Let’s start out by admitting that we all have preferences and that one person’s preferences will not necessarily be shared by another. That is the premise and the power of Linux and the myriad distributions it has spawned, that somewhere there is one that is right for you. If you share all, or even most of my preferences for a desktop/laptop system its my guess you’ll like Simply Mepis 3.3 as well.
Just what are those criteria? Well simply enough I wanted a distribution that:
1) Is free to download and easy to get, with a compact download.
2) Is easy to install and does not put everything, including the kitchen sink, on my system.
3) Is KDE centric and easy to configure from the GUI.
4) Has the most current stable versions of the most popular applications (KDE, Firefox, OpenOffice.org, etc).
5) Has an easy to use method for installing applications not included in the core distro and free access to a huge number of additional applications.
6) Has a great Community for support and development.
Free, easy, beautiful, current. That’s Simply Mepis 3.3
Easy to Get
Simply Mepis can be downloaded here
from a number of mirrors and it comes on a single disk. Yep, no four or five disk set to download and burn, just a single CD has everything you need for a complete install. If you have DSL you can be ready to start installing in just over an hour.
Easy to Install
The installation is so easy that even a Mac user couldn’t foul it up.
-Boot the computer with the Simply Mepis 3.3 disk in the CD drive.
-Log in as root with the pass word root at the login screen.
-Click on the desktop icon that says “Install Me” and follow the install wizard dialogs.
SM is a “live” disk. Running it boots your system into SM so you can see how your system will run (or not). There are some quirks about the install, especially if you’re picky about your display resolution, but generally speaking SM just works. I have installed it on two laptops, the most finicky of beasts, without a hitch. One of the laptops is an extremely old Dell that I salvaged for my wife with 250mb of ram, an 8 gig hard drive and a 300mhz processor. It boots slow, but runs great and is a perfect machine for sitting on the sofa and surfing the web.
KDE and Configuration
SM is a KDE distro through and through. All of the KDE components do what you would expect them to do like you expect them to do it. This lets the effort the KDE developers have put into the interface and features shine without hiding them behind a bunch of Mepis only configuration programs. There is one Mepis configuration utility called the Mepis OS Center (screen shot below).
The OS Center makes it easy to set the screen resolution, configure network settings, set the system name, etc. A nice, understated but powerful utility that does not try to do a lot of the things existing KDE configuration applets already do well.
Comes With Current Applications
SM ships with KDE 3.3 and upgrades with apt to 3.3.2, the most current stable version. It also comes with OpenOffice.org 1.1.3 (one version back, but I can’t tell the difference), Firefox 1.0.1, etc. The software seems to be, for the most part, the most current stable versions of popular software. The real challenge for SM is coming quickly. KDE will release 3.4 and OpenOffice.org will release version 2. These are releases with compelling reasons to upgrade and SM should offer seamless upgrades, we’ll see if it does.
Easy Access to More Software
SM is based on Debian so in theory all the software in the Linux world is available through apt-get, or synaptic if you prefer a GUI. apt is also the method for upgrading. After a clean install of SM on my laptop an apt-get update, apt-get dist-upgrade downloaded and installed 162 packages. I have not had any trouble finding software I wanted to install on my system using apt or Synaptic. Some of my recommendations for apt-get “ing” include:
– ksysv — a must have to tweak what services run at startup.
– gkt2-engines-gtk-qt — lets your gnome application (like synaptic) use your KDE fonts and theme.
– nano — my favorite, simple, command line text editor.
– digikamimageplugins — image editing plugins for the KDE digital camera application digikam.
– kolourpaint — an easy to use image editor.
– superkaramba — an application that runs desktop widgets like system monitors, weather applications, rss news feeds, and more.
Here is a screenshot of my desktop, that I have heavily customized without ever compiling an application, only adding two deb repositories and only downloading one standalone deb.
In practice, the vast majority of anything anyone could want is only an apt-get away, but some niche applications may not be available and betas (like the OO.org 2 beat) are harder come by.
Mepis has a vibrant and growing community surrounding it that I have found to be eager to help even (especially) the newest of Linux users. Answers to questions can be found in the Mepis Lovers Forum or in the Mepis Community Forum.
Although I wasn’t looking for this kind of capability, it turns out that SM is a pretty decent multi-media system. Xine is already set up to play back many video formats including your DVD’s. All you scurvy pirates need to do to watch LOTR (which I’m doing right now as I write this precccccccciousssssss) is apt-get install libdvdcss and things work just like you expect them to. The easiest and most painless that setup has ever been for me.
In addition almost all of the Firefox/Mozilla plugins you could want or expect are set up for you at install, Flash Acrobat Reader, Mplayer and Realplayer to be precise. I have been opening Windows Media files right and left and, depending on your point of view, have either greatly enhanced or diminished my web browsing experience thereby.
While Mepis is great, not everything is perfect in Mepis land. My biggest peeve is the way Mepis handles screen resolution on install. Instead of popping up a dialog to ask you about your system and its video capabilities, Mepis assumes you want to run at its default resolution of 1024 X 768. If you don’t know, there is noting that tells you you can select F3 and choose another video resolution. Given what a pain it is to change these settings after Mepis has been installed, there ought to be another way to do this.
In addition, Mepis may not do a great job of running all of your monitor’s resolutions and refresh rates. There is a lot of traffic in the community forums about solving problems related to these issues and the development group probably needs to spend some time solving these issues.
Sound can also be problematic, not it the sense it does not work, but that it may work too well on boot. From reading the community forums it would seem that no one knows how to keep Mepis from blasting the KDE start up sound at full volume prior to the Kmix settings kicking in.
It does not seem to be possible to mount SMB shares from fstab and I have tried numerous ways. I don’t know if the fastab issues are Debian or something to do with Mepis, but I don’t like relying on smb4k to mount SMB shares, that’s a job for fstab.
Font rendering, especially in Firefox, seems somewhat problematic. In Firefox random lines of text are sometimes only half height or parts of letters are missing. In KDE in general thin fonts sometimes render with blank spots and anti-aliasing does not seem work correctly. One at least partial solution to the problem seems to be to switch to Xorg from Xfree. There is an excellent thread on Mepis Lovers Forum here that tells how to switch.
Which begs another question, why does Mepis not use Xorg to begin with? It renders fonts better, provides better transparency support etc.
Then there are the services that load at startup by default which include Apache, inetd, smbd, and sshd. You don’t need those on a desktop machine, in fact they can be downright dangerous. They are easy to turn off using ksysv but running a web server by default?
But don’t let the complaints divert you, they are really minor issues in what is a great distro. Should you use Mepis? If you want a distro that is easy, works great and, as a bonus is a great multimedia platform, then yes.