Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
SimplyMEPIS 3.4-3rc1 was offered for consumption recently and it was asked if it was soup yet? It'd been quite a few years since I had looked at Mepis, and I thought this was the perfect time to get reacquainted. The announcement used such enticements as a 2.6.15 kernel, Firefox 1.5, and udev. We downloaded and burnt said distro in record time and was off to the races with great hast. What did we find?
Upon boot one finds an attractive splash with several nice yet simplified booting choices that hopefully will cover most of the users trying SimplyMepis. With 5 options ranging from Normal (best for newer systems), to Boot Small (try for very old display), one should fit your needs. My first boot I chose Boot Vesa (try if display problems), to avoid any "nv" locks up that might occur. Later I find out Mepis includes nvidia drivers, so in trying the Normal option still netted "nv" use and a lock up. I could modprobe nvidia, and use it, but it wasn't enabled by detection on the livecd (for me).
The boot pauses at a login screen for you to ...er... log in. Choices at this point include Root, Demo, and onthego. The recommended procedure is to use Demo with the password: Demo. KDE is about your only choice in desktops, so, I chose KDE.
The KDE splash is a simplified default screen, removed is the top png and left is only the active (and inactive) bar png. I think that's a nice idea giving the experience a more professional understated feel.
At the desktop we find a great looking wallpaper in subtle tones of an-almost country blue featuring the what-I-assume-to-be-the SimplyMEPIS logo. I've seen so many variations of these pyramids overlooked by the heavenly body on so many wallpaper sites that if it isn't the logo, it should be. It's certainly the association I make.
The panel has been customized just a bit with the default look including the kaquarium and kweather applets. I thought the use of kaquarium was a interesting choice and I admit I liked it. Frankly, I'd forgotten that applet even existed and it was a refreshing change of pace. I had quit using the kweather applet myself long ago, but it's nice on a new or transient system - except for the chore of having to change it to your own weather station. No reflection on Mepis, but as KDE has taken out the fill-in-the-blank config for a choose-from-a-list, I can no longer (easily) get my actual hometown in kweather. I had to pick the closest big town.
This release candidate of SimplyMEPIS 3.4-3 includes OpenOffice.org 2.0, Firefox 1.5, a 2.6.15 kernel, Xorg 6.8.2 and gcc 4.0.3. This is a bit cutting edge and is quite welcome in the Debian-based arena. Kernel 2.6.15 is still so new I haven't had a chance to upgrade my main system yet, although 188.8.131.52 was released just today (or yesterday). Many distros are staying within the gcc 3.3 line of compilers as this upgrade is quite a bold step. It's nice to see xorg, even if it's 6.8.2, in a debian derivative instead of a 3-year-old XFree86.
As it's been since about the first release since I've tried Mepis, I'm not versed in the norm. I did find the menus quite full of applications. I recall wondering as I explored SimplyMepis how they could fit so much software in one 700mb iso. They include so much stuff, I didn't even know what some of it was for.
There's the usual KDE apps of course as well as plenty of added in goodies, but they also include lots of programming and advanced networking tools that I reckon lots of business and developers might find useful. I'm sure this allows their distro to compete with the commercially successful vendors for a wider range of user demographics.
Some of the goodies include lots and lots of multimedia and internet classified applications as well as plenty of graphic and office apps, monitoring, system tools, package management as well as their own Mepis OS Center. Their range of software rivals such biggies as Suse and Mandriva.
I had no trouble with audio cds or video playing. Kaffine did avis and mpegs rather well and mplayer handled the bins. Also included is my favorite tv application, Xawtv and it worked wonderfully, (as seen above).
Plugin support was acceptable as flash and java worked out of the box in Firefox, although a movie/video plugin would have been welcomed.
Hard Drive Install
On the desktop one finds an icon labeled "Install Me." Leaving no doubt as to its function, this icon seems to open a variation of the Mepis OS Center containing the hard drive installation module. This great tool walks the user through an installation and new system configuration with ease. I found it to be one of the best installers I've tried out so far. Perhaps not due to looks, but due to the layout, speed, and almost flawless operation I say that. It prompts the user for installation location, offers a partition tool if needed, and an option to install on the entire drive or already prepared partition. I like how one first chooses the hard drive and offered the chance to partition on one screen and then the next screen is for picking the partition and setting up the swap and chosing the filesystem. The next screen gives a pop-up confirming and upon agreeing, a progress bar. This is really nice. If you install as many systems as I do, you might appreciate this process being streamlined into 2 easy screens. The rest of the install/configuration is very much of the same logic. Easy, fast, compact. This is perhaps Mepis' crowning jewel.
After the install the Mepis OS Center no long contains the installation module (logically), however, it does have many nice features for setting things up, changing settings or tweaking your new system. Found are even Nvidia and Ati specific options. Also handy might be the user accounts setup or tweaks, copy between desktops, or the repair partitions tools. I do believe this is the first time I've seen a gui tool for copying one user's home to another's. This could real handy in setting up new users or if someone wanted to change their username. Pretty cool.
And of course what's a debian-based distro without synaptic and apt-get. SimplyMepis ships with several repositories already setup and ready to go. Just click Reload to update your sources lists.
As stated I haven't tested Mepis in several years. I was impressed with Mepis back then, but they have certainly grown and expanded to accommodate the needs of a wider user base. For the home desktop system, I'd almost dare say SimplyMepis might be all one needs. For the small business user, I imagine SimplyMepis can make for a wonderful foundation. I found its performance and included applications well above average, while it's hardware detection and stability in the respectable average range.
My usb scanner would not function and I was to discover usb detection was all but non-existant. Firefox 1.5 was a bit unstable. It froze up after extended use and I could not kill the persistant processes with even the most extreme prejudice. In another negative note, I found the fonts were not rendered as nicely as I would have liked even using the nvidia drivers. Otherwise the system performed admirably and perhaps these issues might be cleared up by final. I imagine SimplyMepis users will not be disappointed in the final release.
Another note of interest, a friend of mine was also testing this release candidate and stated that he could not install onto an ext3 partition. He had to format his partition in the reiserfs before the installer would continue. That was a bit of a head-scratcher for me, as I chose ext3 for my partition. It formatted it and continued on without a hiccup for me. <shrugs>