I want to learn more about my computer, and I read in a computer magazine that user groups are a good source of information. What exactly is a user group?

A user group, as the name implies, is a group of computer users with a common interest. There are PC user groups, Macintosh user groups, and even user groups for specific software programs and computer brands.

Many useful activities can take place within the framework of the user group. Discussions about the groupís main subject are a primary feature, during which group members can share discoveries and solutions to their own everyday computer questions with each other, thereby saving each other valuable time and effort and minimizing having to troubleshoot problems through trial and error. Learning from each othersí experiences is one of the quickest and most effective ways to become a "power user." Tips and shortcuts can also be traded, thus making everyone more productive and efficient. Local computer-oriented businesses can provide speakers from time to time to address members or give presentations.

Other topics of discussion can range from current computer news stories to more specific interests within the group. For example, special interest groups, or SIGs, are focus groups internal to the main user group. Their subject of interest can be a particular program, such as Photoshop, or an entire software category, such as graphics, spreadsheets, or word processing. These SIGs are basically mini-user groups that can meet either as part of the main user group or separately in a memberís home. They can present reports at the main user group meeting or simply exist informally and apart from the main group.

Many user groups manage a shareware library for access by members. Shareware is software thatís distributed on a "try before you buy" basis. User groups can also be affiliated with certain manufacturers and organizations. For example, some Macintosh user groups are officially recognized by Apple and are allowed to legally copy and distribute certain system software upgrades.

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