Another Day Another Distro – Part 8 – SimplyMEPIS 7.0 Beta 6
This time around I decided to try out another distribution I’d never used before in the shape of MEPIS. I started off with simplyMEPIS 6.5 which seemed a bit dated but luckily it was pointed out to me that 7.0 is due out very soon. I noticed simplyMEPIS 7.0 AntiX had been released recently but it’s a lightweight distribution for older hardware and it’s probably not fair to compare that to the larger distros directly. I might look at lightweight distros in their own right in future. So in the end I decided the best thing to do was check out the latest beta of 7.0 and here’s how I got on:
Distro Base – Debian
Kernel – 2.6.22-1-mepis-smp
Packaging System – .deb
Default Desktop – KDE 3.5.x
I want to say up front that this is obviously a beta version and while it seemed perfectly stable to me, it isn’t considered finished by the developers. I’ll try to take that into account when I look at it but I did run a pre-release version of Ubuntu Gutsy so it’s not a completely unfair comparison.
I inserted the LiveCD and booted the OS without adding the “noapic” option I sometimes need for my motherboard. I always try booting a system without adding this just to see if it works but in most Debian-based distros like Ubuntu it fails. This time though it worked, I saw a warning on the screen but everything booted as normal and I had the desktop up in no time. I stuck to my usual habit of installing the system on my 12gb partition and putting the home folder on a larger partition. The installer was pretty intuitive and seemed to work well but it was a little slow. It took about an hour in the end but I think that was mainly due to the reformatting of my 200gb drive, so it’s understandable. There was a really nice message from Warren the lead developer on the install screen thanking everyone for supporting MEPIS which is nice to see. I know that doesn’t really affect the system in any way but I just wanted to mention it, it’s good to see a developer who’s in touch with the community.
Using The System:
First impressions on booting the system suggested that the overall look might be aimed at Mac users. I’m not very familiar with OS X but I have seen the centre dock and colour scheme obviously, this looked a little similar, it may not be deliberate though and it was just my impression. The system comes with a raft of software installed as you would expect. One thing I did find strange was the lack of different workspaces by default. There was no desktop selector, so one of the first things I did was add one to the taskbar and create my usual 4 workspaces. It’s a personal thing I suppose but I like to keep my applications in different workspaces for easy navigation. It only took a minute to add this. I’ve used KDE a lot lately while travelling around different distributions and I have to say the more I use it the more I realise that I’m a Gnome guy at heart. Everyone has different preferences of course but I really do prefer the simplicity and feel of Gnome. I know window managers are interchangeable in all Linux distros and I could have installed Gnome of course but I think most people will stick with the default desktop. So I stuck to KDE.
The screen resolution was set to 1280×1024 and I had to install the binary Nvidia driver to get full 3D support. I did this by using the MEPIS X-Window Assistant, selecting the driver I wanted. This worked well and after an X server reboot the new driver worked but the resolution was still wrong. I tried using the KDE Control Centre to fix it but I didn’t have the option to choose 1440×900 which I needed. My prior Linux knowledge told me that the best way to fix this was to edit the xorg.conf file and add the resolution I wanted there. I did this in the terminal with the Nano editor and again rebooted the X server. This time the screen resolution was set to 1440×1024 which is not what I entered and I was a little puzzled. I opened the display settings dialogue and this time although 1440×1024 was selected there was an option to select 1440×900 which I did, it worked after that but it wasn’t the easiest set up process. There was no 3D desktop installed by default and I had a look at installing Compiz Fusion but trying to do it from a Debian repository as I did on Etch failed. When I ran simplyMEPIS 6.5 it came with Beryl installed and working by default with the binary Nvidia driver, though the resolution problems were still there. As this is a beta I wonder if the finished version of 7.0 will be packaged with Compiz Fusion, it seems possible as 6.5 came with Beryl. Now that Beryl and Compiz have merged again you may find Compiz Fusion is added by the developers. I hope so, I know 3D graphics aren’t everything and there are more important things in a system but it really is the first thing everyone asks me about. If they see a Linux desktop the one thing they want to see is some cool 3D effects to make them drool. It seems to entice people into Linux who may not bother otherwise. I think that has to be good in the long run.
Being based on Debian, MEPIS uses Apt for package management and Synaptic is the default GUI for this as it is on many systems. I found most of the software I needed was already installed, including the latest version of Skype. I did have to install Checkgmail and IcePodder along with a couple of other things but nothing major. I had trouble finding a MEPIS package for Pidgin the instant messaging tool. I don’t think the repositories are quite as deep somehow as the ones you find for Debian and Ubuntu but that’s just my impression. The documentation says you can use Debian and Ubuntu packages if need be but I didn’t have much luck with that, I found a lot of dependency problems during the installs and it created more problems than it solved really. I could of course have installed Pidgin from source I suppose but I decided to move on for now. I found that Flash, Java and all the various Firefox plugins needed were already installed and working, very handy. Multimedia codecs also seemed to be installed as my music played fine in Amarok.
I found that for some reason my keyboard layout was set to US English instead of UK English and I had to fix that with the Control Centre. This was strange as I distinctly remember selecting UK English in the settings during install, not sure what happened there. Within a pretty short time I was able to get a fully working desktop as I wanted it, my prior Linux and Debian knowledge may have helped a little though.
Overall simplyMEPIS is a good Debian-based KDE distro but it doesn’t really stand out in my opinion. The inclusion of Skype, Flash, multimedia codecs and so on is all very useful but it doesn’t really distinguish it from most other modern Linux distros. I had a look at the forums and found the community to be pretty strong and helpful but not quite as big as those around Ubuntu or PCLinuxOS for example. MEPIS was first released in 2003 with the aim of making an easy to use Debian distribution and it deserves credit for that, it was early to the game but I can’t help thinking Ubuntu has stolen a march on it in recent years.
It’s interesting that simplyMEPIS 6.5 was actually based on Ubuntu and now 7.0 has moved back to Debian as it’s base. I don’t know what the reason for this is but it seems to me the “easy to use Debian” market is pretty well covered right now with Ubuntu and it’s derivatives like Linux Mint, I also think Debian is pretty easy to use in itself these days anyway, maybe that’s just me. It’s true that Ubuntu has the large pockets of Canonical or more accurately South African millionaire Mark Shuttleworth behind it, that’s got to give it an advantage over smaller distros like MEPIS. Warren Woodford and the MEPIS community have put a lot of work into simplyMEPIS and it’s good but to me I just don’t see how it will complete with the likes of Kubuntu. Maybe it’s not trying to compete and one great things about Linux in general is the various flavours on offer, they all make for a richer ecosystem. MEPIS may continue to service it’s community and even grow, I just don’t see it eating into Ubuntu’s user base much. I certainly wish them well and as I said at the start this is only a beta, so maybe there’ll be new features added for release. There isn’t much time though as it’s supposed to be out in the next few weeks. I’ll check out the final release to see if there are any major differences of course but don’t expect to see anything breath taking.
If you want a Debian based distro with a KDE desktop then by all means give simplyMEPIS a try. It’s a competent distribution, not spectacular in my view but you know how the old saying goes “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and there are plenty of people who think MEPIS is beautiful 🙂
EDIT: Following people’s comments it occurred to me that there is something about MEPIS I missed, it’s stability. It is a very stable distro probably more so than Ubuntu/Kubuntu. Apparently the move back to Debian was partly for this reason. So that has to be taken into account, if stability is a key to you then MEPIS is worth a look.
CHECK OUT MEPIS HERE
As for a slogan I dunno, like I said nothing really struck me about simpyMEPIS so I’ll just go with this:
“simplyMEPIS: It’s The Distro You’d Shack Up With If Kubuntu Ran Off With Someone Else”
EDIT: Here’s an additional slogan that I thought of with regard to the stability issue.
“simplyMEPIS: It may not be as flashy as some but always reliable and wont run off with the milk man” 🙂
The Werewolf Cometh…
I’m moving on to the newly released Fedora 8 codenamed Werewolf next. It’s a distro I’ve used before but not for at least two years, I’ll be interested to see what’s changed in that time. I’ve heard good things so let’s see what it’s really like hey…