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To access a shell account from your home machine, you can use SSH if you are running Linux, or use the excellent Putty [chiark.greenend.org.uk] if you are running Windows.
Shell access is useful even on a shared account, especially for installing scripts and more complex file changes which are difficult or impossible via an FTP client.
If you want to learn about shell accounts and the Unix-type command line, you can try some of these guides: