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Software for Physics Modules

The information on this page is intended to help students who wish to use their own computers for course work. It is likely to go out of date fairly rapidly so please report corrections and issues to CDHW (Mac OS X) JMR (Linux). Neither of us use Windows, but send recommendations/corrections to CDHW and we'll add them below.

Quick-links to sections on this page:

C compiler

Useful for PHY2028 and PHYM004.


Linux distributions come with the Gnu Compiler Collection (GCC), and the GNU development tools. We have a separate page with details of compiling and debugging under linux.

Mac OS X

We use Apple's Xcode 6.4 (freeware) because it is compatible with OS X Yosemite, which is what we current use on the 'MacPhy-nn' machines.

  1. Download the current version of Xcode from the Mac App Store.
  2. Open the newly-installed Xcode application and agree to the licence and installation of necessary components.


One possibility is Microsoft Visual C++ (not C#) which is apparently available at no charge to students, but check that the terms and conditions are acceptable to you:

There is a free software tool called MinGW which contains the Gnu Compiler Collection (GCC), and to which you can add the IDE Visual-MinGW.


Mac OS X

Follow the installation instructions for Octave (below).

LaTeX and TeX

'LaTeX is a document preparation system for high-quality typesetting. It is most often used for medium-to-large technical or scientific documents but it can be used for almost any form of publishing.' Refer to one of the many introductory guides for more information.


Your system distribution probably includes a TeX system including LaTeX. Check your usual software source for a TeX package; otherwise install TeX Live directly. For a nice graphic frontend install:

On Linux systems, it is quite likely that dictionaries for spell-checking are already present because other programs use the same spell-check engine. However, if you need to add dictionaries:

  1. Start and quit TexWorks. (This creates the dictionary directory for the next steps.)
  2. Download the dictionary files en_GB.dic and en_GB.aff. For convenience there are copies in a zipped directory here:
  3. Copy both dictionary files to the folder: /usr/share/myspell/dicts (This will typically require administrative privileges.)

Mac OS X

The MacTeX distribution contains everything you will need, including a complete TeX system with LaTeX itself and integrated editors (e.g. TeXworks) to facilitate document preparation.

  1. Use Safari to download the MacTeX-2015 Installer (requires OS X 10.5 or higher, ca 2.5GB!) from the MacTeX website.
  2. Double-click the MacTeX.mpkg installer and the installation will be placed into a new folder /Applications/TeX/.

In the unlikely event that users of OS X El Capitan experience a problem, there are some notes discussing:

If you only use Macs, my advice is to use TexShop as your LaTeX front-end, the spelling and grammar checking use Apple's pre-installed dictionaries and so work without further hassle.

If you want to use TexWorks, e.g. because you switch between Macs and Windows frequently, install the spelling dictionaries for TeXworks:

  1. Start and quit TexWorks. (This creates the dictionary directory for the next steps.)
  2. Download the dictionary files en_GB.dic and en_GB.aff. For convenience there are copies in a zipped directory here:
  3. The MacTex installer should create a dictionaries subdirectory, but it is initially empty. Move the en_GB.dic and en_GB.aff files into the empty folder '~/Library/TeXworks/dictionaries/' and then re-start TeXworks.


We recommend that you use the TeXlive LaTex/TeX distribution and use TeXworks as the front end:

Follow these steps:

  1. Download the '' compressed folder. For convenience, there is a copy
  2. here at Exeter.
  3. Extract files (by default the files will be placed in the folder with the same name and the same location)
  4. Start the 'install-tl' batch file.
  5. Start and quit TexWorks. (This creates the dictionary directory for the next steps.)
  6. Download the dictionary files en_GB.dic and en_GB.aff. For convenience there are copies in a zipped directory here:
  7. Copy both dictionary files to the folder: C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\.texlive2009\texmf-config\texworks\dictionaries. N.B. The dictionaries folder may have a slightly different path for pre-XP versions of Windows.

NOTE. The installation downloads ca 1GB of files and will take a noticeable time (30mins to 1 hour, depending on the speed of the Internet link).


Introduced in PHY1028 used in all stages of physics programmes for mathematics, analysis of experiment data, and project work.


  1. Install Octave by following the instructions at the OctaveForGNULinux site.
  2. Install packages as described below. This should require superuser/administrative privileges, which are obtained using the 'sudo' command:
    • sudo octave
    Quit octave and restart with normal privileges immediately the the packages have installed.

Mac OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) and later

The following recipe for building from source has been tested on OS X 10.10.5 with Xcode 6.4, but you'll need to download about 3 GB of files in the process (check your broadband limits first!). Expect the compilation/installation process to take about an hour:

  • Install the latest version Xcode as described in the C Compiler section above.
  • Download and run the MacPorts package installer.
  • Download and install XQuartz
  • Open from an account with administrator privileges and use the following commands:
    • sudo tmutil addexclusion -p "/opt/local"
    • sudo port selfupdate
    • sudo port install octave -glgui +accelerate
    • sudo port install octave-optim octave-odepkg octave-miscellaneous
    This excludes the MacPorts directory '/opt/local' from Time Machine backups and then installs Octave and the remarkably large number of libraries and tools it needs to work in it. Gnuplot and Aquaterm are installed as a side-effect of this process.

On completion, Octave should start when you type 'octave' at the command lime prompt. If your path does not include /opt/local/bin/ you will need to type the full path '/opt/local/bin/octave'.

The '+accelerate' option uses an OS X standard library instead of the recommended and slightly more robust 'atlas' library. Unfortunately atlas takes many hours to compile but if you have a lot of patience and a fast machine you can omit this option.


  1. Go to Octave 3.2.4 for Windows MinGW32 on Octave-Forge
  2. Install packages as described below.

Packages for Octave

  1. Go to the Octave Packages site
  2. Download the following packages, and place in the Octave working directory:
  3. Start the Octave application and install the packages by typing:
    • pkg install -global miscellaneous-1.0.11.tar.gz
    • pkg install -global struct-1.0.9.tar.gz
    • pkg install -global optim-1.0.17.tar.gz
    (If your browser 'helpfully' uncompressed the files when downloading them the '.gz' will not be needed.)

The package version numbers increment every few months, modify the install commands to match the ones you downloaded.

Office (Word-processor, Spreadsheet, etc.)

So-called 'office productivity' software is an inescapable part of life, and most students will have learned how to use it at school. An optional class will be arranged in the Summer Term for those who wish to develop and/or refresh their skills. The market leader is currently Microsoft Office. This is available for Macs and Windows, and is supported by Academic Services. A student discount version is available but it is still quite expensive. As an alternative we recommend Libre Office:

All OS Versions

  1. Download from the Libre Office Download site.

Once Libre Office is installed, remember to run the en-GB language pack installer.

Drawing Packages

There are two basic types of drawing packages: bitmap-representation and vector-representation. Devices such as cameras and scanners produce bitmaps and to manipulate these you will need a 'bitmap graphics' application. Vector graphics formats are usually best if you are constructing technical diagrams and illustrations. Graphics packages are not easy to use, practice on simple diagrams well before that project needs to be handed-in. Graphics packages will not endow you good taste or artistic skills, but fortunately clarity and simplicity are the most important qualities of scientific diagrams.

Inkscape (Drawing - Vector Graphics)

Introduced in the IT Skills section of PHY1028, PHY1029, and PHY1030.

All Platforms

  1. Download and install the 'Stable Release' for your operating system from the site.
  2. Refer to the tutorials at the Inkscape Tutorials Weblog.

Gimp (Drawing - Bitmap Graphics)

Used in in the Astrophysics Skills section of PHY1029.

All Platforms

  1. Download and install the 'Stable Release' for your operating system from the GNU Image Manipulation Progam site.
  2. Refer to the tutorials on the GIMP Tutorials page.

Spice Simulator

Useful for PHY2028 and PHY3128.


Your best bet is Spice Opus (freeware). Alternatively try Ngspice (OSS, freeware).

Mac OS X

We recommend MacSpice 3f5 (freeware).

  1. Download the MacSpice.dmg
  2. Double-click MacSpice.dmg which will mount the image as a volume.
  3. Drag the MacSpice application to your /Applications folder.


You have three obvious options.


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