The easiest way to use Linux is to sit at a CoE PC and boot the Linux operating system (if it's not already running). If it's running Windows, restart it and choose Linux when the computer reboots. Log in with your U-M uniqname and password. Once you've logged in, you'll have a graphical desktop environment, similar to that provided by Windows.
In addition to the graphical desktop environment, Linux can be (and usually is) used from a text-based command prompt, which is called a shell. See Further reading if you'd like to learn more about this powerful interface.
Your files for this class will be stored under your ITCS AFS home directory (directories are the same as Windows folders). This directory is shown on your desktop as "Uniqname's Home" when you log into a CoE PC. The full name of your ITCS AFS home directory is /afs/umich.edu/user/u1/u2/uniqname, where u1 and u2 are the first and second letters of your uniqname (e.g., /afs/umich.edu/user/p/m/pmchen).
On Windows, your ITCS AFS home directory can be accessed via the H: drive under Computer. You can also access your ITCS AFS home directory from a web browser via mfile.
We suggest creating a directory per assignment to hold all files for that assignment.
Linux provides the usual applications for general-purpose computing, such as an editor (gedit), a web browser (Firefox), an e-mail client (Thunderbird or Evolution), and an office suite (OpenOffice). Linux also allows you to run some common Windows applications, such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.
To edit a file with gedit, double-click on the file you wish to edit, or right-click and choose Open with. To start a web browser, e-mail client, or office suite, click on the appropriate icon at the top of the desktop.
To run an application that is not listed in the main menu, first open a terminal window. To open a terminal window, right-click on the desktop and choose Open Terminal, or click Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal. In the terminal window, type the name of the application you wish to run. For example, run the CAD software for this class by typing quartus; run the assembler and simulator for this class by typing ase100; run MS Word by typing winword; run PowerPoint by typing powerpnt; run Excel by typing excel.
Log out through the System menu on the desktop: System -> Logout.
You may find it useful to transfer files between your home computer and your ITCS AFS home directory. A simple way to do this is through https://mfile.umich.edu/, which provides access to your ITCS AFS home directory through a web browser (albeit somewhat clumsily).
Alternatively, on Windows computers, you can install WinSCP, which lets you drag and drop files between your home computer and your ITCS AFS home directory.
Some assignments will require you to submit PDF files. Most word processors have native support for creating this files, such as OpenOffice, Adobe FrameMaker, and LaTex. MS Word can convert a document to PDF if you install an add-on from Microsoft, or if the computer has Adobe Acrobat installed.
Unix is a very powerful system, and there is much more to learn if you want to use its full capabilities. There are many tutorials on Unix available, e.g.: