Statistics about things Macintosh often seem a bit out of whack with the Mac's modest market share. Take user groups--mutual aid societies for computer users. According to the User Group Connection, an independent national clearinghouse for such organizations, there are 2,200 Mac user groups, or MUGs, in the United States, compared with only 1,600 PC user groups.
Mac users have always banded together for security in the face of the rampaging hordes of PC users. They've always needed extra help because their information system departments at work--where PCs have always been predominant--usually have no clue how to solve their system conflicts or other assorted problems.
The proliferation of MUGs might also have something to do with how different the Mac was at its inception. The graphical user interface encouraged a kind of free expression that stimulated people to invent, then share, solutions and ideas beyond the fixes, tips and tricks offered by Apple tech support.
Ray Kaupp, president of the User Group Connection, characterizes the difference between PC user groups and MUGs like this: "For the PC groups, the computer is merely a tool. For the Mac groups, it's that whole 'empowerment' thing."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday February 24, 1997 Home Edition Business Part D Page 2 Financial Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
User group fees--The Mac Smart column in last week's Cutting Edge misstated the cost of membership in the Los Angeles Macintosh User's Group. The monthly dues are $4.
Apple's "empowerment" propaganda notwithstanding, something about using a Mac does seem to draw together like-minded souls.
Of course these groups of effervescent problem solvers also exist because Macs, like all computers, are complex machines. The Mac may be easier, but for many people no computer is genuinely easy. In any case, the MUG phenomenon is so widespread that it defies simple explanation. Fortunately, we're lucky they're around, whatever the reasons.
If you're new to Mac, or for some reason computer-based bonding has passed you by, get ready to discover a great resource. Part help line, part social club, part research and training center, and part army of proselytes, MUGs represent one of the few zones of genuine altruism in the computer industry. They exist to solve your problems or help you have more fun and be more effective with your Mac.
The Los Angeles Macintosh Group, or LAMG, (http://www.lamg.org), one of the largest, offers a wide range of services--such as classes, a vast shareware library, discounts on commercial products, publications and CDs full of tips and tools and, most important, loads of advice--for $48 a month. There are dozens of more local and more specialized Mac user groups in Southern California.
Looking for kindred computing spirits? Probably the most interesting parts of any Mac group are its special-interest groups--SIGs in MUG parlance. The L.A. group offers 28 SIGs on topics that range from advertising to fine art to women. (Although LAMG Vice President Tom Negrino says he found his girlfriend through LAMG, the women's SIG is for womenmembers, not for finding them.)
Typically, there are SIGs devoted to particular products, such as FileMaker or ArchiCAD--a great resource for the many small businesses that depend completely on a handful of applications.
If you're reading this in a paper published outside Los Angeles, consider some other top groups. The Berkeley Macintosh User Group (http://www.bmug.org), the biggest and most prolific anywhere, offers a wide range of well-crafted books, CDs and other resources. The New York Macintosh User Group (http://www.nymug.org) is another place to check for help on any kind of Mac question or problem--the more obscure the better.
Live outside a major metro area, or looking for help when you're spending those two weeks every year at your favorite vacation spot? The User Group Connection Web site (http://www.ugconnection.com) maintains a searchable database that lists virtually all MUGs, including SMUG (the Sitka, Alaska, Macintosh User Group), and SMAUG (the Southern Maine Apple Users Group, in Freeport).
No MUGs in your area? Start your own; the User Group Connection offers a wealth of tips on how to go about it.
Charles Piller can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org