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Athena upgrades solve old problems, give new capability

By Andrea Lamberti

New system software installed in August for Project Athena offers several significant changes for users. A new "login" interface and reorganization of configuration files are among the changes.

The changes created by Release 6.3B attempted to resolve problems with the differences between "window" and "login" sessions. The differences occur because the user can enter the system in different ways.

A "window session" occurs when a user logs in directly on the system at a workstation. This session supports customizations of configuration files, also known as "dotfiles", and multiple windows that require the use of a window manager.

These activities are not supported in the "login sessions," that result from a remote login and only allow one window. Previous solutions created problems for users in a dial-up session because their configuration files would try to start up window-oriented activities.

Athena users can now make customizations for specific sessions, and customizations applicable to both sessions. The X Consortium, which provides standards for X-window-based systems, worked on a new approach to the "login" session problems. The changes to the workstation login window and configuration files were "necessary and appropriate," according to the Athena "Dotfiles" documentation, by Kevin Cunningham.

The other major change to Athena software also affects the login procedure. With Release 6.3B, Project Athena is "introducing a graphically-oriented display manager, xdm, as part of Athena's commitment to improve its user interface," according to Project Athena Executive Director Ronald L. Orcutt in a memo to the Athena user community dated Aug. 22. To install the new display manager, it was necessary to introduce a new architecture of command files (dotfiles) in the user's home directories.

The Motif window manager, mwm, will become the default window manager in January but can be accessed now through the user's environment file. The new window manager features title bars, pull-down menus, and graphic icons similar to an Apple Macintosh computer.

Documentation on mwm and other Athena software will be available on Athena's new on-line help facility. In addition, a new on-line teaching assistant (olta) will function as a support system for students, using Project Athena courseware, to ask their teaching assistants questions. Because olta has the same syntax as the on-line consultant (olc), students will be able to easily use it. These and other changes will be introduced throughout the fall.

User documentation about the Release 6.3B and the resulting changes is available on-line and in the public clusters. Special assistance consultants will be available in the Building 11 Athena Cluster through Sept. 25 to answer any questions about the system.

For all new users, learning the new software will be part of getting familiar with Athena. Old accounts will be "fully functional" in a system-wide default mode without any previous customizations, according to the memo. Returning users whose files and sessions were customized will need to learn the structure of the new architecture to make new command files.