Workstation Setup on MathLAN (2013-2015 edition)

Each summer, MathLAN workstations are updated to reflect new releases of software for the Linux operating system and for other packages. For several years, much of this work could be done behind the scenes, and most MathLAN users likely did not notice many differences.

In August 2013, however, the desktop environment will change for most users. For several years, the default desktop environment for MathLAN was a package called GNOME 2. This was highly configurable, and it served well for much classroom work and for research. However, GNOME 2 is not longer supported by Debian/GNU (the principle distributors of our Linux software). Instead, GNOME 3 has replaced GNOME 2, but GNOME 3 does not work as well for our purposes. Thus, MathLAN users are encouraged to use Xfce4 as their desktop environment.

Getting started with Xfce4

Although the initial, stripped-down version of Xfce4 may be acceptable to some users, I have found a few initial steps can make a substantial difference — especially for courses, such as CSC 161, that make heavy use of terminal windows. Thus, the following three steps are suggested as you begin with the new Xfce4 desktop environment.

  1. Logging on: As part of the login process, you should check that you are specifying the Xfce4 environment. Use the drop-down Session menu to specify Xfce4 Session. After you first log in, the system may remember Xfce4 for the future, but you can specify Xfce4 explicitly, if necessary.

  2. Setting up a panel button for a terminal window: The default Xfce4 environment allows you to obtain a terminal window in two-three steps:

    Alternatively, you can add a terminal emulator to the front panel of your screen:

  3. Setting the terminal window for black letters on a white background: By default, the Xfce4 terminal will display white lettering on a black background. Although this contrast may work for some, and you are free to use whatever coloring you like, I strongly prefer black letters on white (just as on most printed pages). Use whatever coloring you want.

    To change the color of fonts and backgrounds, follow these steps:

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created 14 August 2013
updated 14 August 2013, 20 January 2014
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