Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
The release of SimplyMepis-6.0 release candidate 1 hit the net on the June 15. I'm having a hard time gauging excitement for this upcoming milestone release of SimplyMepis. As you may have heard, Mepis is now using Ubuntu as their build base. I was expecting to see a lot of press throughout this development cycle, but either I'm missing it or it just ain't happening. I'm not too worried about them though, as I imagine this condition will improve markedly once they go gold. From the bird's eyeview it's hard to see the Ubuntu influence, but underneath the bonnet might be a different story.
As in the past, SimplyMEPIS 6.0-rc1 arrives as a livecd. This go around the boot screen appeared very much the same if not identical to what was found in alpha 1. I just hit enter at the boot screen this time and let default do as it willed. Hardware detection was spot-on and the gui login started using the 'nv' driver at 1024x768. I have two monitors and one is large with high capacity. The other is quite a bit smaller and not usually recognized. As a result, most livecds (that detect the smaller monitor first) boot at the low range for hardware safety. When X started I had a cloned dual setup, but my mouse was only visible (usable) on crt-1 (the smaller). Conversely, the screensaver appeared on crt-0 (the larger). Interesting outcome, but not attributed to Mepis directly.
The desktop features the familiar Mepis wallpaper, but I think this time it's a bit brighter shade of blue. They are using a nice window decoration called Polyester in shades of gray or silver with the plastik style. The windec buttons are in shades of silver or chrome and the highlights are in blue this time, which I think makes for a more cohesive appearance and professional impression than the previous lilac.
I'm not sure, but I think they've scaled their menus back some. I know they've taken quite a bit of flack over their menu layout, and although the basic structure hasn't changed, it appears a bit less cluttered. Perhaps they've just removed some of their software from the release. In any case, there were quite a bit of icons missing. That's my complaint. Either provide menu icons or not. This "some have and some don't" thing doesn't look real tidy. This is a small thing and something that will probably be sorted out by final. I don't think they've clean up their panel much though. In fact, they've added a shortcut icon for Synaptic, a front-end for apt-get (a package/software manager).
I didn't spot too much new in the menus since our last excursion, but the desktop contains a new icon. Apparently Mepis has struck a deal with earthlink to support Mepis Linux through a third party system called TaFusion for for dsl, dial-up or voip service. It appears that TaFusion offers some other nice packages as well such as Mepis with crossover office or cedega. That icon will take you to Mepis' site for an introduction and a link to tafusion. It seems Mepis receives some revenue from this alliance, so there's another option for folks.
One of the new things I did spot in the menu was Xara. If you don't remember hearing of Xara, it is an image manulation program in much the same ilk as TheGimp or Photoshop (with more advanced features such as svg support). They recently released their code under the gpl, so I reckon it'll start making its way into a few more distros. I think Simplymepis may be the first. SimplyMepis provides some examples in case you wanted to test it right away.
Clicking on a jpeg (or other image file I reckon) opens up showfoto. It has some basic manipulation features as well. Kooka is provided for scanning purposes and my scanner worked out of the box here. In addition, my webcam did as well. SimplyMepis is the only distribution to set my webcam up automagically - and one of the few in which it will work at all. (This time the output contained quite a bit more static than previously - but that could be the hardware more than software).
Multimedia support contains basic applications for all sorts of purposes such as cd/dvd burning, audio cd or other music format enjoyment, video viewing, email, office tasks, surfing, voip and more. I didn't have too much trouble with any of the apps. Kplayer and Kaffine worked great. They could play about any format file I tested. When clicking a media file in a web browser, kaffine opened and played it. Some wmv files wouldn't play and we are warned of the lack of dvd decrypters when starting kaffine. That can be installed by the end-user as it's a bit of legal sticky-wicket. The problems I did have was the enormous amount of time that OpenOffice.org and bidwatcher took to open. In fact, the first time I tried to use openoffice, I thought it had failed and then rendered the system useless. Nothing else would open and windows didn't repaint. But lo and behold, it eventually opened. I had the same exact experience with bidwatcher. Once they opened, they performed as designed. My system contains 1 gig of ram.
Also in the menu is the entry for Mepis Old OS Center. It's the familiar control center that we've covered before and even seen in several mepis derivatives. But the name implies there should be a New OS Center. There is an entry for MEPIS System Settings. However, instead of bringing up the new system control center found in alpha 1, it brings up what appears to be KDE's basic configuration with not much else added. hmmm. Clicking "install" on the desktop brings up the Old OS Center.
SimplyMepis 6.0 rc1 features a 2.6.15-23 kernel, xorg 7.0, gcc 4.03 and KDE 3.5.3. The software repositories consisted mostly of Ubuntu sources. I couldn't distinguish too much in the area of Ubuntu influence other than that, not that I was expecting a big red neon sign flashing "Ubuntu" on the desktop. Overall, it's a nice system despite the control center confusion. The fonts could be better and the performance definitely needs some addressing. I've already mentioned the two apps that brought the system to a halt for up to 4 minutes or so, but they were the extreme. However, the whole system seemed sluggish and even at times just stopped responding for a few seconds.
On the other hand, hardware detection and configuration in Mepis is superior to most of its competitors out there and it's great when things work out of the box. I guess that's for whom mepis is really made. It's for those people who want to load up a system and have things just work. There isn't too much to do for an old gentoo tweaker like myself.
Problems with the installer have already been reported on the mepis site. They state,
PROBLEM: Using RC1 to Install on Entire Disk
A problem has been found in the installer that prevents a reboot if you select to "Auto-install using entire disk." The fstab file contains an invalid entry. We will get out an RC2 in the next few days to correct this problem. Meanwhile, there are two workarounds:
A. Install or reinstall, using the "Custom install on existing partitions" option.
B. While running from CD, mount the root partition and manually edit the /etc/fstab.