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SimplyMEPIS 6.0

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.

General Use

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, 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.


The main feature of MEPIS that allows you to change settings is the entry in the KDE menu called System Configuration (Settings). This has an advantage over Freespire for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it's a tree structure, meaning you can see where you are in the settings much more clearly. There's also a description for each possible option which helps you to decide which option it is that you want. One of the pecularities is the presence of the two utilities MEPIS Utilities and MEPIS System Tweaks. What's odd is not their mere existence, but that they exist separately - in my view, it would be better if they were combined. Overall, the System Configuration menu is relatively well laid out, but I can't help feel that it could be made a little more intuitive - for example, changing the keyboard layout is in MEPIS System Tweaks, not the Keyboard entry.

Changing the DNS settings proved to be troublesome. Even by going to the aforementioned MEPIS Utilities, and telling it to use static DNS settings, the DNS nameservers would change every time the network restarted i.e. on every boot. I realised after a couple of minutes of pondering that you have to tell MEPIS not to use DHCP, meaning that I had to set up a static IP and configure all the other settings manually (for me, this was in the eth0 tab). It would have been nice if MEPIS had told you that you also needed to change this tab to make the DNS settings stick.

A flaw in the various utilities provided by MEPIS is that changing between tabs and options will not apply any changes you may have made, and it will not prompt you to apply those changes. So, for example, if you're on the DNS tab of MEPIS Utilities, make some changes, and move to another tab, all those DNS changes will have been lost unless you hit Apply first. There's no warning, which should be provided at the very least.

When attempting to change the resolution in the Display dialog, I discovered that the only resolution I had to choose from was 1024x768. So far as I can tell, this leaves me with two options: either changing xorg.conf manually, or run dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg, neither of which MEPIS's users should have to do, especially considering that, according to the MEPIS website, "SimplyMEPIS features unique hardware detection and configuration superior to any others". Hmm, I am not sure about that one when it comes to resolution.

Still, adding network shares is as simple as it is in GNOME - just right click on any folder, hit Properties and then the Share tab. After selecting Configure File Sharing..., it's a very straightforward procedure to add shares.

The firewall is handled by Guard Dog, something that, just like KwikDisk, has not really changed that much from its previous incarnation in MEPIS 3.4-3. It still remains relatively straightforward to use, although I needed to tweak the defaults slightly to get other computers to be able to access MEPIS's shares.

Handily, there is an entire section of the menu dedicated to Printers, allowing you to access the Print Manager, Print Browser, and so forth. Alongside this is perhaps the most important option: Add Printer. So far as I can tell, this is just the standard KDE utility for adding printers, which is no bad thing - you run it, it asks you some simply questions, and in a couple of minutes you have a working printer.

Package Management

Here, MEPIS is rather strong. Inheriting Apt and Synaptic from its Debian roots gives MEPIS a headstart over some other distributions. Although not as user friendly as some utilities (see: Ubuntu 6.06), Synaptic is powerful and relatively simple to get your head, especially if you just want to upgrade your packages. The inclusion of an applet by default in MEPIS's panel informing you of the number of updates available is helpful, and should hopefully mean that more systems are kept up to date. What is slightly disappointing is that this applet, upon being clicked, takes you to Synaptic rather than update-manager, Ubuntu's utility dedicated to installing updates - a quick trip to Synaptic can allow you to use update-manager, although getting it to operate in conjunction with the update applet is more work that I am willing to put in. Add/Remove Applications, or similar, would also be a nice addition so that users can look at entire programs collected together into nice, neat categories, rather than packages.

Since MEPIS uses Ubuntu's repositories, it has access to its wide range of applications. That means you can install almost anything with great ease, from an Apache server complete with PHP, MySQL and phpMyAdmin, to Gnumeric.


This review, compared to some, is rather short, and it is for one main reason: there is not that much to write about. While that may seem rather obvious, I do have a point. MEPIS has relatively few flaws, so there is not much to write about there. However, MEPIS also does relatively little true innovation - I cannot think of much of MEPIS that has not already been done in another distribution. Instead, MEPIS just takes what has already been done, adds a little polish and shine here and there, along with a handful of MEPIS specialities, and creates a solid, user friendly distribution.

So, is MEPIS worth downloading? As always, it rather much depends on who you are and what you want a distribution for. MEPIS is user friendly, has decent package management, a good spread of default applications and is, in my experience at least, absolutely stable. There are a few flaws, such as resolution (a situation in which I certainly do not appear to be alone in after just a couple of minutes searching on Google), and installing nVidia drivers. On the other hand, there's the added bonus of proprietary applications that are already installed. I still consider Ubuntu to better MEPIS in most categories, but MEPIS is never all that far behind, and saves you some work getting some things working. However, and Ubuntu's wiki can guide you through setting up proprietary components on Ubuntu, while you still might want to set some things up on MEPIS, such as DVD playback

If you do not care about proprietary applications, but want something easy and simple to use, then I recommend Ubuntu. If you do care about proprietary components, then Ubuntu is still worth considering, but so is SimplyMEPIS 6.0. Personally, I would go for Ubuntu, since you would be left with a more solid distribution in the long run, but MEPIS is by no means a bad choice.

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