Ask SIPB - September 1, 2006
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 http://msca.mit.edu (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 http://web.mit.edu/ist/services/software/msca-osliaisons.html
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
http://web.mit.edu/ist/topics/linux/ 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
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 http://web.mit.edu/ist/topics/windows/updates/
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 http://web.mit.edu/ist/topics/linux/rhn.html
to register for it and for more information. We'll be writing more
about other Linux distributions next month; most provide their own
What is Student Matlab?
If you are a student, you can obtain Matlab for your Macintosh,
Windows, or Linux computer from http://matlab.mit.edu .
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.
If you are running Linux, you can also access the Athena
installation if you have OpenAFS. Since there are some subtle but
important differences between this and using Matlab on an Athena workstation,
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 http://web.mit.edu/ist/services/network/vpn.html. Be
sure to read the "Known Issues at MIT" page for your platform.
To ask us a question, send email to email@example.com. 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: http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/