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Astrophysics Research Centre

School of Mathematics and Physics

Using the GNOME desktop

Logging on & home directories

Once you know where your workstation is, you can log in using the credentials which your supervisor will have provided.

The login screen

The first time you log on the computer will create a local home directory (/home/username) for your files. We allocate around 150GB for home directories, and these are local to the computer. We back up the home areas on a nightly basis to a remote server and keep a week of copies.

On first login you'll be run though a basic setup wizard - you can skip through the defaults on everything.

The desktop

We are running the CentOS 7 Linux distro and use the GNOME desktop environment which may be something of a culture shock for those used to macOS or Windows. You can find the official help documents at this link, but the notes below should help you get started.

By default your desktop looks like this.

The default GNOME desktop.

It's minimalist in the extreme.

If you send the mouse to the top left corner, or press the Windows (aka. Super) key, you'll be taken the to Activities screen. From there you can launch applications, manage open programs, and configure workspaces.

Activities view

The activities view has a few areas of interest. If you run with without any applications open it will look like this:

The Activities view with no applications running

On the left is a dock with 'favourite' and running applications - at the bottom of the dock is a button to show the full set of installed desktop apps. You can make an application a favourite by right-clicking on its icon in the dock (if running) or in the search view.

All installed desktop applications are shown when you click on the small square icon in the dock.

At the top is a search bar; if you type the name of a program here, or something relating to the program, it will show any matching apps. Either double-click the icon to run, or else just hit return to select the first option.

You can search by application name or description. Here I'm looking for a LaTeX editor.

At the right of the Activities view is the Workspace bar - see below.

Window management

If you have applications running then the Activities view will show them all, including those you have minimised or hidden.

If you have applications open all their windows will show up in the activities view. You can close them, or move them to other virtual desktops (see below)

As on Windows 10, if you drag a window to the left or right side of the screen the window will fill that half of the display. If you drag the window to the top of the display it will switch to full-screen mode. Dragging the window down, or towards the centre, will return it to its original size and position.

You can also do this from the keyboard. Pressing the Windows (aka Super) key plus ← or → will make the window fill that side of the screen; Super+↑ will switch to full screen; Super+↓ reverts to the original state.

Pressing Super-Tab will cycle through the running applications. Applications with multiple open windows show a pop-up preview of all their windows.

You can cycle through the windows of the currently focussed application by pressing Super-` (that's the 'reverse' quote, usually paired with the tilde [~] key).


GNOME provides workspaces (or virtual desktops), which are a way to organize your windows according to task. You can have one desktop for editing code, another for running it, another to check your email, and maybe another for your social media. You can access the virtual desktops from the Activities view - they're in a bar on the right which will expand when you move the mouse over it. You can click on a workspace to switch to it, or drag an application window to another workspace.

The workspace bar appears on the right of the Activities view.

GNOME will create and remove virtual desktops as it thinks you need them. You start off with one desktop; if you open windows on it then another blank desktop is created. As you move windows around more desktops are created and removed as needed.

You can switch virtual desktop using the keyboard by pressing Super+PageUp to switch to the desktop above the current one, or Super+PageDown to switch to the desktop below. A popup will indicate your position in the stack of virtual desktops.

Logging out

You exit a session using the system menu in the top right of the GNOME desktop.

The system menu. The icons at the bottom provide access to Settings, Screen Lock, and Power options.
Click on your username to access the logout option.

You should log off the computer every evening, as it may be restated overnight if updates need to be applied. You should also lock the screen whenever walking away from the computer, even if only for a few moments.

Please do not try to shut the computer down, or restart it. This requires administrator access. Under no circumstances should you force the computer to shut down or simply turn off the power at the wall.

public/teaching-linux-systems/using_the_gnome_desktop.txt · Last modified: 2019/08/27 10:03 by Robert Ryans

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