The operating system that you will be using in the labs is called Linux, which you may not have seen before. However, if you have ever used Windows or Macintosh operating systems you should find that Linux works in a similar way. Just as with them, you can explore what the system can do by looking round the different buttons and menus. The application called Firefox is used for web browsing (like Internet Explorer or Safari) and Thunderbird is used for email (like Outlook Express or Mac Mail).

Some other names that you might see are CentOS (who build this particular version of Linux) and Gnome (the programs that make the desktop behave the way it does). The symbol on the task bar works a bit like the Start menu in Windows.

Logging In

  1. Type your username in the Login box and press ENTER.
  2. Type your password and press ENTER.

If your login is unsuccessful make sure that Caps Lock is not on.

Changing your password

The first time you log in you will be asked to enter a new password.

Enter a new complex password and press enter, you will then be asked to enter the password a second time to confirm.

Your password must be at least 8 characters long and contain a mixture of numbers, upper and lowercase characters. If your password does not meet the complexity requirements, then it will not be accepted and you will be asked to enter a new password again. Your password must not be set to your University ID number.

Changing your password in the future:

You can change your password in two ways in the future, the first, under Windows is to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and select change password, the second option is under Linux:

  1. Go to the menu and select Bham→Change Password
  2. Type your old password when prompted to enter your Kerberos 5 password and press ENTER
  3. Type your new password and press ENTER (Note: nothing will appear whilst typing your password, not even *****)
  4. Type your new password again and press ENTER
  5. A message box will tell you if your password was successfully changed; press OK

  • Remember the golden rule for choosing a password: "Easy to remember, but difficult to guess" i.e. something that you can remember without having to write it down, but not easily guessable such as a real word. Try to include at least one special (?$%^& etc.) and/or numeric character.
  • Do not use anything related to you such as your real name, your University ID or your date of birth.
  • Warning: do not use the numeric keypad on the right for your password, instead use the numbers along the top of the keyboard.

You can also change your password from Windows by pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL and selecting "Change Password". - Our systems use the same authentication system whether you are using Windows or Linux.

Web Browsing

To start the Firefox web browser either click on the task bar
or select →Internet→Firefox Web Browser


To do a web search for pages on a certain topic simply type relevant keywords into the search box at the top-right of the Firefox window and press Go to the left of it.

This will take you to the relevant search page of the popular Google search engine.


Getting Started

  1. To start the email program either click on the task bar
    or select →Internet→Thunderbird Email
  2. The first time you access your email you will be prompted to "Enter your password for username@mailhost". The School email system uses the same password you use when logging into Windows or Linux.
  3. Also check "Use Password Manager to remember this password" so that you do not have to enter your password when reading mail in future.
  4. Click on OK.

You may also have an option for your IT Services Email account, this is your central email box provided by the University. Normally Computer Science students will have email from this account forwarded to their Computer Science account, however there are occasions when email can end up in this email account, so you should check it regularly.

Reading Mail

  1. Click in the pane containing the list of folders on the left.
  2. Then click to receive any new mail.
  3. A list of messages with Subject and Sender will be shown in the top part of the right-hand pane. Click on a message for the full message to be displayed below.

Sending Mail

  1. To write a new message click .
  2. Enter a "To:" address and a Subject; below this write the text of your message.
  3. Click to send the message.
  4. To reply to a message click to reply only to the sender or to reply to all recipients of the message. The "To:" address and subject will be already filled in, so just type your message and press .
  5. To Forward a message you have received to someone else press and enter a "To:" address - you can optionally add your own message above the body of the forwarded message - then press .

Deleting Mail

  1. To delete a message press .
  2. Note: when you "delete" a message it is actually moved to your folder and is not actually deleted.
  3. Make sure you periodically empty your trash folder by selecting File→Empty Trash otherwise your disk space will fill up with unwanted mail.

Working with Files

To access the files in your home folder (also known as your "home directory") double click on the desktop. A window should open showing you the files and folders in your home directory.

Opening Files and Folders

  1. Double-clicking on a file will open it with the appropriate application for that type of file e.g. an image viewer for a .jpg file.
  2. Double-clicking on a text file will display it. To edit a text file right-click on the file and select Open With→gedit (the recommended text editor).
  3. Double-clicking on a folder will open it.

Organising Files and Folders

  1. From the File menu you can create new folders.
  2. You can move files to other folders by dragging and dropping with the left mouse button or you can "Cut and Paste" them using the Edit menu.

Creating new Files

You create new files from within applications.

  1. To create a new text file start gedit from →Accessories→Text Editor.
  2. You can create Office documents such as word processor documents, spreadsheets, diagrams, presentations and drawings using applications in the →Office menu. Writer is a word processor similar to Microsoft Word. Calc is a spreadsheet package similar to Microsoft Excel. Impress is a presentations package similar to Microsoft PowerPoint.


  1. In most applications such as gedit you select File→Print from the menu.
  2. You will have to specify a printer name. To find out which printer to use go to SupportWeb (double-click on and go to

The Terminal

Clicking on the taskbar will bring up a "terminal window" into which you can type Unix commands (Linux is a Unix-style system) and start programs by typing their name followed by ENTER e.g. firefox or gedit (there are many more programs available in Linux than just those on the menus).

Logging Out

  1. Select →Log out.
  2. Check Save Current Setup if you want the same windows you currently have open to appear when you log in next time.
  3. Click OK.

Getting Help

  1. Double-click on on the desktop to take you to SupportWeb.
  2. If you cannot find a solution on SupportWeb contact the IT Service Desk with your query or come along to see us in room 141.