FAQs and Glossary


Where can I get help for Nebula?

This FAQ is a good place to start. The Nebula Users Home site is another excellent source of information. Of course, you can always contact your support person or refer to application manuals and online help for specific software questions.

What is Nebula?
Nebula is the name given to the centrally administered PC system supported by UW Information Technology. Nebula machines are standard PC hardware configured with a standard suite of popular PC software and connected through the University-wide network to a host cluster which provides file sharing and other capabilities.
What is the standard Nebula hardware?
The current specifications for hardware are available online. This hardware specification is continually reviewed to provide the best machine for the money. Check with your support person for the latest revisions. Large high resolution color flat panel monitors, writeable DVD drives and high-quality sound cards can be included.
What is the standard Nebula software?
Nebula PCs run Windows XP or Vista for an operating system. They also run a suite of products that have been tested to work well together. This suite includes Microsoft Office (MS Outlook, MS Word, MS Excel, MS Access, MS PowerPoint), UW Directory, Internet Explorer, and terminal emulation and file transfer software to allow connections to other computers. New software and operating systems are continually being evaluated to keep Nebula current.

Software Management

Is any other software available?
Some departments purchase additional software which may be distributable to Nebula PCs through the central distribution process as long as it does not conflict with the standard packages.
Can I install additional software on a Nebula PC?
Additional software may be installed on your system. Software of this type falls outside of the standard installation, so you will be responsible for retaining any media, obtaining the proper use license, and documenting specific software settings.
Are there any restrictions on software which can be added to the set of Nebula software packages?
There are a few restrictions, including: the software saves data to the server; it doesn't conflict with or duplicate existing Nebula applications. Contact your Nebula Support person to enquire about creating a package for any software used by 10 or more folks in your department.

Dos and Don'ts

Can I change the look and feel of my desktop?
Yes. The icons and windows can be changed on the Nebula desktop. In Windows XP and Vista, any icons and window changes will only affect the person who is logged in and making the changes. See the Using your Computer page for more information.
Can I store files on my C: drive?
We discourage C: drive file storage. Nebula user files are stored on remote server drives which keeps them safe and secure. Files stored on your C: drive can't be backed up, and would be lost if your hardware failed.
Where should I store my files?
Files should be stored on the I:\Groups or H: drives. The H: drive is your home directory on a Unix-based file server. You can create subdirectories under H:. The I:\Groups drive gives you access to shared directories. If you are authorized to share files with a group, then you should store and view the group files under I:\Groups. For guidelines on what files are not appropriate to store on the H: or I: drives, please see the Nebula File Storage Policy.
Can I turn my machine off at night?
It's best to leave it on, so that your system receives regular updates and patches. You can log out if you like: Click on Start, then "Log off (your user name)", then click Yes when asked if you are sure you want to log off.

Using the Shared Environment

Can I use someone else's Nebula computer?
You can log into any Nebula PC as long as you have the PC owner's permission. As always, make sure you log out when you are finished.
Will I get my own files on someone else's computer?
Yes. When you log into Nebula, the H: drive will be mapped to your own home directory, no matter which Nebula machine you use. You will also see the I:\groups directory from any Nebula machine.
Will I get my own email on someone else's computer?
Yes. When you log into Nebula, PC-Pine will be directed to your own inbox, folders, and address book, no matter which Nebula machine you use.
Will I get my own desktop configurations on someone else's computer?
No. The desktop configuration, including icons, windows, printers, screen savers, and startup applications is stored locally on the PC. Any changes to this configuration stay with the PC, not with the user.
Can we prevent two people from changing a file at the same time?
There is a locking mechanism on the I:\Groups drive which prevents two people from having a file open for update at the same time (in Word or Excel). When you try to open a file that is already in use, it can even tell you who is using it (provided they have set their name) and notify you when they are done with it.
How do I set my name so people can tell who has a file open?
From the MS Word or MS Excel menu bar, choose Tools, Options. Click on the 'User Info' tab in Word or the 'General' tab in Excel, and enter your own name in the box.


How can I be sure my files are secure?
The most important security step you can take is to log off of the Nebula network when you leave your PC unattended. If your PC is in a relatively secure office, you can activate a screen saver password and leave it logged in during brief unattended periods during the day. In all cases, you should log off at night. You should also make sure your password is secure.
What if someone breaks into the host machine?
The security on the host machines and file servers is very tight. Nobody but you can access your files unless they know your password.
What makes a password secure?
The most important thing about passwords is to never write them down. Here are additional guidelines:

  • Passwords should be at least 8 characters long
  • All passwords should have at least one number and one capital letter within the body of the password
  • Do not base your password on your username, personal name, or common phrases
  • An example of a good password would be two unrelated words, linked by a number, with at least one capital letter somewhere in the middle.
  • Deliberate misspellings also provide good passwords: "my cat and dog" might become "miKat&doog".
Is there a Nebula home page?
Yes. See Nebula Managed Desktop Services for details. Also, there should be an icon for this page on your Nebula PC desktop. If you've removed it, contact your Nebula support person.

Using the Web

What web browser is used in Nebula?
The supported browser in Nebula is Microsoft Internet Explorer. We will continue to evaluate available browsers to find the most compatible, stable solutions for Nebula users.
I don't like that one. Can I use another browser?

Installation of software outside of the supported Nebula package list is not supported. Such installations may cause problems on your system, and could require that the computer be reformatted and all Nebula software reinstalled (aka "rebuilt").

The Nebula software suite is designed to maximize functionality for our users. If you have problems with the way Nebula software works, please send email to Nebula support at the address below, or talk directly with your Nebula support person. We are always looking for ways to improve Nebula. Your input can help us fix problems or make changes to existing software packages.

I want to view content which requires a plugin which isn't available on my Nebula PC. What do I do?
Send email to Nebula support at the address below and explain the need for the software. We'll test it and if things work properly, we'll add it to the Nebula distribution.
How do I publish web pages in Nebula?

You can use your Nebula PC to publish web pages at UW in a variety of ways. The most important element to doing this is understanding what tools to use and what processes to follow.

More information on Web Development Environments at the UW.

What web development tools are available in Nebula?
Nebula offers the web publishing functions in Microsoft Office for web development as part of the standard software suite.


Are the network drives backed up?
Yes. All user files on the network drives are backed up every night. In the rare case where one of your files may be corrupted, check the File Restores information. If you need additional help, your support person can restore the file for you.
What is the retention of the backups?
This depends on your host. For Bank and Red, daily backups are retained for two weeks, weekly backups are retained for three months, and quarterly backups are retained for one year.
Is my email backed up?
For Deskmail, the default is to backup email for 7 days, then purge it. You can opt out of this default by sending email to help@uw.edu or calling 206-221-5000.


Other Glossaries:


The individual programs that run on a computer. Examples: Microsoft Office and Outlook, Internet Explorer
Operating system (aka: O/S)
The software that makes a computer run. Example: Windows


A group of computers that work together to provide services. Example: Homer is a cluster of computers that provide email, file and print services.
The computer box itself; comes from "Central Processing Unit", the original name for the processor chip inside the computer box.
Deskmail server
The server where email inboxes and mail folders are stored.
Hard drive
A magnetic disk which holds information. Usually measured in gigabytes. Several large disks can be combined to work together, and yield an effective hard drive measured in terabytes.
The main circuit board inside a computer. It works with the operating system to control all the resources of the computer. Any function that is provided on the motherboard, versus on a separate, add-on circuit board, is called "on-board."
An interface that allows you to plug in an external device. Serial ports are male (have pins), while parallel ports are female (have holes). Newer Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports transfer data much faster, and can connect more devices, than serial and parallel ports.
Print Server
Small device connected to printer, that allows networked printing
The memory in a CPU; short for Random Access Memory. Measured in megabytes; comes on little chips that plug into the motherboard. Current Nebula specification is for 1gb of memory
Screen Resolution
Refers to the sharpness and clarity of an image. The more dots, or pixels, available to create the image, the sharper it will be. So a resolution of 1024x768 will produce sharper images (e.g. smaller icons and more information) than one of 640x480.


Acronym for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. It allows a computer to receive an IP address out of an available pool, so the computer can connect to the network. It's the opposite of a Fixed IP Address, where a computer is assigned a specific IP address.
IP Address
Short for Internet Protocol address. A number that uniquely identifies a computer to a network for the purpose of sharing information and resources. Format is 4 sets of numbers, separated by periods. For example:
Network connectivity
Able to see and use network resources, such as the I:\groups drive and networked printers.


An unseen, temporary storage space used when you copy or cut information (such as text, graphics or files).
Reorganizing the files on a hard drive so that all the parts of a file are next to each other, so it can be read faster. This also puts all the free space together.
The screen background on which windows, icons, and dialog boxes appear, e.g. what you see when your programs are all closed or minimized. If you save or copy shortcuts, files or folders to your Desktop, they are saved on your local hard drive and are not backed up.
File space | disk space | drive space
The amount of space available for file storage on a hard drive.
Nebula Gold vs. Nebula Bronze
There are two types of configurations available for Nebula PC's. One is centrally administered by Nebula support staff and engineers and called Nebula Gold. The other is set up with certain standard configurations, including network drive mappings, and is then left for the user to manage; it is called Nebula Bronze.
Quick Launch Toolbar
The Quick Launch toolbar provides a way to launch programs with a single click. The area to the right of the Start button contains these program shortcuts. To place a program here, simply drag the shortcut icon from the Desktop and drop it here. Or find the program in Start - Programs and drag it from there (in this case, you need to hold down the Ctrl key to drag a copy, else you'll lose it from the Start - Programs menu). You can even drag a directory folder itself, or an executable (.exe) program from Windows Explorer.
A pointer that you can use to quickly access any object, such as a folder, application or file. It's represented by an icon, and is a link to the object, which remains in its original location. To change the picture which represents the shortcut, right-click on it, click on Properties, and then Change Icon.
Task bar
The gray bar running across the bottom of the Windows screen; contains (from left): the Start button, the Quick Launch tray, the icons of any programs that are running in the background, the icons of programs that start automatically such as virus checking, and the time.
A trojan is a program that neither replicates or copies itself, but does damage or compromises the security of the computer; it's used to break into the host computer. It is a program in which instructions are contained inside another file.
Uniform Resource Location, or URL
The naming methodology for web addresses or locations on the Web.
A personal network identification that allows access to computing services at the University of Washington. Your UW NetID is the same as the part of your email name that precedes the @ sign. To get a UW NetID, go to the Get Your UW NetID page.
A virus is some kind of software that lives in a host computer, and uses a variety of strategies to try to reproduce itself to other computers. However, it has no way to spread without outside help; frequently viruses are contained in email attachments, and are spread when the user opens the attachment. A virus does not exploit a vulnerability in an operating system or application, it takes advantage of a user.
A worm is code that spreads itself from one networked computer to another using some vulnerability in an operating system or application. When your computer has a worm, it is called compromised. Once compromised, your computer is actively trying to infect other computers.

Who Uses Nebula?

Nebula was first introduced in the summer of 1995, and has spread at a steady pace since then. There are now over 2800 clients in more than 125 offices and almost 3600 managed computers in the Nebula environment. These include:

  • Attorney General's Office
  • AVP Business Office
  • Astronomy
    • Administration Department
    • Telescope Engineering Group
  • College of the Environment
  • Community Affairs
  • Dean of Medicine
  • Department of Biochemistry
  • Digital Learning Commons
  • Facilities Services
    • Custodial Services
    • Engineering Services
    • Maintenance and Alterations
    • Motorpool
    • Parking Services
    • Plant Operations
    • Recycling
  • Faculty Senate
  • Federal Relations
  • Financial Management
    • Accounting Control
      • Bank Reconciliation
    • Equipment Inventory Office
    • Financial Reporting
      • Financial Accounting
      • Internal Audit
    • Grant and Contract Accounting
    • Management Accounting & Analysis
    • Office of Planning and Budgeting
    • Payables Administration
    • Payroll
    • Risk Management
      • University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office
    • Student Accounts
    • Student Loans and Receivables
    • Travel Office
    • Treasury Department
  • Global Health
    • AIDS Education and Training Center
    • Center for AIDS and STD
    • Health Alliance International
    • HIV Prevention Trials Unit
    • Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
    • International Training and Education Center on HIV
    • Prevention Training Center
    • Tobacco Studies in Public Health
  • Government Relations
  • Housing and Food Services
  • Human Resources
    • AVP Human Resources
    • Benefits
    • Compensation Office
    • Disability Services Office
    • Employee Relations
    • Employment Services
    • Equal Opportunity Office
    • Faculty and Staff Child Care
    • Health Sciences Employee Relations
    • Labor Relations
    • Medical Centers Employment Services
    • Training and Development
    • University Temporary Services
    • Work/Life Office
  • KEXP
  • International Affairs
  • International Programs and Exchange
  • International Service Office
  • Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean
  • Life Sciences Discovery Fund Authority
  • Neurobiology and Behavior
  • Office of Commencement Exercises
  • Office of Educational Assessment
  • Office of Information Management
  • Office of Research Information Services
  • Office of the Board of Regents
  • Office of the Executive Vice-President
  • Office of the President
  • Office of the Provost
    • Office of the Vice-Provost
    • Academic Personnel
  • Office of Planning and Budgeting
  • Office of Public Records
  • Office of Research Information Services
  • Parking Violations
  • Professional Staff Programs
  • Publications Services
  • Purchasing
  • Real Estate Office
  • Regents' Office
  • Robinson Center for Young Scholars
  • School of Medicine
    • Department of Biochemistry
    • Department of Radiology
  • Student Life
    • Counseling Center
    • Disability Resources for Students
    • Office of Student Financial Aid
    • Office of the Vice Provost for Student Life
    • Student Activities and Union Facilities
    • Student Legal Services
    • Student Life Scholarships
  • Technology Transfer
  • University Advancement
  • UW Genome Center
  • UW Medical Center
    • Marketing
    • Strategic Planning
    • Global Health
  • UW Police Department
  • UW Retirement Center
  • UW Technology

To offer corrections to this list, please email nebula@uw.edu.

Last modified: April 21, 2014