linux" becomes reality. Until then, LUGs play a vital role in
promoting GNU/Linux use. They do so because their advocacy is free,
well-intentioned, and backed up by organisational commitment. If a
person encounters GNU/Linux through a LUG's efforts, then that new
user's already ahead of the game: She knows of an organisation that
will help her install, configure, and even maintain GNU/Linux on
whatever computers she's willing to dedicate to it.
New users already in contact with a LUG are ahead of others whose
interest in GNU/Linux has been piqued by a computer journalist, but
who have no one to whom to turn for aid in their quest to install,
run, and learn GNU/Linux.
It is, therefore, important for LUGs to advocate GNU/Linux, because
their advocacy is effective, well-supported, and free.
4.2. The limits of advocacy
Advocacy can be mis-aimed; advocacy can go wrong and be
counterproductive; advocacy can be simply inappropriate in the first
place. The matter merits careful thought, to avoid wasted time or
Many attempts at advocacy fail ignominiously because the advocate
fails to listen to what the other party feels she wants or needs. (As
Eric S. Raymond says <http://www.itworld.com/LWD000913expo00>, "Appeal
to the prospect's interests and values, not to yours.") If that person
wants exactly the proprietary-OS setup she already has, then advocacy
wastes your time and hers. If her stated requirements equate exactly
to MS-Project, MS-Visio, and Outlook/Exchange groupware, then trying
to "sell" her what she doesn't want will only annoy everyone
(regardless of whether her requirements list is real or artificial).
Save your effort for someone more receptive.
Along those lines, bear in mind that, for many people, perhaps most,
an "advocate" is perceived as a salesman, and thus classified as
someone to resist rather than listen to fairly. They've never heard
of someone urging them to adopt a piece of software without benefiting
materially, so they assume there must be something in it for you and
will push back, and act as if they're doing you a personal favour to
even listen, let alone try your recommendations.
I recommend bringing such discussions back to Earth immediately, by
pointing out that software policy should be based in one's own long-
term self interest, that you have zero personal stake in their
choices, and that you have better uses for your time than speaking to
an unreceptive audience. After that, if they're still interested, at
least you won't face the same artificial obstacle.
At the same time, make sure you don't live up to the stereotype of the
OS advocate, either. Just proclaiming your views at someone without
invitation is downright rude and offensive. Moreover, when done
concerning GNU/Linux, it's also pointless: Unlike the case with
proprietary OSes, our OS will not live or die by the level of its
acceptance and release/maintenance of ported applications. It and all
key applications are open source: the programmer community that
maintains it is self-supporting, and would keep it advancing and and
healthy regardless of whether the business world and general public
uses it with wild abandon, only a little, or not at all. Because of
its open-source licence terms, source code is permanently available.
GNU/Linux cannot be "withdrawn from the market" on account of
insufficient popularity, or at the whim of some company. Accordingly,
there is simply no point in arm-twisting OS advocacy -- unlike that of
some OS-user communities we could mention. (Why not just make
information available for those receptive to it, and stop there? That
meets any reasonable person's needs.)
Last, understand that the notion of "use value" for software is quite
foreign to most people -- the notion of measuring software's value by
what you can do with it. The habit of valuing everything at
acquisition cost is deeply ingrained. In 1996, I heard a young fellow
from Caldera Systems speak at a Berkeley, California LUG about the
origins of Caldera Network Desktop (the initial name of their
GNU/Linux distribution) in Novell, Inc.'s "Corsair" desktop-OS
project: In surveying corporate CEOs and CTOs, they found corporate
officers to be inherently unhappy with anything they could get for
free. So, Caldera offered them a solution -- by charging money.
Seen from this perspective, being conservative about the costs and
difficulties of GNU/Linux deployments helps make them positively
attractive -- and protects your credibility as a spokesman. Even
better would be to frame the discussion of costs in terms of the cost
of functionality (e.g., 1000-seat Internet-capable company e-mail with
offline-user capability and webmail) as opposed to listing software as
a retail-style line-item with pricing: After all, any software
project has costs, even if the acquisition price tag is zero, and the
real point of open source isn't initial cost but rather long-term
control over IT -- a key part of one's operations: With proprietary
systems, the user (or business) has lost control of IT, and is on the
wrong side of a monopoly relationship with one's vendor. With open
source, the user is in control, and nobody can take that away.
Explained that way (as opportunity to reduce and control IT risk),
people readily understand the difference -- especially CEOs -- and
it's much more significant over the long term than acquisition cost.
4.3. GNU/Linux education
Not only is it the business of a LUG to advocate GNU/Linux usage, but
also to train members, as well as the nearby computing public, to use
our OS and associated components -- a goal that can make a huge real-
world difference in one's local area. While universities and colleges
are increasingly including GNU/Linux in their curricula, for sundry
reasons, this won't reach some users. For those, a LUG can give basic
or advanced help in system administration, programming, Internet and
intranet technologies, etc.
In an ironic twist, many LUGs have turned out to be a backbone of
corporate support: Every worker expanding her computer skills through
LUG participation is one fewer the company must train. Though home
GNU/Linux administration doesn't exactly scale to running corporate
data warehouses, call centres, or similar high-availability
facilities, it's light years better preparation than MS-Windows
experience. As Linux has advanced into journaling filesystems, high
availability, real-time extensions, and other high-end Unix features,
the already blurry line between GNU/Linux and "real" Unixes has been
Not only is such education a form of worker training, but it will also
serve, as information technology becomes increasingly vital to the
global economy, as community service: In the USA's metropolitan areas,
for example, LUGs have taken GNU/Linux into local schools, small
businesses, community and social organisations, and other non-
corporate environments. This accomplishes the goal of advocacy and
also educates the general public. As more such organisations seek
Internet presence, provide their personnel dial-in access, or other
GNU/Linux-relevant functions, LUGs gain opportunities for community
participation, through awareness and education efforts -- extending to
the community the same generous spirit characteristic of GNU/Linux and
the free software / open source community from its very beginning.
Most users can't program like Torvalds, but we can all give time and
effort to other users, the GNU/Linux community, and the broader
GNU/Linux is a natural fit for these organisations, because
deployments don't commit them to expensive licence, upgrade, or
maintenance fees. Being technically elegant and economical, it also
runs very well on cast-off corporate hardware that non-profit
organisations are only too happy to use: The unused Pentium II in the
closet can do real work, if someone installs GNU/Linux on it.
In addition, education assists other LUG goals over time, in
particular that of support: Better education means better support,
which in turn facilitates education, and eases the community's growth.
Thus, education forms the entire effort's keystone: If only two or
three percent of a LUG assume the remainder's support burden, that
LUG's growth will be stifled. One thing you can count on: If new and
inexperienced users don't get needed help from their LUG, they won't
participate there for long. If a larger percentage of members support
the rest, the LUG will not face that limitation. education -- and,
equally, support for allied projects such as the Apache Web server,
X.org, Freedesktop.org, TeX, LaTeX, etc. -- is key to this dynamic:
Education turns new users into experienced ones.
Finally, GNU/Linux is a self-documenting operating environment: In
other words, writing and publicising our community's documentation is
up to us. Therefore, make sure LUG members know of the Linux
Documentation Project <http://www.tldp.org/> and its worldwide
mirrors. Consider operating an LDP mirror site. Also, make sure to
publicise -- through comp.os.linux.announce, the LDP, and other
pertinent sources of information -- any relevant documentation the LUG
develops: technical presentations, tutorials, local FAQs, etc. LUGs'
documentation often fails to benefit the worldwide community for no
better reason than not notifying the outside world. Don't let that
happen: It is highly probable that if someone at one LUG had a
question or problem with something, then others elsewhere will have
4.4. GNU/Linux support
Of course, for the newcomer, the primary role of a LUG is GNU/Linux
support -- but it is a mistake to suppose that support means only
technical support for new users. It should mean much more.
LUGs have the opportunity to support:
· businesses, non-profit organisations, and schools
· the GNU/Linux movement
New users' most frequent complaint, once they have GNU/Linux
installed, is the steep learning curve characteristic of all modern
Unixes. With that learning curve, however, comes the power and
flexibility of a real operating system. A LUG is often the a new
user's main resource to flatten the learning curve.
During GNU/Linux's first decade, it gained some first-class
journalistic resources, which should not be neglected: The main
monthly magazines of longest standing are Linux Journal
<http://www.linuxjournal.com/> and Linux Gazette
<http://linuxgazette.net/>. More recently, they've been joined by
LinuxFocus <http://www.linuxfocus.org/> and the New LinuxFocus
<http://new.linuxfocus.org/cms/> (on-line), Linux Format
<http://www.linuxformat.co.uk/>, LinuxUser and Developer
<http://www.linuxuser.co.uk/>, Linux Magazine <http://www.linux-
magazine.com/>, and LINUX For You <http://www.linuxforu.com/>.
Standout on-line magazines and news sites with weekly or better
publication cycles include Linux Weekly News <http://lwn.net/>,
DistroWatch Weekly <http://distrowatch.com/weekly.php>, Linux Today
<http://linuxtoday.com>, and FreshNews <http://www.freshnews.org/>.
All of these resources have eased LUGs' job of spreading essential
news and information -- about bug fixes, security problems, patches,
new kernels, etc., but new users must still be made aware of them, and
taught that the newest kernels are always available from
ftp.kernel.org <ftp://ftp.kernel.org>, that the Linux Documentation
Project <http://www.tldp.org/> has newer versions of Linux HOWTOs than
do CD-based GNU/Linux distributions, and so on.
Intermediate and advanced users also benefit from proliferation of
timely and useful tips, facts, and secrets. Because of the GNU/Linux
world's manifold aspects, even advanced users often learn new tricks
or techniques simply by participating in a LUG. Sometimes, they learn
of software packages they didn't know existed; sometimes, they just
remember arcane vi command sequences they've not used since college.
LUGs can help consultants find their customers and vice-versa, by
providing a forum where they can come together. Consultants also aid
LUGs by providing experienced leadership. New and inexperienced users
gain benefit from both LUGs and consultants, since their routine or
simple requests for support are handled by LUGs gratis, while their
complex needs and problems -- the kind requiring paid services -- can
be fielded by consultants found through the LUG.
The line between support requests needing a consultant and those that
don't is sometimes indistinct; but, in most cases, the difference is
clear. While a LUG doesn't want to gain the reputation for pawning new
users off unnecessarily on consultants -- as this is simply rude and
very anti-GNU/Linux behaviour -- there is no reason for LUGs not to
help broker contacts between users needing consulting services and
professionals offering them.
Caveat: While "the difference is clear" to intelligent people of
goodwill, the Inevitable Ones are also always with us, who act
willfully dense about the limits of free support when they have pushed
those limits too far. Remember, too, my earlier point about the vast
majority of the population valuing everything at acquisition cost
(instead of use value), including what they receive for free. This
leads some, especially some in the corporate world, to use (and abuse)
LUG technical support with wild abandon, while simultaneously
complaining bitterly of its inadequate detail, insufficient
promptness, supposedly unfair expectations that the user learn and not
re-ask minor variations on the same question endlessly, etc. In other
words, they treat relations with LUG volunteers the way they would a
paid support vendor, but one they treat with zero respect because of
its zero acquisition cost.
In the consulting world, there's a saying about applying "invoice
therapy" to such behaviour: Because of the value system alluded to
above, if your consulting advice is poorly heeded and poorly used, it
just might be the case that you need to charge more. By contrast, the
technical community has often been characterised as a "gift culture",
with a radically different value system: Members gain status through
enhanced reputation among peers, which in turn they improve through
visible participation: code, documentation, technical assistance to
the public, etc.
Clash between the two very different value-based cultures is
inevitable and can become a bit ugly. LUG activists should be
prepared to intercede before the ingrate newcomer is handed her head
on a platter, and politely suggest that her needs would be better
served by paid (consultant-based) services. There will always be
judgement calls; the borderline is inherently debatable and a likely
source of controversy.
Telltale signs that a questioner may need to be transitioned to
consulting-based assistance include:
· An insistence on getting solutions in "recipe" (rote) form, with
the apparent aim of not needing to learn technological
· Asking the same questions (or ones closely related) repeatedly.
· Insisting on private assistance from helpers active in public
(GNU/Linux community) forums.
· Vague problem descriptions, or ones that change with time.
· Interrupting answers in order to ask additional questions
(suggesting lack of attention to the answers).
· Demands that answers be recast or delivered more quickly
(suggesting that the questioner's time and trouble are valuable,
but that helpers' are not).
· Asking unusually complex, time-consuming, and/or multipart
In general, LUG members are especially delighted to help, on a
volunteer basis, members who seem likely to participate in the "gift
culture" by picking up its body of lore and, in turn, perpetuating it
by teaching others in their turn. Certainly, there's nothing wrong
with having other priorities and values, but such folk may in some
cases be best referred to paid assistance, as a better fit for their
An additional observation that may or may not be useful, at this
point: There are things one may be willing to do for free, to assist
others in the community, that one will refuse to do for money:
Shifting from assisting someone as a volunteer fundamentally changes
the relationship. A fellow computerist who suddenly becomes a
customer is a very different person; one's responsibilities are quite
different, and greater. You're advised to be aware, if not wary, of
Please see Joshua Drake's Linux Consultants Guide
<http://www.commandprompt.com/community/consultants/guide/> for an
international list of GNU/Linux consultants.
4.4.3. Businesses, non-profit organisations, and schools
LUGs also have the opportunity to support local businesses and
organisations. This support has two aspects: First, LUGs can support
businesses and organisations wanting to use our OS (and its
applications) as a part of their computing and IT efforts. Second,
LUGs can support local businesses and organisations developing
software for GNU/Linux, cater to users, support or install
The support LUGs can provide to local businesses wanting to use
GNU/Linux as a part of their computing operations differs little from
the help LUGs give individuals trying GNU/Linux at home. For example,
compiling the Linux kernel doesn't really differ. Supporting
businesses, however, may require supporting proprietary software --
e.g., the Oracle, Sybase, and DB2 databases (or VMware, Win4Lin, and
such things). Some LUG expertise in these areas may help businesses
make the leap into GNU/Linux deployments.
This leads us directly to the second kind of support a LUG can give to
local businesses: LUGs can serve as a clearinghouse for information
available in few other places. For example:
· Which local ISP is Linux-friendly?
· Are there any local hardware vendors building Linux PCs?
· Does anyone sell Linux CDs locally?
Maintaining and making this kind of information public not only helps
the LUG members, but also helps friendly businesses and encourages
them to continue to be GNU/Linux-friendly. It may even, in some cases,
help further a competitive environment in which other businesses are
encouraged to follow suit.
4.4.4. Free / open-source software development
Finally, LUGs may also support the movement by soliciting and
organising charitable giving. Chris Browne
<mailto:%firstname.lastname@example.org%20> has thought about this issue as
much as anyone I know, and he contributes the following:
188.8.131.52. Chris Browne on free software / open source philanthropy
A further involvement can be to encourage sponsorship of various
GNU/Linux-related organisations in a financial way. With the multiple
millions <http://counter.li.org> of users, it would be entirely
plausible for grateful users to individually contribute a little.
Given millions of users, and the not-unreasonable sum of a hundred
dollars of "gratitude" per user ($100 being roughly the sum not spent
this year upgrading a Microsoft OS), that could add up to hundreds of
millions of dollars towards development of improved GNU/Linux tools
A user group can encourage members to contribute to various
"development projects". Having some form of "charitable tax exemption"
status can encourage members to contribute directly to the group,
getting tax deductions as appropriate, with contributions flowing on
to other organisations.
It is appropriate, in any case, to encourage LUG members to direct
contributions to organisations with projects and goals they
individually wish to support.
This section lists possible candidates. None is being explicitly
recommended here, but the list represents useful food for thought.
Many are registered as charities in the USA, thus making US
Here are organisations with activities particularly directed towards
development of software working with GNU/Linux:
· The Linux Foundation <http://www.linuxfoundation.org/about>
· Debian / Software In the Public Interest
· Free Software Foundation
· KDE Project <http://www.kde.org/community/donations/>
· GNOME Foundation <http://www.gnome.org/friends/>
Contributions to these organisations have the direct effect of
supporting creation of freely redistributable software usable with
GNU/Linux. Dollar for dollar, such contributions almost certainly
yield greater benefit to the community than any other kind of
There are also organisations less directly associated with GNU/Linux,
that may nonetheless be worthy of assistance, such as:
· The Electronic Frontier Foundation <http://www.eff.org/>
Based in San Francisco, EFF is a donor-supported membership
organization working to protect our fundamental rights regardless
of technology; to educate the press, policy-makers, and the general
public about civil liberties issues related to technology; and to
act as a defender of those liberties. Among our various activities,
EFF opposes misguided legislation, initiates and defends court
cases preserving individuals' rights, launches global public
campaigns, introduces leading edge proposals and papers, hosts
frequent educational events, engages the press regularly, and
publishes a comprehensive archive of digital civil liberties
information at one of the most linked-to Web sites in the world.
· The LaTeX3 Project Fund
The TeX Users Group (TUG) <http://www.tug.org/> is working on the
"next generation" version of the LaTeX publishing system, known as
LaTeX3. GNU/Linux is one of the platforms on which TeX and LaTeX
are best supported.
Donations for the project can be sent to:
TeX Users Group
c/o Robin Laakso, executive director
TeX Users Group
PO Box 2311
Portland, OR 97208-2311
Alternatively, donations can be made online
· Project Gutenberg <http://www.gutenberg.org/>
Project Gutenberg's purpose is to make freely available in
electronic form the texts of public-domain books. This isn't
directly a "Linux thing", but seems fairly worthy, and they
actively encourage platform independence, which means their
"products" are quite usable with GNU/Linux.
· Project Runeberg <http://runeberg.org/>
Project Runeberg is similar to Project Gutenberg, except
concentrating on making editions of classic Nordic (Scandinavian)
literature openly available over the Internet.
· Open Source Education Foundation
The Open Source Education Foundation's purpose to enhance K-12
education through the use of technologies and concepts derived from
The Open Source and Free Software movement. In conjunction with
Tux4Kids, OSEF created a bootable distribution of GNU/Linux
(Knoppix for Kids) based on Klaus Knopper's Knoppix, aimed at kids,
parents, teachers, and other school officials. OSEF installs and
supports school computer labs, and has developed a "K12 Box" as a
compact Plug and Play workstation computer for student computer
· PingoS e.V. <http://www.pingos.org/>
"PingoS e.V." is a registered non-profit entity with the goal of
promoting the use of GNU/Linux in schools. Any German school can
use it for free support concerning GNU/Linux, and PingoS staff give
presentations about GNU/Linux in schools. Also, PingoS e.V. is the
legal head of SelfLinux, a project aiming to create a comprehensive
and free set of German-language documentation about GNU/Linux and
free / open-source software.
· Open Source Applications Foundation
OSAF is Mitch Kapor's non-profit foundation to create and
popularise open-source application software of uncompromising
quality, starting with its pioneering personal information manager,
(Please note that suggested additions to the above list of GNU/Linux-
relevant charities are most welcome.)
4.4.5. Linux movement
I have referred throughout this HOWTO to what I call the GNU/Linux
movement. There really is no better way to describe the international
GNU/Linux phenomenon: It isn't a bureaucracy, but is organised. It
isn't a corporation, but is important to businesses everywhere. The
best way for a LUG to support the international GNU/Linux movement is
to keep the local community robust, vibrant, and growing. GNU/Linux is
developed internationally, which is easy enough to see by reading the
kernel source code's MAINTAINERS file -- but GNU/Linux is also used
internationally. This ever-expanding user base is key to GNU/Linux's
continued success, and is where the LUGs are vital.
The movement's strength internationally lies in offering unprecedented
computing power and sophistication for its cost and freedom. The keys
are value and independence from proprietary control. Every time a new
person, group, business, or organisation experiences GNU/Linux's
inherent value, the movement grows. LUGs help that happen.
4.5. Linux socialising
The last goal of a LUG we'll cover is socialising -- in some ways, the
most difficult goal to discuss, because it isn't clear how many or to
what degree LUGs do it. While it would be strange to have a LUG that
didn't engage in the other goals, there may be LUGs for which
socialising isn't a factor.
It seems, however, that whenever two or three GNU/Linux users get
together, fun, hijinks, and, often, beer follow. Linus Tovalds has
always had one enduring goal for Linux: to have more fun. For hackers,
kernel developers, and GNU/Linux users, there's nothing quite like
downloading a new kernel, recompiling an old one, fooling with a
window manager, or hacking some code. GNU/Linux's sheer fun keeps many
LUGs together, and leads LUGs naturally to socialising.
By "socialising", here I mean primarily sharing experiences, forming
friendships, and mutually-shared admiration and respect. There is
another meaning, however -- one social scientists call acculturation.
In any movement, institution, or human community, there is the need
for some process or pattern of events in and by which, to put it in
GNU/Linux terms, newcomers are turned into hackers. In other words,
acculturation turns you from "one of them" to "one of us".
It is important that new users come to learn GNU/Linux culture,
concepts, traditions, and vocabulary. GNU/Linux acculturation, unlike
"real world" acculturation, can occur on mailing lists and Usenet,
although the latter's efficacy is challenged by poorly acculturated
users and by spam. LUGs are often much more efficient at this task
than are mailing lists or newsgroups, precisely because of the
former's greater interactivity and personal focus.
5. LUG activities
In the previous section I focused exclusively on what LUGs do and
should do. This section's focus shifts to practical strategies.
There are, despite permutations of form, two basic things LUGs do:
First, members meet in physical space; second, they communicate in
cyberspace. Nearly everything LUGs do can be seen in terms of meetings
and online resources.
As I said above, physical meetings are synonymous with LUGs (and most
user groups). LUGs have these kinds of meetings:
· technical presentations
· informal discussion groups
· user group business
· GNU/Linux installation
· configuration and bug-squashing
What do LUGs do at these meetings?
· Install distributions for newcomers and strangers.
· Teach members about GNU/Linux.
· Compare GNU/Linux to other operating systems.
· Teach members about application software.
· Discuss advocacy.
· Discuss the free software / open-source movement.
· Discuss user group business.
· Eat, drink, and be merry.
5.2. Online resources
The commercial rise of the Internet coincided roughly with that of
GNU/Linux; the latter owes something to the former. The 'Net has
always been important to development. LUGs are no different: Most have
Web pages, if not whole Web sites. In fact, I'm not sure how else to
find a LUG, but to check the Web.
It makes sense, then, for a LUG to make use of whatever Internet
technologies they can: Web sites, mailing lists, wikis, ftp, e-mail,
Web discussion forums, netnews, etc. As the world of commerce is
discovering, the 'Net is an effective way to advertise, inform,
educate, and even sell. The other reason LUGs make extensive use of
Internet technology is that the very essence of GNU/Linux is to
provide a stable and rich platform to deploy these technologies. So,
not only do LUGs benefit from, say, establishment of a Web site,
because it advertises their existence and helps organise members, but,
in deploying these technologies, LUG members learn about them and see
GNU/Linux at work.
Arguably, a well-maintained Web site is the one must-have, among those
Internet resources. My essay Recipe for a Successful Linux User Group
<http://linuxmafia.com/faq/Linux_PR/newlug.html>, for that reason,
spends considerable time discussing Web issues. Quoting it (in
· You need a Web page.
· Your Web page needs a reasonable URL.
· You need a regular meeting location.
· You need a regular meeting time.
· You need to avoid meeting-time conflicts.
· You need to make sure that meetings happen as advertised, without
· You need a core of several enthusiasts.
· Your core volunteers need out-of-band methods of communication.
· You need to get on the main lists of LUGs, and keep your entries
· You must have login access to maintain your Web pages, as needed.
· Design your Web page to be forgiving of deferred maintenance.
· Always include the day of the week, when you cite event dates.
Always check that day of the week, first, using gcal.
· Place time-sensitive and key information prominently near the top
of your main Web page.
· Include maps and directions to your events.
· Emphasise on your main page that your meeting will be free of
charge and open to the public (if it is).
· You'll want to include an RSVP "mailto" hyperlink, on some events.
· Use referral pages.
· Make sure every page has a revision date and maintainer link.
· Check all links, at intervals.
· You may want to consider establishing a LUG mailing list.
· You don't need to be in the Internet Service Provider business.
· Don't go into any other business, either.
· Walk the walk. (Do the LUG's computing on GNU/Linux.)
That essay partly supplements (and partly overlaps) this HOWTO.
Some LUGs using the Internet effectively:
· Atlanta Linux Enthusiasts <http://www.ale.org/>
· Boston Linux and Unix <http://www.blu.org/>
· Colorado Linux Users and Enthusiasts <http://www.cluedenver.org/>
· Dorfer Linux Users Group <http://www.dlug.de/>
· India Linux Users Group - Delhi <http://linux-delhi.org/>
· Israeli Group of Linux Users <http://www.iglu.org.il/>
· Korean Linux Users Group <http://www.lug.or.kr/>
· Linux Mco (La CofradDigital) <http://www.linux.org.mx/>
· Linux User Group Austria <http://www.luga.at/>
· Linux User Group of Davis <http://www.lugod.org/>
· Linux User Group of Rochester <http://www.lugor.org/>
· Linux User Group of Singapore <http://www.lugs.org.sg/>
· Nederlandse Linux Gebruikers Groep (Netherlands Linux Users Group
or NLLGG) <http://www.nllgg.nl/>
· North Texas Linux Users Group <http://www.ntlug.org/>
· Ottawa Canada Linux Users Group <http://www.oclug.on.ca/>
· Provence Linux Users Group <http://plugfr.org/>
· St. Petersburg Linux User Group <http://linux.spb.org/>
· Svenska Linuxföreningen <http://se.linux.org/>
· Tokyo Linux Users Group <http://www.tlug.jp/>
· Turkish Linux User Group <http://www.linux.org.tr/>
· Victoria Linux User Group <http://www.vlug.org/>
· Volgograd Linux User Group <http://volgograd.lug.ru/>
Please let me know if your LUG uses the Internet in an important or
interesting way; I'd like this list to include your group.
6. Practical suggestions
Finally, I want to make some very practical, even mundane, suggestions
for anyone wanting to found, maintain, or grow a LUG.
6.1. LUG support organisations
There once were numerous organisations offering assistance to LUGs.
One of the long-time ones remains active:
Tux.Org is an umbrella organisation for LUGs and open-source
software development projects, providing a corporate entity, Web
hosting, mailing lists, mirrors of popular software, and
expertise and funding in planning special LUG events. More
information can be found at the http://www.tux.org/
<http://www.tux.org/> Web site.
6.2. Founding a LUG
· Determine the nearest existing LUG.
· Announce your intentions on comp.os.linux.announce and on an
appropriate regional hierarchy.
· Announce your intention wherever computer users are in your area:
bookstores, swap meets, cybercafes, colleges corporations, Internet
service providers, etc.
· Find friendly businesses or institutions in your area willing to
help you form the LUG.
· Form a mailing list or some means of communication among the people
who express an interest in forming a LUG.
· Ask key people specifically for help in spreading the word about
your intention to form a LUG.
· Solicit space on a Web server to put a few HTML pages together
about the group.
· Begin looking for a meeting place.
· Schedule an initial meeting.
· Discuss at the initial meeting the goals for the LUG.
6.3. Maintaining and growing a LUG
· Make the barriers to LUG membership as low as possible.
· Make the LUG's Web site a priority: Keep all information current,
make it easy to find details about meetings (who, what, and where),
and make contact information and feedback mechanisms prominent.
· Install distributions for anyone who wants it.
· Post flyers, messages, or handbills wherever computer users are in
· Secure dedicated leadership.
· Follow Linus Torvalds's benevolent dictator model of leadership.
· Take the big decisions to the members for a vote.
· Start a mailing list devoted to technical support and ask the
"gurus" to participate on it.
· Schedule a mixture of advanced and basic, formal and informal,
· Support the software development efforts of your members.
· Find way to raise money without dues: for instance, selling
GNU/Linux merchandise to your members and to others.
· Consider securing formal legal standing for the group, such as
incorporation or tax-exempt status.
· Find out if your meeting place is restricting growth of the LUG.
· Meet in conjunction with swap meets, computer shows, or other
community events where computer users -- i.e., potential GNU/Linux
users -- are likely to gather.
· Elect formal leadership for the LUG as soon as practical: Some
helpful officers might include President, Treasurer, Secretary,
Meeting Host (general announcements, speaker introductions, opening
and closing remarks, etc.), Publicity Coordinator (handles Usenet
and e-mail postings, local publicity), and Program Coordinator
(organises and schedules speakers at LUG meetings).
· Provide ways for members and others to give feedback about the
direction, goals, and strategies of the LUG.
· Support GNU/Linux and free software / open source development
efforts by donating Web space, a mailing list, or an ftp site.
· Establish an ftp/Web site for relevant software.
· Archive everything the LUG does for the Web site.
· Solicit "door prizes" from GNU/Linux vendors, VARs, etc. to give
away at meetings.
· Give credit where due.
· Submit your LUG's information to all the LUG lists.
· Publicise your meetings on appropriate Usenet groups and in local
computer publications and newspapers.
· Compose promotional materials, like PostScript files, for instance,
members can use to help publicise the LUG at workplaces,
bookstores, computer stores, etc.
· Make sure you know what LUG members want the LUG to do.
· Release press releases to local media outlets about any unusual LUG
events like an Installation Fest, Net Day, etc.
· Use LUG resources and members to help local non-profit
organisations and schools with their Information Technology needs.
· Advocate the use of our OS enthusiastically but responsibly.
· Play to LUG members' strengths.
· Maintain good relations with vendors, VARs, developers, etc.
· Identify and contact consultants in your area.
· Network with the leaders of other LUGs in your area, state, region,
or country to share experiences, tricks, and resources.
· Keep LUG members advised on the state of software -- new kernels,
bugs, fixes, patches, security advisories -- and the state of the
GNU/Linux world at large -- new ports, trademark and licensing
issues, where Torvalds is living and working, etc.
· Notify the Linux Documentation Project -- and other pertinent
sources of GNU/Linux information -- about the documentation the LUG
produces: technical presentations, tutorials, local HOWTOs, etc.
7. Legal and political issues
7.1. Organisational legal issues
The case for formal LUG organisation can be debated:
Pro: Incorporation and recognised tax-exemption limits liability and
helps the group carry insurance. It aids fundraising. It avoids
claims for tax on group income.
Con: Liability shouldn't be a problem for modestly careful people.
(You're not doing skydiving, after all.) Fundraising isn't needed for
a group whose activities needn't involve significant expenses. (Dead-
tree newsletters are so 1980.) Not needing a treasury, you avoid
needing to argue over it, file reports about it, or fear it being
taxed away. Meeting space can usually be gotten for free at ISPs,
colleges, pizza parlours, brewpubs, coffeehouses, computer-training
firms, GNU/Linux-oriented companies, or other friendly institutions,
and can therefore be free of charge to the public. No revenues and no
expenses means less need for organisation and concomitant hassles.
For whatever it's worth, this HOWTO's originator and second maintainer
lean, respectively, towards the pro and con sides of the issue -- but
choose your own poison: If interested in formally organising your
LUG, this section will introduce you to some relevant issues.
Note: this section should not be construed as competent legal counsel.
These issues require the expertise of competent legal counsel; you
should, before acting on any of the statements made in this section,
consult an attorney.
Thanks to Chris Browne for the following comments about the Canadian
The Canadian tax environment strongly parallels the US environment
(for which, see below), in that the "charitable organisation" status
confers similar tax advantages for donors over mere "not for profit"
status, while requiring that similar sorts of added paperwork be filed
by the "charity" with the tax authorities in order to attain and
maintain certified charity status.
Correspondent Thomas Kappler warns that the process of founding a non-
profit entity in Germany is a bit complicated, but comprehensively
covered at http://www.wegweiser-
In Sweden, LUGs are not required to register, but then are regarded as
clubs. Registration with Skatteverket (national tax authority) offers
two classification options: non-profit organisation or "economical
association". The latter is an organisation where the goal is to
benefit its members economically, and as such is probably unsuitable,
being traditionally used for collectives of companies, or building
societies / co-operative tenant-owners, and such).
Non-profit organisations in Sweden doesn't have specific laws to
follow. Rather, general Swedish law applies: They can hire people and
they can make profit. Generally they don't pay tax on their profits.
(Profits stay in the organisation; unlike the case with "economical
associations", members don't receive business proceeds.) To be able to
do business, you must register with Skatteverket to get an
"organisation number", allowing the group to pay and get paid.
Otherwise you will probably have to arrange business through a member
in his/her individual capacity. It may then also be possible, after
securing an organisation number to apply for government financial
7.1.4. United States of America
There are at least two different legal statuses a LUG in the USA may
1. incorporation as a non-profit entity
Although relevant statutes differ among states, most states allow user
groups to incorporate as non-profit entities. Benefits of
incorporation for a LUG include limitations of liability of LUG
members and volunteers (but only in their passive roles as
member/shareholders, not as participants), as well as limitation or
even exemption from state corporate franchise taxes (which, however,
is highly unlikely to be a real concern -- see "Common Misconceptions
While you should consult competent legal counsel before incorporating
your LUG as a non-profit, you can probably reduce your legal fees by
being acquainted with relevant issues before consulting with an
attorney. I recommend the Non-Lawyers' Non-Profit Corporation Kit
As for the second status, tax-exemption, this is not a legal status,
so much as an Internal Revenue Service judgement. It's important to
realise non-profit incorporation does not ensure that IRS will rule
your LUG tax-exempt. It is quite possible for a non-profit corporation
to not be tax-exempt.
IRS has a relatively simple document explaining the criteria and
process for tax-exemption. It is Publication 557: Tax-Exempt Status
for Your Organization, available as an Acrobat file from the IRS's Web
site. I strongly recommend you read this document before filing for
non-profit incorporation. While becoming a non-profit corporation
cannot ensure your LUG will be declared tax-exempt, some incorporation
methods will prevent IRS from declaring your LUG tax-exempt. Tax-
Exempt Status for Your Organization clearly sets out necessary
conditions for your LUG to be declared tax-exempt.
Finally, there are resources available on the Internet for non-profit
and tax-exempt organisations. Some of the material is probably
relevant to your LUG.
Common Misconceptions Debunked:
Incorporation and tax-exempt status are separate issues. You don't
have to be incorporated to get recognition of tax-exempt status.
You don't have to be tax-exempt to be incorporated. (Odds are, you
honestly won't want either. You just probably assume you do.)
The "liability shield" one can get from incorporating doesn't
protect volunteers from legal liability. All it does is prevent
any plaintiffs from suing individual shareholders (LUG members, in
this case) for tort damages merely because they own the
corporation, if the corporation itself is alleged to have wronged
the plaintiff. Plaintiff's maximum haul in damages from suing the
corporation is limited to the corporate net assets, in that one
case. However, volunteers are still fully liable for any personal
involvement they're alleged to have had.
Umbrella insurance coverage against tort liability (i.e., against
civil litigation) for your volunteers almost certainly costs far
too much for your group to afford (think $2,500 each and every year
in premium payouts, give or take, to buy $1M in general liability
insurance coverage -- which generally would cover only the
corporation as a whole and its directors in the strict performance
of their defined duties), if you can find it at all.
IRS recognition as a tax-exempt group doesn't mean donations to
your group necessarily become tax-deductible: Automatic
deductibility is reserved to charities only, IRS category
501(c)(3), which must obey extremely stifling restrictions on group
activities (e.g., it would then become illegal to host anti-DMCA
events or support any other political activity), and must meet
exacting paperwork and auditing standards. It's difficult to
envision 501(c)(3) charity status actually making functional sense
for any Linux group -- though one continually hears it recommended
by those who imagine being able to tell people their donations will
be guaranteed tax deductible must justify any accompanying
disadvantages. Most LUGs would more logically file (if at all) for
recognition as a "social and recreation club", category 501(c)(7)
In any event, unless one wishes to become a registered charity to
render incoming donations tax-deductible, there is literally no
point in applying for IRS recognition of your small, informal
Linux group under any of the Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)
tax-exempt statuses, because IRS simply doesn't care about groups
with annual gross revenues less than $25,000, and doesn't want to
hear from them
update: IRS now does require a very simple annual e-Postcard
<http://epostcard.form990.org/> informational filing from all small
non-profits, to keep their 501(c) certifications, but still doesn't
want tax from them).
The Federal Volunteer Protection Act of 1997
does not <http://www.runquist.com/article_vol_protect.htm>, in
fact, shield volunteers of Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3)
charities from tort lawsuits. At most, it furnishes some legal
defences that can be raised during (expensive) civil litigation,
with a large number of holes and limitations, and in most states
will be denied unless the group also carries large amounts of (very
expensive -- see above) liability insurance. Also, unless the
volunteer's duties are not very meticulously defined and monitored,
and the alleged tort occurs strictly in the scope of those duties,
there's no shield at all -- plus the litigated action must not
involve a motor vehicle / aircraft / vessel requiring an operator's
licence, nor may the volunteer be in violation of any state or
Federal law, else again there's no shield at all. (On the bright
side, it's completely false, as often alleged, that the volunteer
must be a member of the group, to be covered: In fact, the Act
clearly states that a volunteer may be anyone who performs defined
services for a qualifying group and receives no compensation for
As may be apparent from the above, a number of groups have, in the
past, talked themselves into unjustifiable levels of bureaucratic
strait-jacketing with no real benefit and serious ongoing
disadvantages to their groups, because of misconceptions, careless
errors, and tragically bad advice in the above areas. In general, you
should be slow to heed the counsel of amateur financial and tax
advisors. (This HOWTO's maintainer had past experience during his
first career as a professional finance and tax advisor, but, if you
need competent advice tailored to your situation, please have a
consultation with someone currently working in that field.)
7.2. Other legal issues
As a reminder, it's vital that offers or requests to copy
distribution-restricted proprietary software of any sort be heavily
discouraged anywhere in LUGs, and banned as off-topic from all
GNU/Linux user group on-line forums. This is not generally even an
issue -- much less so than among proprietary-OS users -- but (e.g.)
one LUG of my acquaintance briefly used a single LUG-owned copy of
PowerQuest's Partition Magic on all NTFS-formatted machines brought to
its installfests for dual-boot OS installations, on a very dubious
theory of legality.
If it smells unlawful, it almost certainly is. Beware.
It's healthy to discuss the consulting business in general in user
group forums, but for antitrust legal reasons it's a bad idea to get
into "How much do you charge to do [foo]?" discussions, there.
7.3. Software politics
Chris Browne <mailto:%email@example.com%20> has the following to
say about the kinds of intra-LUG political dynamics that often crop up
(lightly edited and expanded by the HOWTO maintainer):
7.3.1. People have different feelings about free / open-source soft-
GNU/Linux users are a diverse bunch. As soon as you try to put a lot
of them together, some problem issues can arise. Some, who are nearly
political radicals, believe all software, always, should be "free".
Because Caldera charges quite a lot of money for its distribution, and
doesn't give all profits over to (pick favorite advocacy
organisation), it must be "evil". Ditto Red Hat or SUSE. Keep in
mind that all three of these companies have made and continue to make
significant contributions to free / open-source software.
(HOWTO maintainer's note: The above was a 1998 note, from before
Caldera exited the GNU/Linux business, renamed itself to The SCO
Group, Inc., and launched a major copyright / contract / patent /
trade-secret lawsuit and PR campaign against GNU/Linux users. My,
those times do change. Still, we're grateful to the Caldera Systems
that was , for its gracious donation of hardware to help Alan Cox
develop SMP kernel support, for funding the development of RPM, and
for its extensive past kernel source contributions and work to combine
the GNU/Linux and historical Unix codebases.)
Others may figure they can find some way to highly exploit the
"freeness" of the GNU/Linux platform for fun and profit. Be aware that
many users of the BSD Unix variants consider their licences that do
permit companies to build "privatised" custom versions of their
kernels and C libraries preferable to the "enforced permanent
freeness" of the GPL as applied to the Linux kernel and GNU libc. Do
not presume that all people promoting this sort of view are
necessarily greedy leeches.
If/when these people gather, disagreements can occur.
Leaders should be clear on the following facts:
· There are a lot of opinions about the GPL and other open-source
licences and how they work -- mostly misinformed. It is easy to
misunderstand both the GPL and alternative licensing schemes. Most
attempts at debating same are, at root, pointless, ritualised
symbolic warfare among people who should know better. In the rare
event that participants actually aspire to understand the subject,
please direct them to the OSI's "license-discuss" mailing list and
the Debian Project's "debian-legal" mailing list, where substantive
analysis is possible and encouraged.
· GNU/Linux benefits from contributions from many places, including
proprietary-software vendors, e.g., in the Linux kernel, X.org, and
· Proprietary implies neither better nor horrible.
The main principle can be extended well beyond this; computer "holy
wars" have long been waged over endless battlegrounds, including
GNU/Linux vs. other Unix variants vs. Microsoft OSes, the "IBM PC" vs.
sundry Motorola 68000-based systems, the 1970s' varied 8-bit systems
against each other, KDE versus GNOME....
A wise LUG leader will seek to move past such differences, if only
because they're tedious. LUG leaders ideally therefore will have
7.3.2. Non-profit organisations and money don't mix terribly well.
It is important to be careful with finances in any sort of non-profit.
In businesses, which focus on substantive profit, people are not
typically too worried about minor details such as alleged misspending
of immaterial sums. The same cannot be said of non-profit
organisations. Some people are involved for reasons of principle, and
devote inordinate attention to otherwise minor issues, an example of
C. Northcote Parkinson's Bike Shed Effect
<http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/lexicon.html#bikeshed>. LUG business
meetings' potential for wide participation correspondingly expands the
potential for exactly such inordinate attention.
As a result, it is probably preferable for there to not be any LUG
membership fee, as that provides a specific thing for which people can
reasonably demand accountability. Fees not collected can't be misused
-- or squabbled over.
If there is a lot of money and/or other substantive property, the user
group must be accountable to members.
Any vital, growing group should have more than one active person. In
troubled nonprofits, financial information is often tightly held by
someone who will not willingly relinquish monetary control. Ideally,
there should be some LUG duty rotation, including duties involving
Regular useful financial reports should be made available to those who
wish them. A LUG maintaining official "charitable status" for tax
purposes must file at least annual financial reports with the local
tax authorities, which would represent a minimum financial disclosure
With the growth of GNU/Linux-based financial software, regular reports
are now quite practical. With the growth of the Internet, it should
even be possible to publish these on the World-Wide Web.
7.4. Elections, democracy, and turnover
Governing your LUG democratically is absolutely vital -- if and only
if you believe it is. I intend that remark somewhat less cynically
than it probably sounds, as I shall explain.
Tangible stakes at issue in LUG politics tend to be minuscule to the
point of comic opera: There are typically no real assets. Differences
of view can be resolved by either engineering around them with
technology (the GNU/Linux-ey solution) or by letting each camp run
efforts in parallel. Moreover, even the most militantly "democratic"
LUGs typically field, like clockwork, exactly as many candidates as
there are offices to be filled -- not a soul more.
It's tempting to mock such exercises as empty posturing, but such is
not (much) my intent. Rather, I mention them to point out something
more significant: Attracting and retaining key volunteers is vital to
the group's success. Anything that makes that happen is good. It
seems likely that the "democratic" exercise stressed in some groups,
substantive or not, encourages participation, and gives those elected
a sense of status, legitimacy, and involvement. Those are Good
Thus, if elections and formal structure help attract key participants,
use them. If those deter participants, lose them. If door-prizes and
garage sales bring people in, do door-prizes and garage sales.
Participation, as much as software, is the lifeblood of your LUG.
The reason I spoke of "key" volunteers, above, is because, inevitably,
a very few people will do almost all of the needed work. It's just
the way things go, in volunteer groups. An anecdote may help
illustrate my point: Towards the end of my long tenure as editor and
typesetter of San Francisco PC User Group's 40-page monthly magazine,
I was repeatedly urged to make magazine management more "democratic".
I finally replied to the club president, "See that guy over there?
That's Ed, one of my editorial staff. Ed just proofread twelve
articles for the current issue. So, I figure he gets twelve votes."
The president and other club politicos were dismayed by my work-based
recasting of their democratic ideals: Their notion was that each biped
should have an equal say in editorial policy, regardless of ability to
typeset or proofread, or whether they had ever done anything to assist
magazine production. Although he looked quite unhappy about doing so,
the president dropped the subject. I figured that, when it came right
down to it, he'd decide that the club needed people who got work done
more than they needed his brand of "democracy".
But we weren't quite done: A month or so later, I was introduced to a
"Publications Committee", who arrived with the intent of doing nothing
but vote on matters of newsletter policy (i.e., issue "executive"
orders to the volunteer production staff). Their first shock came
when I listened politely to their advice but then applied my editorial
judgement as usual. Much worse, though: I also assigned them work,
as part of my staff. Almost all immediately lost interest. (Bossing
around other people seemed likely to be fun; doing actual work was
The point is that the widespread urge to vote on everything is at best
orthogonal to any desire to perform needed work; at worst, the former
serves as an excuse to compulsively meddle in others' performance of
To sum up: Have all the "democracy" that makes you happy, but
watching after the well-being of your key volunteers is what matters.
(To quote Candide, "We must cultivate our garden.")
Last, plan for your replacement: If your LUG is a college student
group, and must go through a paperwork deathmarch every year to stay
accredited, make sure that and all other vital processes are
documented, so new LUG officers needn't figure everything out from
scratch. Think of it as a systems-engineering problem: You're trying
to eliminate single points of failure.
And what works for the guys in the next town may not work for your
crowd: Surprise! The keys to this puzzle are still being sought. So,
please experiment, and let me know what works for you, so I can tell
others. Have fun!
8. About this document
Copyright (C) 2003-2007, Rick Moen. Copyright (C) 1997-1998 by
Kendall Grant Clark. This document may be distributed under the terms
set forth in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 licence
<http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, or, at your option,
any later version.
8.2. New versions
New versions of the Linux User Group HOWTO will be periodically
uploaded to various GNU/Linux Web and ftp sites, principally
http://linuxmafia.com/lug/ <http://linuxmafia.com/lug/> and the Linux
Documentation Project <http://www.tldp.org/>.
8.3. Please contribute to this HOWTO
I welcome questions about and feedback on this document. Please send
them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am especially interested in
hearing from LUG leaders around the world, especially outside the USA.
Please let me know of innovative or noteworthy things your group does,
meriting description here.
8.4. Document history
· 1.0: Released on 13 July 1997.
· 1.1: Expanded online resources section.
· 1.3: Added LUG support organisations and expanded the Legal and
Organisational Issues section.
· 1.3.1: General editing for clarity and conciseness.
· 1.4: General editing, added new LUG resources.
· 1.4.1: General editing for clarity.
· 1.5: Added some resources, some discussion of LUG documentation,
also general editing.
· 1.5.1: Changed Web location for this document and author's e-mail
· 1.5.2: New copyright notice and license.
· 1.5.3: Miscellaneous edits and minor re-organisations.
· 1.6: Added Chris Browne's material: GNU/Linux philanthropic
donations and LUG political considerations.
· 1.6.1: Very minor additions.
· 1.6.2: Minor corrections.
· 1.6.3: Maintenance assumed by Rick Moen on 26 July 2003: General
initial touch-up, correction of broken URLs, etc.
· 1.6.4: Further minor fixes and additions.
· 1.6.5: More-extensive edits, added "Limits of advocacy", added
caveat about conflicting value systems in support contexts. Added
more news sites, reordered examples of LUGs using Internet well.
General tightening of phrasing, greater brevity in places,
tempering of the more egregious boosterism.
· 1.6.6: More small fixes, added Yahoo LUG list.
· 1.6.7: Added formal-organisational pros/cons, "Elections,
democracy, and turnover" section, Web site suggestions, and link to
"Recipe for a Successful Linux User Group" essay. Fixed mis-tagged
sections under "Legal and political issues".
· 1.6.8: Fixed small glitches. Rewrote section concerning GNU/Linux
news outlets; parts of sections concerning consultants, businesses,
· 1.6.9: Minor corrections.
· 1.7.0: Caught up with GLUE membership having become free of charge.
· 1.7.1: Added a bunch more newly supported embedded CPUs.
· 1.7.2: Added more on CPU support / ports (which section was always
a bit silly, but I figure it might as well be exhaustive, correct,
and grandly silly, if present at all); furnished matching URLs.
Added details about GNU/Linux in India, and LINUX For You magazine.
Expanded legal issues section.
· 1.7.3: Added mention of Debian GNU/NetBSD to the CPU ports section.
Reorganised and further expanded the latter. Recorded Linux
Gazette's move to new hosting. Added LinuxFocus.
· 1.7.4: Added LinuxWorld Magazine, fixed URL of Recipe for a
Successful Linux User Group, which I moved. Added Tux.Org and
LinuxUserGroups.org as LUG support organisations.
· 1.7.5: Added several more embedded CPUs to the supported list,
implemented licence change (9 Jan 2004) to Creative Commons
Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 or later after securing permission from
Kendall Clark. (The HOWTO had previously been under the LDPL
version posted at LDP's site in 1997, which by 2004 had become not
only deprecated but also somewhat indeterminate as to content,
because the licence had been edited in place with neither clear
versioning nor a distinct URL for each revision.)
· 1.7.6: Corrected addresses for TeX User Group in USA and UK. Added
mention of C. Northcote Parkinson's Bike Shed Effect. Other minor
· 1.7.7: Added reference to the UK Linux User Groups site. Added
description of PingoS e.V. Corrected URL for Thomas Kappler's e-
mail address. Added Volgograd LUG to Online Resources.
· 1.7.8: Added Jerome Pinot's Linux architectures list, used some
data from it. Added "I Linux User Group italiani". Corrected
capitalisation of PingoS. After securing permission from Kendall
Clark, added "or any later version" clause to document licence.
· 1.7.9: Corrected India Linux link and added LINUX For You, per
suggestions from Rohit Kumar. Added Linux Foundation to list of
candidates for receiving monetary support. Made fixes to Red Hat
LUG list (reincarnated as "Army of Friends" database), as suggested
by Vincenzo Virgilio. Added LinuxHQ and O'Reilly LUG lists and FSF
GNU User Groups list. Added Wikipedia Category:LUGs page. Dropped
material about the GLUE site, which SSC, Inc. tragically deleted
in mid-2006 without allowing anyone a chance to adopt it. Added
kernel support for two more embedded chip families. Substituted
static mirrors for two (vanished) pages listing Linux kernel ports.
Dropped LinuxWorld Magazine (vanished). Removed references to
getting help in founding LUGs from Red Hat User Group Program and
Kara Pritchard's LinuxUserGroups.org (both vanished) and from
lug.net (deactivated). Added Swedish tax/regulatory details from
Martin Karlsson. Added analysis of issues surrounding
incorporation, tax-exempt status, and insurance in the USA. Found
new URLs for a vast number of links. Updated licence to Creative
Commons BY-SA 3.0, to incorporate improvements. Re-sorted country
coverage into alphabetical order (a small gesture to further reduce
· 1.8.0: Corrected typos. Improved some markup. Expanded "Common
Misconceptions Debunked" section to address recently popular errors
about USA Volunteer Protection Act of 1997, civil liability, and
IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Linked directly to the Act and an
analysis page. Furnished links for Non-Lawyers' Non-Profit
Corporation Kit, for DistroWatch Weekly, and for the Raymond
· 1.8.1: Banished more typos. (I blame society.)
· 1.8.2: Added more CPU ports. APCUG changed Web sites. Linux
India's LUG list, lugww.counter.li.org, Red Hat Army of Friends,
LUG Webring, O'Reilly LinuxGroups, and LINUX For You Magazine (of
India) LUG List vanished. IDG moved the Raymond article (again).
LinuxFocus was revived via a CMS. NewsForge was shut down by The
Company Formerly Known as VA Linux. Linux International
Development Grant Fund program vanished. Project Gutenberg moved
to its own domain. Colorado Linux Users and Enthusiasts moved.
Added mention of IRS e-Postcard for 501(c) non-profits. Add linux-
delhi.org. Add New Zealand Linux Resource. Add Project Runeberg.
I would like to give a big thank-you to Kendall Grant Clark for the
initial versions of this document in 1997-1998, and for trusting me to
take over and renovate his creation starting in 2003.
Warm regards and thanks to Chris Browne
<mailto:%email@example.com%20> for describing the situation with
non-profit and charitable groups in Canada, his thoughts on financial
donations as a way to participate in GNU/Linux and the free software
and open-source software movements, and his ideas about the kinds of
political issues likely to arise within LUGs.
In addition, the following people have made helpful comments and
· Matthew Craig
· Jeff Garvas
· Greg Hankins
· James Hertzler
· Thomas Kappler
· Martin Karlsson
· Hugo van der Kooij
· Rohit Kumar
· Charles Lindahl
· Don Marti
· Vincenzo Virgilio
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