posted by Barry Smith on Mon 8th Dec 2003 19:40 UTC
IconThis is the third in my series of reviews for Debian-based commercial distros that might be appropriate for SOHO use. The first article covered my exploration of Lindows, the second one focused on Libranet, and this article covers a recently released distro called MEPIS.

MEPIS Linux (MEPIS = Managerial Education and Personal Information Systems) is the brainchild of Warren Woodford, who operates out of Morgantown, WV. Morgantown is a very small city in northern West Virginia (state motto, "Mountaineers are always free").

Readers of my two previous articles will notice that I have temporarily dropped the use of my plus/minus rating system. I will explain the reason for this later on. This review is atypical in another respect, in that it includes several quotes from Warren himself. Ultimately this turned into a sort of half review - half interview. I think this is appropriate considering the dual nature of MEPIS itself. Anyway, it's my article and this is how I wrote it.

Next Victim...MEPIS - Software With Attitude.

(Hardware note: Main system = P3 1 gig, 384 meg RAM, 56K USR internal faxmodem, onboard i810 video disabled in BIOS, 32 meg Radeon 7200 PCI video card. The cover to the case is around here somewhere. Secondary system = P3 450, 128 meg RAM, 4 meg ATI Rage agp, Lucent winmodem.)

Let me get something out of the way up front. I am biased in favor of MEPIS. Reason being, I feel obligated to cheer for the home team. My family's ancestral farm is located in that area, so I totally applaud Warren's intent to expand the software industry in the region. Pure geographic ethnocentrism.

On the other hand, I am not obligated to be foolish about it. If it works, it works. If not, then oh well....

I was first directed to MEPIS by a reader of this series (thanks!). I checked out the web site (www.mepis.org) and then sent Warren an email explaining what I was doing. He promptly mailed me the CDs and I started running them on both systems.

You can run MEPIS from the CD, or you can install it to your hard drive and keep the CD as an emergency rescue disk. The nicest thing about this approach is that MEPIS comes with a variety of utilities set out in plain view on the desktop, with a sweet little menu system that even an ignorant end user can understand and use. This is an idea whose time is long since overdue in my opinion.

I have already decided one thing for certain. I am definitely going to keep a copy of MEPIS on hand at all times for emergency use.

MEPIS took the concept behind Knoppix and went one better. Instead of focusing on a bootable CD with installation to hard drive as a grudging afterthought, MEPIS is designed from the ground up to operate in both modes. Sometimes simultaneously. For other bootable CDs that I have personally tried (Knoppix, Morphix, LindowsCD) once you have the system installed that's it. The CD becomes a shiny toy.

With MEPIS, the installation CD can also double as a repair kit specifically designed to diagnose and repair issues related to ITS OWN INSTALLATION. In other words, don't put that CD into storage after you install MEPIS. Keep it handy, just in case your boot loader goes bad.

Boot loader going bad...Why does that remind me of something?

MEPIS includes several different utilities for reinstalling LILO, analyzing your hard disc and fixing file systems. This is in addition to package management and disk cleaning utilities, etc. And they all work too, I tried them. I also deliberately wiped out my MBR, then booted into MEPIS on CD and used the LILO utility to restore the boot manager without a hitch.

MEPIS is a work in progress, very much in progress. New versions and tweaks are issuing in a steady stream, and the distro is evolving quite rapidly. In the time since I began writing this review Warren has already released a new version containing some minor installation tweaks (he also sent me the second set of disks), and he is working on the next incarnation already.

MEPIS is distributed under the GPL with full freedom of unlimited reproduction. You can also order the CDs for a nominal fee if, like me, you are stuck with dialup. I got mine free, but I am considering sending him some cash anyway, just to encourage things. For $10 it seems dirt cheap.

The default desktop is KDE 3.1.4. Supplemental packages are included on a second CD and include bleeding edge versions of OpenOffice.org, Mozilla, etc. The system is based on Debian unstable and most of the included software is the newest version. For those who are interested a complete list of the included packages is available on the MEPIS website, the list is too long to put here. At minimum, MEPIS provides a no-brainer way to install Debian unstable and keep it running.

Bleeding edge means occasional bugs. Not only is MEPIS using Debian unstable, but it also uses a custom kernel. This fact allowed me a golden opportunity to try out the technical support options. I had wondered how a one man operation would possibly cope with the technical support requirements of a customized distro. The answer is simple. The man never sleeps. I sent an email describing some minor hardware recognition issues on my hard drive installations, and the next thing I knew I was drawn into an in-depth email exchange. I found myself sending configuration files and running diagnostics to send him the results, etc. This guy is obsessed with doing it right. I honestly suspect that he stays awake at night worrying that someone's installation might not be operating perfectly.

Table of contents
  1. "MEPIS Linux, Page 1"
  2. "MEPIS Linux, Page 2"
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