July 2, 2002

GBLUG already working on Linux converts

-By Grant Gross -
The Glen Burnie Linux Users Group, billed as a different kind of LUG focused solely on evangelizing Linux to new users, started working on its first convert at its first meeting.
During an organizational meeting last Wednesday, a retired man who said he knew little about Linux showed up, and GBLUG organizer Jamie Harrison sent him away with a Mandrake 8.2 disk set and hooked him up with a more experienced Linux user from the audience to serve as a mentor.

Even before the GBLUG's first meeting, the group was generating attention and some controversy. In differentiating GBLUG from others -- including a half dozen between Baltimore, Maryland, and northern Virginia -- Harrison has suggested many LUGs are too techno-geeky focused for most new users.

"You're the person we're trying to reach out to," Harrison told the retiree. "Often LUGs are too technical for new users, and somebody has to sell Linux to the world, since there's no marketing arm of Linux like there is a marketing arm of Microsoft."

Harrison even encountered a bit of debate at the meeting when he suggested that Linux is an operating system for people who like computers, while people who think of their computers the same way they think of their blenders should probably stick to Windows. One audience member suggested that would limit the rate of Linux adoption.

But Harrison said Linux will turn people who think of computers as just another appliance into computer zealots. "Linux changes everything," he said. "Linux changes people's attitudes about the hardware. We will make computer lovers where there were computer users."

Ten people showed up to the GBLUG kick off, most looking like typical geeks -- all male in T-shirts, jeans and one or two long, gray beards. Harrison, a former local Jaycees president, looked more business casual in Tux polo and khakis, even though he's a PC technician by day. His spiel did have the flavor of a chamber of commerce veteran pitching his city to a prospective membership.

Harrison told those attending the first meeting that he's received more than a dozen emails from across the country expressing interest in this new approach to a LUG. "They want to see if this little experiment works," he said. "If it works, we can start a fire across the country."

Several of the people attending the first meeting said the idea of evangelizing Linux appealed more to them than the themes for other LUGs they'd attended. One said another area LUG seemed more about bickering than learning about Linux. "It was more an excuse for some type of match people wanted," he said. "This sounded a lot more interesting."

Others said they were interested in teaching new users and working with organizations like schools.

Harrison said later he was quite happy with the turnout for the first meeting. He figured there were about 60 avid Linux users in the immediate Glen Burnie area. "I thought to myself, 'if I get one, I won't be embarrassed -- I won't be talking to myself in an empty room. If I get five, I'll be real happy, and if I get 10, I'll be ecstatic.' I realized it was going to be slow and lonely at first, but it turns out it isn't going to be as lonely as I thought."

Harrison's first order of business is to schedule booths at a handful of festivals and community activities this summer or fall. He brought a handful of Linux-related software on disks to the first meeting, including a couple of games and the current versions of Mandrake and Red Hat.

While Harrison's immediate goal for the group is to convert regular computer users to Linux and support them so they won't get confused and backslide, he's also interested in preaching Linux to people in power. "We're uniquely postured geographically," he told the audience. "I think part of Linux advocacy in the future will be to take our case to the people in D.C."

GBLUG's next meeting is July 31 at 7:30 p.m. at the North County Public Library, 1010 Eastway in Glen Burnie.

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