A Review of SimplyMEPIS 3.3

Updated 3/5/05


System Tested

Asus A7n8x-E Deluxe motherboard
AMD Athlon XP 2600+ processor
512 mb DDR RAM
NVIDIA GeForce2 MX400 64 mb video card
Seagate ST31020022A 120 gig ide drive
Seagate ST 340810A 40 gig ide drive
Maxtor 6Y080M0 80 gig sata drive
Dlink wireless NIC


Introduction

As the plethora of Linux maintainers continuously release new versions of their distros (and confusing new users of Linux in the process),  occasionally one comes along that makes a difference. New potential converts to Linux become easily frustrated with hardware issues that have plagued Linux and often give up. The recent wave of Live CD distros offer the new user the opportunity to try out a distro, before they take the plunge and install their new "OS" on their systems. SimplyMEPIS seems to have kept up with the trend,  taking a Debian based distro and tweaking it to a well rounded package with excellent hardware detection.

I downloaded the newest release of Mepis and gave it a spin on my fairly new experimental box with a nForce motherboard, the Asus A7n8x-E, the bane of Linux users and hardware difficulties. I recently acquired a sata hard drive to play with, another piece of hardware which has been a sticking point with Linux users to get going. Linux distros have had difficulty keeping up with the new motherboards released, one of the most elusive has been the A7n8x series boards.

One of the unique and most useful functions of Live CD distros, is their ability to be used to rescue an ailing or unbootable system, or to perform tasks, such as formatting the hard drive in preparation for installing a distro. Mepis and Knoppix both have a partitioning utility, qtparted, which allows users to use the Live CD to partition their hard drives. So, this test had two purposes, first to test the distro to see if it recognized all my hardware, and secondly, to test the ability of SimplyMEPIS to be fully usable as a rescue disk for this system.


Live CD Test

I popped in the SimplyMEPIS disk and booted the system. I was pleasantly surprised, while reading the boot messages, to see that Mepis loaded modules for my onboard nForce sound and a sata driver loaded (siimage)! I also noticed that Mepis attempted to load network interfaces for wireless cards, including ath_pci (for the atheros based wireless cards) and wlan/ndiswrapper for other cards. All the wireless attempts failed, but I expected this, since I am using WEP on my wireless system.

Catch #1: New users to Mepis are often not aware that the Live CD allows you to login as "demo" user or root user. Unless you read the hep file at the welcome screen when booting the Live CD, KDM (the login screen) asks for a password for either choice. as Demo user, the password is "demo" and root user is "root."

Once in KDE, I quickly looked to see if my sata drive was mounted. Simply MEPIS places icons on the desktop for each partition that it finds. A nice addition for newbies who get confused about how to mount their other partitions, especially windows partitions to share in Linux. In my case, this was quite a few, but I easily recognized that the two partitions on my sata drive (one vfat and the other ext3 preformatted for use) were recognized as sdb1 and sdb5 respectively. The interface is clean, appealing and not cluttered (well, except for all the partition icons that I have on the desktop).


What's Included


SimplyMEPIS comes included with the latest of what Linux has to offer, including kernel 2.6.10, KDE 3.3.2 and Mozilla Firefox 1.0. Mepis preinstalls both the option to boot into the 2.4 and 2.6 series kernels, which some may wish to experiment with (older vs, newer hardware configurations). Grub has the option to boot either.

Also included and what I consider essential are;

k3b 0.11.20 (somewhat dated, but the hallmark of cd burning software for Linux)
kmail (which easily imports your Outlook Express mail from Windows)
qtparted (a progressive graphical disk formatting utility)
Gimp 2.2 (to manipulate your digital camera photos)
Acrobat Reader (PDF file reader)
Synaptic  (to download and install new packages without worrying about dependencies)
kwifi manager (to configure your wireless card and monitor your connection)
gftp (download manager and utility to publish your web pages)
OpenOffice 1.1.3 (a fine Microsoft Office clone)

What I did not find, was a web page design tool, such as Bluefish or Quanta Plus. Since I use these tools to publish web pages, I was interested in one of these tools. But more on that later.

Of course, I immediately went to Kwifi Manager to see if my card would work. Mepis correctly detected my card as an at0 interface. After setting my WEP key, I went to the OS Control Center and asked it to detect my card and bring up the interface, which it did. Nice!


Hard Drive Installation


I quickly knew that I wanted Mepis on my hard drive, so I elected to do a hard drive install immediately. Mepis includes an icon on the desktop that takes you to the OS Control Center. From there, you can use qtparted to format a partition and install Mepis with ease. Grub is the offered bootloader. You can elect to install Grub to your MBR, root partition, or to a floppy disk. Since I did not want to mess with my customized bootloader already in the system, I elected to install grub to a floppy.

Catch #2: No matter what I did, Mepis could not create a bootable floppy. A real sticking point for newbies who might elect this option. I had to install grub to a floppy using my other Fedora install and alter it to boot Mepis.
 
The complete hard drive install took about 20 minutes, tops. During the install splash screen messages, I noticed that Mepis stated that it was Win4lin and Crossover Office ready, but are not included in the install.Two nice additions if you have these packages!

General Interface

KDE is the default environment in Simply MEPIS. By my standards, it is a wise choice. This is a complete install of KDE, with all the bells and whistles, such as Kooka (for scanner projects), Digikam (Digital Camera utility) and ark, which allows you to easily unpack your gz and bz2 based packages that you may wish to install by source. Even relatively new users of Linux should have l;ittle torouble navigating around and finding what they need.


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