Ask SIPB - October 28, 2005

Wishing MIT provided more software and services for your personal computer? Need to use software on Athena at home? This week, we introduce some lesser known computing services supported by MIT.

Does MIT provide Windows XP Professional?

Yes, MIT provides it for undergraduates, staff, and faculty (but not for graduate students) through the Microsoft Campus Agreement at MIT. You can download an ISO or ZIP of the installer from (make sure you have MIT certificates first); if you are an undergraduate, you must install it within 5 days. If that deadline passes, you can download it once more; however, you still can only install it on one machine. You will also receive an email containing license information after downloading. IS&T maintains a web page with more information at .

If you are a graduate student, Windows is provided on a department-by-department basis. In particular, courses 6 and 15 are known to provide Windows for their graduate students. You should contact your departmental liaison, listed at .

What happens when I graduate?

If you graduate, your license will be converted to a perpetual use license. You'll receive an advisory email in your last semester if you are a graduating senior. If you stop being a student for some other reason, your license expires and you can no longer use the software.

I want to be able to use software provided on Athena on my home computer. Must I install Athena?

You can, but you don't have to. MIT provides support for other Linux systems. In particular, there is full support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 4, the Linux distribution upon which Athena Linux is based. contains more information about RHEL and Linux in general. It is also possible to install Kerberos, OpenAFS, Zephyr, and other Athena services on other Linux distributions; a SIPB tutorial for doing so on Debian and Ubuntu is at . We'll be writing more about various Linux distributions in our next Ask SIPB column.

Why should I keep my computer up-to-date?

Security vulnerabilities in software are discovered on a daily basis. Any computer connected to the Internet is subjected to random attacks that attempt to exploit these vulnerabilities. Security patches become available when software vendors fix the vulnerabilities, so updating is necessary to keep secure from known attacks.

How can I keep my Windows system up-to-date?

Microsoft provides automatic updates for Windows XP. MIT has a Windows Automatic Update Service which focuses on critical security patches and patches which have been tested and shown to be particularly stable. It uses Windows XP's built-in Automatic Update service, and you can select either to download and install updates automatically, or to download automatically and notify the user to install. Visit for more information.

How can I keep my Linux system up-to-date?

Red Hat provides a Red Hat Network service that provides updates for Red Hat Enterprise Linux systems. MIT IS&T offers this service for free. See to register for it and for more information. We'll be writing more about other Linux distributions next month; most provide their own security updates.

What is Student Matlab?

If you are a student, you can obtain Matlab for your Macintosh or Windows computer from .

The license agreement that MIT has with MathWorks requires that your computer be connected to the Internet whenever you are using Matlab, so that your copy remains in contact with the MIT license server. If you lose your connection, you have about 15 minutes to reconnect before Matlab terminates. Because there is a finite number of licenses, it is courteous to quit Matlab when you are not using it.

If you are connecting from off-campus (not including FSILGs), you'll need to use MIT's Virtual Private Network (VPN) service for Matlab to work; see the last question.

Is Matlab available for Linux?

There is no Matlab installer, but you can access the Athena installation if you have OpenAFS. Since there are some subtle but important differences, we recommend you consult IS&T's advice at

What is a VPN and why would I use it?

ISPs will often set up port filtering and other things for network security purposes. (Incidentally, MIT does not.) Unfortunately, this can lead to problems running some applications that use the network, such as Student Matlab. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) helps you use MIT computing services, effectively putting your computer on MITnet even when your connectivity is provided by some other ISP, and thus bypassing the blocks that interfere with applications. You can enable the VPN when you need it and disable it when you don't.

You only need the VPN if you are connecting from off-campus; dorm and FSILG residents are already on MITnet. The MIT VPN Client is available for Linux, Macintosh, and Windows. You can download the VPN software from Be sure to read the "Known Issues at MIT" page for your platform.

To ask us a question, send email to We'll try to answer you quickly, and we can address your question in our next column. You can also stop by our office in W20-557 or call us at x3-7788 if you need help. Copies of each column and pointers to additional information are posted on our website: