Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Simply Mepis 6.0 - Simply a solid option for a Linux Distro that works

SimplyMepis 6.0 has been around for a bit now, but in my effort to review the most popular and easiest distros marketed today, there simply is no way to skip over this product. Mepis itself is not too new, having been around in one form or another for a couple of years. Recently, Warren Woodford moved his product to be based on Ubuntu which is a really strong distro and extremely popular. Warren's story is similar to that of many people who create their own distros; he just wanted one that worked the way he wanted it too. I myself gave the distro a run in its beta stages and was very impressed with the extras that Mepis added to an already great package. For clarity sake, it would technically be closer to Kubuntu, but that is neither here nor there as switching from Ubuntu to K is as simple as one right click and apply.

Having already been there once, my goal was to check out what it would be like to run the install as a newbie and focus on getting my eMachines up and running, rather on checking on the performance which has been well documented for Mepis and Ubuntu alike. Lets check it out, shall we???


Download Here
Kernel - Kernel 2.6.15-26 Based on Ubuntu
Desktop - KDE 3.5.3
FAQs -
Cost - FREE!!!
Special Features - Live installer, nice add ons and decent packages in small install

Nitty Gritty:
Installation ( )

When you first run the Live CD, there are the basic options for running in Normal, Vesa, Minimum, and Small, which is a great idea for people with older machines or no clue on what level of video support they might have.

Once the Live CD boots up, you find yourself in a nice looking desktop full of great features and wonderful little add ons. My favorite is the Kaquarium in the toolbar along with the sysmonitor. Both of these allow you to see how you machine is functioning while using the Live version and stick around after install. The weather function is alright, but set up for Mepis home base in West Virginia. Myself being in the Pacific NW really could care less, but I like the drop for the Mountaineers.

I clicked on the Mepis Help icon and was directed via the internet to the start page at, which unless you know where to go there, really doesn't help. Please don't get me wrong, I find that once you look around the web site you find that there is a vast amount of excellent HowTos and links to places such as, which is just plain awesome at pulling together one of the best communities outside of Ubuntu, which also works since the distro is based on it.
My main concern about this link is back to previous reviews in how I don't like people needing to be on the internet in order to get install help. This assumes too much, especially for newbies who will likely have no clue on setting up network cards if the Live disk has a problem.

However my worries were quickly squashed when I clicked on the icon for Documents. Inside this folder are two great resources.: A quick start guide and a Tips sheet. I would like to see the icon a bit more directive than just documents, but the fact that it is there wins my trust back in Mepis for caring about those about to plunge into installing their distro.

Once I got done playing around with the wireless to see how well it wasn't working (I hate the bcm43xx module being plugged into the kernel) I decided to give this a go. I wasn't able to install on my VMWare machine, so I decided I would replace my secondary Linux to give this a thorough hardware shakedown, as one of its review told me how this handled all hardware period. (not quite, but they did say it was on steroids). I know most test these on desktops, so my trying on a laptop usually tests these claims to the 10th degree.

Double clicking on the Mepis Install icon prompted me for a password that I just didn't know. But looking in the getting started page promptly informed me that they defaulted this to 'root' (my favorite so far has been 'toor' or root backwards) and got into the install process. This very clean and informative window directed me to press next. I didn't like that I had no clue where I was headed, nor an idea of where I had been, but so far only Xandros has succeeded well in that for me.

The next step prompted me to determine where I was intending on installing this distro and also provided me QTParted which would allow me to set up any new or modify old partitions. I like that this is organized with multiple steps associated with each other together rather than in serial. I always feel more in control when things are grouped like this. Knowing I was replacing a partition on my /dev/hda3 partitions I chose Custom.

Note the screen shot below was on my failed attempt to install within VMWare, but for some reason it wasn't able to read the sda drive. But once I chose the proper distro, the installer copied over the necessary files and then prompted me for the boot loader.

The boot loader option basically only offered up grub, but I am fine with that. I am not much of a Lilo fan myself. One thing I do like is that in the information bar on the left, it goes ahead and instructs you how Mepis will not find other distros on your machine and that you will need to modify the menu.lst file if you wish to add these. Most just don't even bother letting you know that they cannot handle this, so I am happy that Mepis knew to at least let people know upfront.

I was next directed to a window offering up some common services that I might be interested in, with a couple already checked. I again like that the install allows me some customization on items that really only affect me and that no decisions non-critical were made by someone else. I let these stick in and didn't select the bluetooth as I don't have any adapter for that installed.

I was next prompted for the PC and network names that would be needed for Linux as well as MSFilesystem (Samba) worgroup. I know most people just leave this to workgroup, but I like to advertise whenever possible.

Still diggin those fish, they are fun to watch swim around, but I digress...

The next screen allows me to choose my locale for keyboard function, time zone and an excellent blurb again, this time letting me know that there are proprietary video drivers on the other side of my install. This keeps me going even though this process has not been too long or painful.

My next step was user and admin name/passwords. I like how they are both on the same screen, allow people to know that they have a user account and then the admin password being right there, instead of seperating them out on two screens. We all know that 99% of us are the only users, so this makes so much more sense to me than breaking them up.

Once I pass up the screen on passwords, I am finally rewarded with the knowledge I am done. It is nice to keep things so informative during this entire process and I really enjoy the split window. It allows for a tight control window for the user experience on the right, while passing along vital information on the left such as what I might need to do when I get into the real OS and off the Live CD to really enjoy this package.

Overall I would have to rate this as a really solid install that does the job very well, with only a couple of minor issues with password knowledge being a bit hidden and only allowing Grub is a decent assumption but there are the Lilo fans are out there and might be a bit upset at not having that option. Linux should be just that, flexibility and ease, but I do understand keeping things easy and sometimes while doing so one takes away the flexibility. A good process here, and I wouldn't think many would run into issue with the excellent dialog and built in start up guide.

Now that we have installed our distro, it is time to reboot and see if there are any steroids to this distro or are we dealing with some fluff with no function...onward we go.

Starting ( )

Being a Ubuntu package and having run Mepis before I was pretty knowledgable about what was about to happen, and this time I was not let down. Several things were broken when I go to the start page, which still had my fish thank god.

First, my wireless was not working, even though the light was on. It seems that the kernel with the BCM43xx module compiled runs the hardware and it will respond to an 'iwlist' command, but for some unknown reason just won't lock on when you try to get an IP address with 'dhclient'. So there are a couple of steps to remedy this for us laptop people with Broadcom (which is by far the most common PCI card out there it seems. Here are the steps

  • Blacklist bcm43xx in the /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist file
  • rmmod bcm43xx
  • ndiswrapper -l to see what cards are already installed
  • for me 'ndiswrapper -e bcmwl5' to remove the existing driver
  • copy the drivers from my windows partition (can be googled pretty easily if you don't have them)
  • from the directory with the windows drivers 'ndiswrapper -i bcmwl5.inf'
  • 'depmod -a'
  • 'modprobe ndiswrapper'
  • 'ndiswrapper -m'
  • reboot (don't know why, but it is required)
and my wireless came to life.

For my video woes, which seems to happen all too often, all I had to do was search mepislovers and found that to add ATI card support all I had to do was use synaptic and install the package 'xorg-driver-fglrx' and restart the KDE with a ctrl-alt-backspace. Very nice there.

My sound didn't work, so I went to the old standby which is to click on the mixer client and de-select the External Amplifier option. Tada!!!!

And I was cooking with gas in about 10 minutes. Not too bad I might say, but definitely not a distro on steroids. Yes, it is pretty rock solid, but to be honest any based on Ubuntu will have that capability.

The control panel is pretty generic, nothing special but all the key packages.

Now that my internet works I am able to use the Mepis Help link on the desktop.

So at the end of the day, with very little extra effort I have a decent looking distro with rock solid support running on my laptop with wireless, video and sound functioning. Media supports audio codecs, but a download of libdvdcss is required for the video. Not bad, but really when one would compare this to other like packages, I really don't see much seperating this from Kubuntu.

Bonus Stuff ( )

One new addition to the Mepis lineup is the advent of Extras CDs which are designed for those people who can download ISO's but have slow internet access, or as they state "for users who can't rely on having a continuous fast Internet connection". For me, if you got the ability to download a 600 meg plus ISO images, downloading smaller packages should be easier, but hey, they are a nice added benefity. They would make the most sense being part of a package that is sold in solid form rather than a download to me, so I am sure that is the true intention. I give them credit for keeping those in mind who still rely on dial-up and make these available in the first place. 4 Pennies for your effort all, great job!!!!

Overall ( )

Overall I will have to put this pretty clear, as I know there are a ton of Mepis lovers out there who are probably ready to bash my lack of Pennies, however there is a reason: Mepis is rock solid, works well, and offers a true desktop Linux, BUT really is not that unique. To me, this is like someone who like a Mercury over a Ford. The chasis is the same, only the packaging is different. For Mepis, this is true with Kubuntu. I am a big fan of Kubuntu and equally a big fan of Mepis. They both offer what anyone would want and that is a distro that works and works well.

Is there anything in here that stands out as unique beyond the fact that it works so well? Not really. Yes, you can take this extremely stable package and work within the community to add nice things like XGL, but it would be nice to also have that as a base feature. XGL is something that really will keep Linux on par with Apple and Vista, and should be more common. I know there are a ton of hardware issues, but with about 4 really solid packages available today with this running, then I would hope that would be the next step with distros like Mepis. I will be back for the 64 bit when available however, as I am still waiting on a distro that will uncork my boat anchor.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed my opinions. Good luck with your personal Linux quests and I just hope I have shed some light on this package for you. Cheers!!!!


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