Tuesday 5th September 2006
It's time to give the latest version of SimplyMEPIS a spin - this time, the version has jumped from 3.x to 6.0, along with a change of base from Debian to Ubuntu. So, has it made any difference?
MEPIS's installation provided simple enough, although the absence of a text based alternative is a little disappointing. The first thing you must do is boot into the LiveCD, which showed that a problem I had from the previous version of MEPIS still exists - automatically detecting the resolution gives me 1024x768 rather than my usual 1280x1024, while manually selecting 1280x1024 before starting the LiveCD causes the monitor to complain that it is out of range. I do not know the cause, but it is something that doesn't happen in both Ubuntu and Debian.
After the installation proper, adding the nVidia graphics drivers proved relatively simple, but highlighted another problem with MEPIS. As always, I require that the network settings be manually configured, rather than letting the distribution do this. Otherwise, apt, among others, fails to work. By going into the settings menu of MEPIS, selecting the MEPIS Utilities option brings up a dialog box. From here, you can select the display option down the left hand side, and then the nVidia tab along the top. You can then just change the driver to nvidia by clicking the radio button, and then Apply. Although that sounds quite long, it is just a short series of mainly obvious clicks. The problem is that, when I hadn't configured the network correctly, the utility failed to download the package required for making the nVidia driver work, but still changed the X configuration file, and told me it was successful. As such, when I rebooted, I was left with no X i.e. no GUI, and a command line. Not too difficult for me to fix, but definately more taxing to the newcomer to GNU/Linux. It should be noted that if, as with most systems, the network is correctly configured from the start, the utility would have worked fine, but the fact remains that there is, under the right circumstances, a rather serious bug.
There are a few things absent from the installation that would have been helpful, such as the ability to manually configure the network, but on the whole it works relatively well.
One of my critisms of the previous MEPIS was that it only cares about the first eight characters of your password, and this has unfortunately been carried into SimpleMEPIS 6.0. Oddly, I've found that you can rectify this behaviour simply by changing the password (I did it using passwd on the command line). Exactly why the installer decides to create the password in a different manner is beyond me, and I still consider it to make MEPIS less secure.
Still, there is plenty to commend MEPIS on. First of all, it has a sane choice of applications - there's the ever popular combination of Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice.org, along with gFTP, GAIM and the usual KDE applications, among others. Notably missing is the GIMP, although it easily installed (more on that later).
There are also plenty of proprietary applications included, which is a strong selling point of MEPIS - this includes RealPlayer, Macromedia Flash, Java (as in the Sun version) and Skype. Having this support out of the box saves on some legwork if you choose Ubuntu instead. ATi and nVidia drivers are supported through the GUI explained above - the option to enable them at install time would have been a wiser move in my opinion, but on the other hand I am sure there are good reasons behind the choice.
Automounting works extremely well - my USB drive is automatically mounted, and Konqueror opens the drive. You can remove it by right clicking the desktop icon that appears, which not only unmounts the drive but also ejects it, which some distributions do not. The same is true for CDs, except that you get a prompt upon insertion asking what you want to do e.g. Open in new window.
Happily, KwikDisk is still present in MEPIS, so I'll just copy and paste what I wrote last time. Ready?
Of particular interest is KwikDisk. This handy little... thing provides a menu, from which you can mount the various partitions of your hard drive just by clicking on the relevant part. Once again, this makes life that little bit easier for the user. [Picture of KwikDisk].
Incidentally, KwikDisk might just be one of the few areas where MEPIS edges out on Ubuntu by being easier to mount hard drive partitions. While the multitude of other applets, including swimming fish, is a nice addition, it does make the panel extremely cramped by default - hence my advocation of GNOME's two panels by default.
Network browsing is easily facilated by selecting Samba Shares from the Network Shares entry in the menu. You can also do it the old fashioned way i.e. mounting the partitions yourself through smb4k.
The theme for MEPIS is not really that different from any other distribution, but it works well enough without being intrusive or tacky. Stability wise, MEPIS behaved just like most other distributions - perfectly fine.