Computer Users’ Groups of My Past

I’ve spent the past couple of months procuring parts and assembling a 486-class DOS PC that is more or less a replica of the 486 PC I had back in college, in 1994. That’s the machine that first delivered the Internet to my home (by way of dial-up 28.8Kbps PPP). Prior to that it was all BBSs and FidoNet relays. Once I had the Internet on my desk, the Usenet, or “news groups,” was my arena. It’s still around, but it doesn’t have the same feel, to me, that it once did. There, I’ve long been a stranger.

With this “new” DOS PC I built, I’ve been thinking a lot about things that were and are no longer. Another item on that list, for me, is the local computer users’ group.

Back in the day, young readers, every system had its own ecosystem. This was before the Mac / Windows domination. That being the case, and given the lack of widespread, online communication, users’ groups were an important way for devotees of a particular system to share tips, techniques, and general knowledge.

I was a member of several users’ groups in my youth in the Hampton Roads area of southern Virginia (USA), and I wanted to list them here, along with the names of a few group members that I can recall, in hopes that this post might find them out there (please comment, old friends).

Tidewater 99/4 User Group ( ~1982 )

  • Judy North
  • Barry Ensley

[ An Apple II user group the name of which I cannot recall ] ( ~1984, ~1988 )

  • Dennis Bartlett (Hampton, VA)
  • Doug Lamb (Newport News, VA)

P.A.C.E. (Peninsula Atari Computer Enthusiasts) ( ~1987 )

  • Joe East (Hampton, VA)
  • David Koster (Hampton, VA)
  • Maria Campbell (Newport News, VA)
  • Chris Tanner (Hampton, VA)
  • Jeff Cleveland (Hampton, VA)
  • Joe Cullen (Hampton, VA)

A.L.F.A. (Amigoid Life Form Association) ( ~1989 )

  • Patrick Birkmeyer (Hampton, VA)
  • Norman Goswick (Hampton, VA)
  • Myron Sothcott (Newport News, VA)
  • Shawn Liptack (Hampton, VA)

For a fledgling geek, users’ groups were wonderful. My parents divorced in the mid-’80s and my father would drive me to the various group meetings around town, over the years, usually held in a local high school or community college. We saw great new hardware and software demonstrated, and generally had a splendid time as a like-minded group. I wish I still had just one of the membership cards from the groups of my past to share, but it seems that all have disappeared.

It’s worth nothing that users’ groups still exist. I have considered, on several occasions, attending a somewhat local Amiga group and an Apple Newton group in Maryland, but I’ve not yet taken the time, sadly. Currently, Twitter serves as my sort-of users’ group surrogate. But, it’s nicer to gather in person.

Are you or were you part of a users’ group? Please share your memories.

[ Photo of the Amarillo 99/4A Users Group (1988) courtesy of 99er.net ]

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7 Responses to Computer Users’ Groups of My Past

  1. Allen Schreiber says:

    Back around 1992, I was a Atari ST user, but there were no Atari ST user groups immediately at hand. So the next closest thing was the local Mac users group here in Stillwater, the Stillwater Macintosh Users Group (SMUG). I emailed the group’s president and asked if I could attend meetings even though I was an Atari user. I will never forget the last sentence in reply that I got that went something like this, “We would welcome you to any of our meetings! It would be interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two systems. Besides that our group is SMUG not SNOB.”

    • Blake Patterson says:

      That’s excellent! I remember one of the more exciting things we saw demonstrated at the Atari ST group I attended (P.A.C.E.) was the Magic Sac, a Macintosh emulator for the ST by Gadgets by Small. It was amazing to see the Mac System and Finder running on an ST — and with a screen larger than that of the Mac (640×400 on the ST mono screen vs. 512×342 on the Macintosh). It worked really well, and I purchased one not long after seeing it demonstrated at the users group. I’ll bet that Mac group you attended would’ve loved to see that demo.

      • Allen Schreiber says:

        I would have liked to have seen the Magic Sac in action. I have read about it and wanted one but was never able to get a hold of one.

        About a year later, I bought a used Mac Plus to get me going on the Mac side. It was a little clunky by then but it was far more affordable for a college student than a new Mac would have been.

  2. Alex Taylor says:

    Electron User Group – which I think is still going, there’s certainly a website with an archive of the magazines.

    QUANTA, the Sinclair QL user group. I used to attend meetings in Nottingham.

    I also joined Dragon and TI-99 user groups, although I didn’t use those systems very much.

    This was all in the early 90s, when mainstream use of 8-bit platforms was on its way out.

  3. George says:

    Almost 25 years ago, I attended my first and only meeting of Federal Users of Data General Equipment (FUDGE). The writing was not quite on the wall yet for minicomputers–or if it was, not everyone had read it and thought it through–but the group was not such as to make me want to come back for more. I remember it as about three other men. One was a guy about the age I am now who had an odd obsession with Kermit, which he seemed to think he wanted to get running on his machine. The others patronized him. One of the patronizing types I may have run into later.

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