set] MATH DEPT Computer News, Volume 24

How to make your home PC feel just like your office computer

If you've been running Windows 95 and using a 2400 baud modem to connect to the Math Dept SUN's since 1997, this volume of the Network News is for you. I explain here how you can upgrade your system beyond your wildest imaginings so that it begins to function much like a SUN workstation on the math.purdue.edu network. At the same time, this upgrade will greatly improve the security of your connection.

Mac users: see Volume 25, by Rodrigo Bañuelos.

First, you can easily and cheaply upgrade your operating system to Windows XP. Like me, you might be surprised how much better various things work after the upgrade. Purdue faculty and students can buy the Windows XP upgrade packages from the Copy Center in the Purdue Union for a mere $5. For an additional $5, faculty can also buy the Microsoft 2003 Office package that contains MS-Word and Excel. Go to http://www.purdue.edu/msca to see a list of what other software is available.

If you used to telnet to banach.math.purdue.edu from home to check your math e-mail and work on files, you will certainly want to set up software on your home machine to run a "secure shell." You can download a nice version of ssh Secure CRT software, free for Purdue people, at https://engineering.purdue.edu/PULS/. You'll need to give your Purdue Career accound login id and password to do the download. (It is the same as the software you can buy from http://www.ssh.com.) It is very simple to install and run and it works very nicely. The ssh connection makes your password and everything else you send over the phone lines encrypted. (A plain oldfashioned telnet connection does not and it is possible for someone to "sniff" the line and get your login and password.)

Next, get a DSL connection from Verizon or a cable modem connection from Insight Digital. You will be able to browse the web and download files at home with nearly the same ease that you do in your office, and you won't tie up your home phone line.

If you have a fast connection and you want to use X-window applications from your home computer that are running on a math machine, you will need to set up X-server software. Purdue faculty and graduate students may download and install PC X-ware on personally owned PC-compatible computers from Purdue PC X-ware download site for free. (Don't bother with X-servers if you use a slow dial-up connection. They will be so slow and drippy as to drive you insane.) However, if you are like me and only use a few X-programs like xdvi from home, you won't need the full blown thing from PC X-ware. Robert McGraw told me about a free, small, and very functional X-server called Xming. It is based on the well designed Cygwin system. See this site at Penn State for links to download Xming and a nice explanation of how to use it to tunnel X-connections through your secure shell program.

To get a secure X connection that works exactly as the one described for PUCC PC's at Louis Scott's Special Issue, of the Network News, you will need to log onto a math machine via the secure SSH program described above and click on the Settings icon (two little gears) and click on Tunneling under Profile Settings. Put a check mark in the box that says "Tunnel X11 Connections" and click on OK. (Select Save Settings from the FILE menu so that you will never have to do this again.)

You'll need to start your X-server (by clicking on the little Xming icon, for example) before or after you start SSH to get the X connection. After that, you can type a command like xdvi paper.dvi in the secure SSH window and an xdvi X-window should pop up on your home screen just like it would in your office.

You should be warned that DSL or cable modem connections hook your home computer onto the internet with its own IP address. Although it is against the law for an unwelcome hacker to gain access to and alter your home computer files, it is quite possible. I became paranoid about this after I ran a program called Black Ice Defender on my home computer and discovered that between 10 and 20 different people a day seemed to be snooping around by my machine. Be sure to turn on the software firewall in Windows XP.

Finally, I should mention in closing that I accomplished all of the things above with a fair amount of cursing and gnashing of teeth.

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