Users groups offer chance to learn and teach



Of the Journal Sentinel staff

Tuesday, September 21, 1999


For people struggling with confusing software or cryptic computer manuals users groups can be self-help havens where people meet locally to discuss problems and socialize with friends.
Computer users groups vary in type and technical level, with some focusing on recreational interests such as games, the Internet and learning software. Others have professional focus on subjects such as programming languages. Many groups meet just so members can talk about computers of show off their newest technology toys.
The Wisconsin All-Computer Users Club is one of the largest in the Milwaukee area, with about 165 members, according to Bruce Kosbab, the group’s president.
The club’s main meeting is the first Thursday of every month at Jackson Part Lutheran Church and three are several special-interest groups within the club that address various issues including telecommunications early Apple computer and Macintosh machines.
“We don’t leave anybody out, and we don’t go over their head,” Kosbab said. “We won’t do everything for you, but we get you off to a good start.”
Besides getting question answered members’ get-to-get different visiting speakers. Members have seen Y2K question- and-answer session and prizes from software developers and software demonstrations, program such as ICE which is an instant messaging program used over the Internet for real-time chat.
The group has become more diverse as it has grown, Kosbab said Teenager, senior citizens and families attend meeting. Question range from what kind of printer should I buy? To “How do I get on the Internet?” Kobsbab said.
A lot of people hear about us by word of mouth and some people might just stumble upon us,’ Kosbab said. “I thing the socializing is one of the biggest things.”
But while some group’s say they are growing with the popularity of computers, David Glish vice-president of the Milwaukee Computer Society said this his group’s members have been stagnant over the last few years and users groups in general have bee declining.
“User’s groups seemed to be much more popular with there were lots of different types of computers,” Glish said. It’s seemed like IBM people aren’t as interested in users groups because they tend to be people who buy a compute and use it for a few things. The aren’t’ that interested in learning about how it works.
“There are so many help books and magazine out there people can really learn about on their own if they want to,” he said. “But you always end up with those nagging questions that you can’t figure out by yourself and someone else has already run into it. That’s saved me a lot of grief in the past.”
Milwaukee Computer Society formed as an Atari computer group in 1981 and has about 30 members now. The society meeting the third Saturday of every month at Greenfield Park Lutheran Church in West Allis. Membership is $20 a year, and for that, members see lots of hardware presentations where members talk about scanners and high-end video cards and teach other how to install CD-ROM drives and hard drives. The group also talks about MP3 music files, graphic art and video games
Users group offer advice, shortcuts
About 20 society members gather Saturday afternoon to learn about digital cameras and camcorder, but a few quite conversations began during the presentations as people talked about color printers Microsoft Office 2000 and Sony’s PlayStation game system.
J.J. Johnson drove all the way from his home in Waukegan, ILL, to attend the meeting.
“Someone says ‘computer and I’m there, I don’t care whether it is, “Johnson said, “It’s all fun and games, and with my teaching background I really enjoy sharing information with others.”
Johnson, who creates multimedia tutorials at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois, is founder of the Lake County Area Computer Enthusiasts user group, which had about 20 members last year but had about 80 now. He said member ship rose dramatically after the group got some exposure at a computer show and moved its meetings to a larger facility.
Nick Salonen, 16 a student at Heritage Christian Scholl in West Allis, said that Saturday was his first meeting with the group, and he planned to come back.
“It’s pretty good,” Salonen said about the group after the discussion on digital cameras, “I like the exchanging of information and the sharing of what they know. Maybe I’ll get to share some things.”
Sam Gardner secretary of the Association of Personal Computer User Group, a non-profit coalition of groups based in Jacksonville, Fla, said that the number of computer user groups in the United States and the world has grown steadily and he estimated that the number of groups joining the association had risen by about 50 over the last two years.
“They’re really there to help you get s tatted, “Gardner said. “It does not require someone there holding your hand, but that's available if that’ what you need.
"It's the best-kept secret as far as computing goes. People buy computers, the have a lot of time, a lot of money, and they want to socialize.”
User groups often give feedback to companies that show off their wares, telling them whether the products are stable, easy to use and effective. Members sometimes find problems that company testers miss.
“The nature of many of the groups has changed,” He said.
 “There are many more senior citizens than geeks. There is more need for these groups than ever before.”
The Wisconsin All-computer User Group is, The association of Personal Computer User Groups’ Web site at has information on several groups in the Milwaukee area and 16 other in the state.  The Lake County Area Computer Enthusiast  Web site is at