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Using an MCS Linux PC

Last updated: July 2013

This page is about using Linux on a PC in a Managed Cluster. MCS Linux can also be used by remote login from any system. See also information on using DS-Files in MCS Linux and on printing using DS-Print

In the instructions below, click means click the index finger button (left-hand button in the default mouse setup) unless otherwise specified.

Logging in

You will usually find that a PC in a MCS room is already switched on, and displaying a Windows information/start screen. If the screen is blank, move the mouse to refresh the display. If the machine is, exceptionally, switched off, switch it on and go to step 2, below.

  1. Hold down the Ctrl and Alt keys while pressing Delete. A warning message about use of the system is displayed; click on OK. At the Windows login screen click on the triangle at the right-hand side of the the red icon at the bottom right of the screen and, from the pull-down menu, select Restart
  2. After some preliminary checks, the system will ask you to select the operating system to start; use the down arrow key to highlight MCS Linux and then press Return (twice) to confirm your choice. If you wait too long to make your selection, the system will start in Windows.
  3. A splash screen appears and the system continues to boot into Linux. If the system had to update itself this may take some time and it may reboot.
  4. A dialog box is displayed, asking for your username. Enter your CRSid (e.g. spqr99) then press Return.
  5. A dialog box is displayed, asking for your password. Enter your Desktop Services password then press Return.
  6. You will see a window containing the Message of the Day then, after the window manager has completely started, the launcher and a menu bar appear.

Please remember to log out when you have finished. Failure to do so could result in another user reading, altering or deleting your files, or sending emails from your account.

The desktop

MCS Linux is based on Ubuntu and uses the Unity interface to the GNOME desktop environment. Once you have logged in, the login window shows the Message of the Day, the launcher on the left hand side of the screen and the top menu bar.

Hovering your mouse over an icon will show the application name or a short informative label.

log in screen

At the left of the top menu bar is the name of the currently active application. Moving the mouse to this will show the menu options for that application. At the far right are a set of information icons; clicking the mouse on each gives the menu for each icon. The icons are for communications, connection information, sound, date and time and, at the far right, the cogwheel icon menu includes access to system settings, the MCS printers and log out.

Accessing applications through the menu system

Icons for commonly used applications (Dash Home, Home Folder, Firefox web brower, office suite, Settings) are in the launcher. To start one of these, single-click on the icon using the left mouse button.

To access the other applications in MCS Linux, click on the top icon in the launcher bar (Dash Home).

log in screen

The window that opens has three icons at the bottom. The left hand one shows you applications and files you have recently used. The centre one gives access to the various applications (this is shown in the screenshot above). The right hand icon shows your folders and any files you have accessed recently.

Mouse and window operations

The main operations you may want are:

  • Mouse buttons:
    clicking the right mouse button, for example on a window or on the background, gives a context-sensitive menu.
  • Windows:

    Window ops

    The left icon closes the window, the centre icon is to minimise the window (to the launcher) and the right icon to maximise it (to fill the screen). Other window operations:
  • click and drag on window border to resize the window
  • click and drag on a window's title bar to move the window

The command line interface

The fundamental application on an MCS Linux system is the command line interface, or shell, because every application that can be launched from the menu system can also be launched from the command line and there are many applications and utilities that only work at the command line. The shell also provides a syntax for combining commands and for running commands only under certain circumstances. If you want to do any automation for processing large numbers of files then you will need to understand the command line. If you are happy with the applications and commands provided by the menuing system then you need not worry about it.

There are two ways to launch a window running a shell. You can either click on the Terminal icon in the launcher, or you can select Dash Home -> Applications -> Unix Shell, then select your preferred terminal type. Either way, you should have a window appear. If you have chosen Terminal using either method the terminal started will look something like this:

Terminal window

Once you see the prompt (CRSid@scone:~$ in the image above) you can start typing commands.

Changing your password

See the instructions in IS 6: Changing/Choosing Passwords. If you have forgotten your password you will need to have it reset. See the FAQ on What should I do if I've forgotten my password or it doesn't work?.

MCS news

The Message of the Day and UCS News provide information about events on the MCS. The Message of the Day is shown at login, the MCS-specific news on the UCS News service is at UCS News - MCS Service.

Accessibility aids

The MCS systems are designed to be used by the widest possible audience and the operating systems include features that allow those with special needs to adjust their interface.

Applications available on MCS Linux

See the full software list for MCS Linux. Particular applications worth noting are:


The supported mail clients are Thunderbird, Evolution, and the command-line Alpine.

  • To use Alpine type alpine at the command line or, from Dash Home -> Applications -> Type, select Email & Messaging -> Alpine. Alpine is preconfigured to connect to Hermes.
  • To use Thunderbird, type thunderbird at the command line or, from Dash Home -> Applications -> Type, select Email & Messaging -> Thunderbird. Thunderbird is not preconfigured so if you wish to use it you will need to configure it; see the page on configuring Thunderbird for Hermes for help.
  • To use Evolution (email, contact management, appointment and task scheduling), type evolution at the command line or, from Dash Home -> Applications -> Type, select Email & Messaging -> Evolution Mail & Calendar. Evolution is not preconfigured so if you wish to use it you will need to configure it; see Mail program settings for Hermes for help.

The Hermes webmail service is available using any browser.

Management of email (e.g. vacation messages, spam filtering) should be done through the webmail interface.

Web browsers

Firefox is the supported browser and can be started by single-clicking the icon in the panel (firefox icon).

Chromium is also available and can be accessed from Dash Home -> Applications -> Type, then select it from Web Browsing. The Text-based browsers lynx and w3m are also available; to start these type the program name in a terminal window.

You will need to configure any unsupported browser that you wish to use.

Logging out

To log out click on the cogwheel item at the right of the menu bar at the top of the screen and choose Log Out. Doing this returns you to the login screen, from which you can login to Linux again or choose to reboot the system into Windows. A machine left in this state for roughly 30 minutes will automatically be rebooted into Windows.

Further Information

30 Useful Unix Commands, intended for Unix beginners who need a guide to the names and details of commands that are likely to be of use to them.