MCS-170 Project 0: Getting Started


The purpose of this project is to familiarize you with our computer facilities. You will also learn how to use the web browser Firefox (if you don't already know) to access course materials. You do not need to hand anything in and you will not be graded on your work for this project.

In this course we will be using computers running the Linux operating system with a graphical user interface based on X Windows. This project consists of a number of tasks which will help familiarize you with these computers.

We assume in the following that you have never logged into this type of computer. Fortunately, the Linux graphical user interface is intuitive. Therefore, rather than explaining how to do each task in gory detail, we will simply give you the tasks together with some optional explanations you can refer to if you find the tasks obscure or otherwise difficult. However, we encourage you to try to figure out how to do the tasks on your own. When that doesn't work, don't be shy: ask for help!


The classroom/lab we will be using for the lab sessions (Olin 326) consists of Linux workstations which are part of the campus-wide computer network.

There is a printer in the small room adjoining the classroom/lab. Its name is mcslab, so if you need to select a printer to print to, that is the one you should use when in the third-floor Olin computer labs.

Your computer account (username and password) for these computers is the same as for normal campus computers, email, etc. It does not matter which workstation you log into; you will have access to all your files on all computers, since they are stored on a central file server.

In lab

  1. Login to a Linux workstation using your campus username and password. If error messages pop up, simply close the dialog boxes.

  2. Launch Firefox.

    You'll use Firefox to access information such as the web page for this course.

    You will see a bar across the bottom of the screen, which is your toolbar. On the left side there is a button with a white 'f' on a blue background. (screen image). This is the "Fedora menu", similar to the "start menu" on Microsoft Windows operating systems. (Fedora is the name of the version of the Linux operating system we use in the lab.) Click on this menu to bring up a list of sub-menus. At the top of the list you will find an item titled "Firefox Web Browser". (If this item is not present, click on the "Internet" sub-menu to access the Firefox icon.)  Click on the Firefox icon to start Firefox. You may need to wait for several seconds before the program starts.

  3. Use Firefox to access the Gustavus and course homepages.

    Locate the Gustavus Adolphus College homepage by entering in the Location box and pressing Enter. Since you may want Firefox to remember this address for next time, select "Bookmark This Page" under the Bookmarks menu. Next time you want to find the Gustavus homepage, select "Gustavus Adolphus College" under the Bookmark menu.

    The course homepage (which you should also bookmark) is located at:
  4. Become familiar with the directory structure.

    The campus computers (including these Linux workstations) share a tree-structured file system. This means that the files on the computers are located in directories (also known as folders), which may themselves include files and subdirectories, which may contain files and other subdirectories, ....

    Following are some tasks which will help you learn how to view and manipulate the directory structure using the windowing system on the Linux computers.

  5. Start up KWrite and try creating a web page.

    The text editor we will be using for this course is called "KWrite".  To open this editor, click on the Fedora menu (lower left corner), then click the Utilties menu, then Editors, and then click the KWrite icon. This editor is a nice environment to work in, as it highlights HTML code, so that we can better edit and debug web pages.

    We will now create a simple web page. When KWrite has finished starting up, type in the following lines of HTML code:


               <title> My Web Page  </title>

                Hello World

    When you are done, save this file to your new MCS-170 directory by choosing Save under the File menu. Call this file "Hello.html". Once the file is saved, you will see that KWrite has changed appearance. Now, HTML key words are in bold type. KWrite knows that the file is now an HTML file by looking at the ".html" file extension that appears in the file name "Hello.html." It is also smart enough to automatically highlight keywords in this HTML file. This editing feature will be very useful as we create more complex web pages.

  6. Open your web page in Firefox:

    To view your new web page, return to the Firefox browser window (or re-start Firefox if you have closed it). Click on the File menu and select the "Open File.." sub-menu.  You can now move through the directory structure and find your "Hello.html" file.  Once you have found this file, click "Okay" in the file window and your page should appear in the browser. Note that all of the special characters in brackets do not appear in the browser. These are formatting commands for how text should appear when viewed.  HTML is a "mark-up" language -- that is what the "M" stands for in HTML.  HTML is a descriptive language, one designs web pages by describing how the page will appear.  This is quite different from other computer languages, which focus on computations using various types of data.

  7. When you are finished, quit KWrite and Firefox, and then logout.

    To logout click on the logout icon near the right-hand side of the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. It looks like this: (screen image). If this icon does not appear on the right side of the toolbar, you can also access it through the Fedora menu.


For this lab, there is no project report required.

The Linux workstations are general purpose computers that have a wide range of applications, including word processors, electronic mail, mathematical applications (Maple), and programming tools, to name just a few. As long as you remain a responsible user, you are welcome to use these applications as you please for other academic purposes. However, if you are working on something other than a math or computer science project, and all the machines fill up, please give your machine up for a student working on math or computer science. That way, with a little common courtesy, we can get the maximum benefit out of these facilities and still respect the fact that they have been funded for use in mathematics and computer science.

One problem you will encounter is how to make yourself aware of all of the applications available to you. This is a rather daunting task, and one which we will not directly address in this course. Instead, we suggest that you make use of the main source of useful computer arcana and trivia we have found, namely your fellow computer users. We are always learning new things from our students. So don't be shy!

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