NIU Department of Mathematical Sciences
Unix Survival Guide

[under construction]

What are you up against

Unix is only the operating system which controls basic functions of our computers. But it also comes with a huge and messy collection of utilities, editors, programming languages, display systems, commercial packages, etc. which are all different animals. Finding your way around a system such as ours is not easy; nobody can master it all, and there is no single book or collection of manuals which would contain all the answers.

Where to begin?

Learn about some basic commands for creating files, moving them about etc. Get used to the traditional system of Unix documentation, the `manual pages'; try typing man pwd to see a typical example.

Try a few editors from the list below and decide which one looks OK. We hardly ever use word processors on our system (Star Office is the only one, very large and slow). You will almost always have to deal with ordinary text files. Becoming familiar with at least one full-featured editor is a must.

I'm assuming you've figured out how to use X-windows and a Web browser. The X-windows GUI has many tricks which you should learn, and can be customized to a very large degree. Just like with an editor, you'll be forever miserable if you don't get comfortable with the screen environment.

Sooner or later you will want to learn TeX so you won't have to pay a typist to produce your dissertation in it! Yes, it is possible to produce mathematical documents with Word and an equation editor; but it is unlikely that your formatting will be readily accepted by the Graduate School. Plus, TeX is the standard in nearly all Math departments, and among many physicists. Look at the introduction to TeX to see what's involved.

Popular software packages

Here are some programs installed on our Unix computers; you can access their on-line manuals by typing man command-name, e.g. man cc, at the Unix shell prompt. Several other specialized packages and libraries are also available - ask the system manager.

Command Description
vi, pico, ce, emacs text editors
maple Maple V
math Mathematica (selected machines, ask before using)
matlab Matlab
gcc, g++C and C++ compilers
g77 GNU Fortran compiler
f77 Fortran compiler (on some machines only; use g77 if possible)
pc Pascal compiler (only on old machines; let me know if you need it)
dbx, gdbx symbolic debuggers
tex, latex typesetting system
elm, mutt, pine, mail electronic mail (mutt is recommended)
trn Usenet news
lynx command line Web browser

Packages which can only be used under X-Windows

Command Description
xedit, nedit, gnp text editors
xmaple interface to Maple V
mathematica Mathematica notebook interface
xdbx, xxgdbx interface to the debuggers
xdvi dvi file previewer
ghostview PostScript viewer
xv viewer for various graphics files
xfig drawing program
tkrat modern but simple mailer
xmail interface to e-mail (old, not recommended)
mozilla, firefox World Wide Web browsers (use mozilla on older machines, firefox on newer ones)
xrn interface to Usenet news


Last modified: 7/20/2011 by webmaster@math.niu.edu