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Student Computing Handbook


Students in the School of Computer Science have access to the CAT suites in the Ingkarni Wardli building and on level-1 of the Engineering and Mathematics building. Nearly all of these machines are configured so that you can choose to run Linux or Windows. There are also a number of Macintoshes available in the Hub.

For most purposes, either a Linux or Macintosh can be used for your work. For many tasks, you will use the UNIX shell (covered shortly) which is basically the same on both platforms. You may encounter a few differences in configuration and software availability between the two types of system.

Apart from practical exams, you are free to use any of the available computing suites for your assignment work. Many are also available 24-hours a day. You can also work at home and / or bring your own laptop to work on.

Logging in

When you first sit down at a machine, you will be prompted for your user name and password. This is the same user name and password that you will use for all other university systems, including email. You should ensure that you keep this password to yourself and do not share it with others.

Once logged in, you will be presented with a graphical desktop environment. This will be different depending on whether you are using a Mac or Linux machine. If you are not already familiar with the desktop environment you should spend some time exploring the menus, available applications etc. so that you know your way around.

Navigating around the system

How you launch applications and work with files will depend on which type of system you are using.

Mac OS X

On a Mac, you use an application called the Finder. This lets you browse through directories on the hard disk and in your home directory on the network file server. You can browse the file system by double clicking on Macintosh HD on the desktop, and then double clicking on different folders to view their contents.

On the left hand side of the Finder window you will see a home icon with your user name; clicking on this will take you to your home directory. Any files you save here will be accessible from other computers in the labs.

At the bottom of the screen you will see the dock. This contains icons for some of the applications installed on the computer, including any applications you are currently running. You can launch these just by clicking on the icons, e.g. the compass icon which will launch Safari, with which you can browse the web. You can access other applications by going to the Applications folder in the Finder (under Macintosh HD). If you use an application regularly, you can drag its icon from this folder to the dock, so that it can be launched with a single click.


Under Linux you can browse around the file system using the Nautilus file manager. Just double click on the home icon on the desktop, and you will see the contents of your home directory on the network. You can also look through the contents of the local file system on the computer's hard disk via the computer icon. When using the file manager, you may find it useful to switch to list mode (click on View -> View as List).

To see what applications are installed on the machine, click on the Applications menu at the top of the screen. You can easily launch programs like Firefox (for web browsing) or the terminal from here.

The UNIX shell

Both Linux and Mac OS X are based on UNIX, the platform of choice for many computer scientists and software developers. UNIX features a command-line interface with which you can perform tasks by typing in text-based commands and viewing responses printed out on the terminal by the computer. If you have previously only used Windows (or the graphical desktop on the Mac), this can take a bit of getting used to, but with a bit of practice you'll find it just as easy to use (if not more) than graphical tools. There are a number of important advantages to using the command line interface, which you'll learn more about as you go through your courses.

To bring up a terminal, do the following:

  • Linux: Go to the menu and select Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal
  • Mac OS X: Click on "Macintosh HD" and navigate to Applications -> Utilities, then double click on Terminal. You can also drag the Terminal icon to the dock (at the bottom of the screen) so you can launch it more easily in the future.

To learn the basics, go through lessons 1-4 of the tutorial at:

You may wish to look at the other lessons at some later point in time, but the first 4 will be enough to get you started. Note that in lesson 2 there is a reference to a file science.txt which does not exist on our system; you can use /etc/services instead when going through this lesson on the CAT suite Linux machines.

Editing text files

During your course work you will need to use a text editor to work with various types of files, such as program source code. While you can use any text editor you like, we recommend Emacs. You can access this as follows:

  • Linux: Go to the menu and select Applications -> Programming -> Emacs Text Editor
  • Mac OS X: Navigate to the Applications directory in the Finder and double click on Aquamacs Emacs. As with Terminal, it's a good idea to drag this to your dock so you can access it more easily.

Some of the keyboard shortcuts for emacs are as follows:

  • Ctrl-x-f: Open file. Type the filename at the prompt at the bottom of the window. You can also use this to create new files.
  • Ctrl-x-s: Save file
  • Ctrl-h then t: Bring up tutorial. This will explain the basics of how to edit files in Emacs.
  • Ctrl-a: Move to start of line
  • Ctrl-e: Move to end of line
  • Ctrl-x then u: Undo

Copying and pasting work as follows:

  • Select text with the mouse, or by pressing Ctrl-space and then moving the cursor to set the region you want to copy
    (Note: Ctrl-space may not work properly on the Linux machines, in which case you can use Ctrl-Shift-@ instead)
  • To copy text to the clipboard, press Alt-w
  • To cut text (copy + remove), press Ctrl-w
  • To paste text, move the cursor to the appropriate place, and press Ctrl-y

The Mac version of Emacs will, by default, open each file in a separate window. You may wish to disable this behaviour using the menu item "Options->Display Buffers in Separate Frames". This can be useful when editing many different files, e.g. source files of a program.

Accessing the Internet

Firefox is installed on the Linux machines, and Safari on the Macs. When you first try to access the Internet, you will be prompted for your user name and password to access the proxy server. These are the same as what you used to log in to the machines. On the Macs, you can select "Remember this password in my keychain" to avoid having to type it in every time.

Please be aware that your use of the Internet is subject to the University's acceptable use policies and guidelines. You can find more information on these at

University email

The university provides a web-based email service and information on this is available at

Your email user name and password is the same as what you use when logging in to the CS machines.

Changing your password

If you need to change your password, see the instructions here:

Any changes you make to your password will apply to all university systems, including email and the CS machines. Unfortunately, it can take a little time for the change to propagate to all University systems. If you encounter problems logging in after changing your password, please contact the IT Service Desk on 08-8313-3000.


Several printers are available for use in the student labs. The lab machines are configured to use these, and you can select the appropriate printer from the print dialog in most applications. The names of the printers are the same as the room numbers; you can select an appropriate one when you print a document from any application.

You are initially given a print quota that applies to printers in all student computer labs throughout the university. If it runs out, you can purchase additional quota at the student centre. For more information, and to check your current quota, see


The School of Computer Science uses a web based assignment submission system that assumes all student assignments are stored in a version control system called Subversion. Subversion enables you to keep a backup of your work, to have up to date copies at University home, as well as store different versions that can later be retrieved and compared. You will use Subversion during most of your courses for assignment work.

A set of instructions on how to use Subversion is available at We expect all students to be able to operate subversion from the UNIX command line.

If you run into problems with the CAT suite computers or need help using the installed software, contact your practical or workshop demonstrator for assistance. In many cases you can also go to the help menu within applications, or use the man command to learn how to use command-line applications in the UNIX shell.

School of Computer Science

Level 4, Ingkarni Wardli
North Terrace Campus


T: +61 8 8313 4729
F: +61 8 8313 4366

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