The PC Lab in PSB 208 has the computer software Octave installed. Octave is a clone of the popular mathematical software system MatLab. The MatLab system is also available in our computer lab and there is a student version available on the web for a moderate fee. The MatLab system is used in many engineering and scientific computing laboratories. Octave is a free system available online by one of the creators of MatLab at the University of Wisconsin. It is licensed under the General Public License or GPL (see Wikipedia for more information). Its abilities include matrix computations, linear algebra, plotting and structured programming.

When used as a programming tool the program code is edited in an external editor supplied with the system and then programs are run by entering commands in the Octave command window. With a little care it is possible to use core elements of the MatLab/Octave programming language so that the program code will work with either system.

Installing Octave On Your Computer

1) Download the installation file by clicking the link below:

Window: octave-3.0.1-setup.exe
Mac-386: octave-3.0.1-i386.dmg

Either save it to a temporary location and then execute it or else execute the program immediately during the download process.

Note: I recommend choosing the non-Java version during the installation since it seems to be more stable.

2) The program will be installed in your C: drive and there will be startup folder containing a startup icon and PDF file version of the manual. The startup folder can be opened by clicking Start/All Programs/GNU Octave.

You start the program by clicking the startup icon and waiting for the prompt to appear. You then can just start entering statements into Octave by typing expressions and then clicking the enter key:

octave:1> 2 + 3
ans = 5
octave:2> 4^(1/2)
ans = 2
octave:3> 2*sin(pi/2)
ans = 2
octave:4> sin(2)
ans = 0.90930
octave:5> exit

That last command "exit" will close the Octave window and end the program.

3) By default, Octave will look for your program code in the folder

C:\Program Files\Octave

You want to create a better location for your files. A good solution is to create a folder "Octave Programs" in your "My Documents" folder. Next you need to make this folder the current working directory in Octave. This can be done at startup by using the change directory command cd as follows for Windows XP:

octave:1> cd "C:/Documents and Settings/Dave/My Documents/Octave Programs"
octave:2> pwd
ans = C:\Documents and Settings\Dave\My Documents\Octave Programs

For Windows Vista this would be:

octave:1> cd "C:/Users/Dave/Documents/Octave Programs"
octave:2> pwd
ans = C:\Users\Dave\Documents\Octave Programs

The best method is to have the system automatically make this change for you by editing the properties of the desktop startup icon. To do this right click the startup icon, click "Properties" and then edit the "Start In:" folder to be your code folder.

The next time you start Octave the working directory will be the one you entered in the "Start In:" field. You can check whether this is the case by using the pwd command as above.

4) The default text editor for writing octave code is the SciTE program and you can copy a startup link to your desktop also.  It is located at

C:\Program Files\GNU Octave 3.0.1\tools\wscite\SciTE.exe

This last step may not be necessary since the Windows system will associate this editor with text file with the m-extension. Thus, if you create an empty plain text file in your code folder (Step 2) with the name test.m then double clicking this file icon will open the editor. At that point you can use the File/Save As option to rename it.

5) To test your system create the file test.m in Step 4 and enter the single statement:

disp('Hello World!')

and then Save your changes. Next double-click the Octave startup on your desktop and enter the statement 'test' followed by the Enter key. Here's what should happen:

octave:1> test
Hello World!

Alternately, you can just enter statements directly into Octave by typing say:

octave:3> disp('Hi!')
octave:4> for i=1:5, disp(i^2), end

The preferred method of writing code is to use a source file (as above) and then test the code in Octave. When something is not right you should modify the source file, save the changes and repeat the testing step. Nevertheless, any code statement  can be entered directly into Octave for testing purposes or for doing very simple examples.

6) To get started with programming read over the introductory material in the Octave Manual starting at page 33. Another way to get started is to skim over the MatLab Getting Started Manual starting with Chap 3 and Chap 5. The Matlab system has a completely different interface than Octave but the MatLab Command window is very similar to the Octave system language:

Octave Manual (378 page PDF)
Getting Started with MatLab (138 page PDF)

Octave and MatLab are quite compatible and with a little care one can write programs that will simultaneously work with either system. In addition, MatLab has an extensive website to help you learn their programming language, see

MatLab Programming Online Help

7) It is possible to paste code into the command line and to copy portions of the command window for use in text files. Here's how you do that:

  1. Enlarge the octave window so that all computations are showing.
  2. Right-click in the top window strip to reveal the edit menu. Choose Edit and select Mark.
  3. With your mouse select button held down select the portion of the window you want to copy. It should highlight as you move your mouse. When the material is selected press the Enter-key. The selection is now on the clipboard and can be pasted into a text editor.

The reverse process of pasting a command into Octave is done by first copying the command to the clipboard from a file or web page. Then, in the octave window right-click the top window strip and select Edit then Paste.

These direction may vary slightly for Mac or Linux computers.