Having tried a variety of easy to install versions of debian, including Knoppix, Bonzai and Morphix I was keen to give Mepis a try after hearing some excellent reports about it. The test machine was an Athlon 900Mhz, with 256MB ram, onboard AC97 audio, a flyvideo98 TV Card and a TNT2 graphics card (Yes I know its time to upgrade that). Version 2003.10 of Mepis was used. Mepis comes with two cds, only the first is needed though, with the second disk having additional software you can install once you have a hard drive installation.
I've been using linux on and off for 3 or 4 years now and so am fairly adept at using linux, but might struggle if left with nothing but a command line. I've used linux as my sole home desktop for the last two years, for basic desktop purposes, and that is the perspective that this review is based on.
Having had some dubious experiences with hard drive installs of liveCDs I was interested to see how Mepis would go. The CD booted and provided clear instructions about how to use additional boot arguments if you need to, I just hit enter. The CD booted and detected my graphics card and monitor with no problems. I logged in as demo and conveniently place on the desktop is the hard drive install icon.
This brings up a simple set of install dialogues which allow you to partition your hard drive, setup the boot loader, add users and setup services. Mepis offers qtparted to partition your hard drive, while its good to have a gui partition tool, qtparted is, in my opinion, hideously anti-intuitive and severely lacking in easily accessed documentation. I certainly felt a bit apprehensive using it, and pity anyone less experienced who tries to use it to partition their hard drive, as it comes with virtually no explanation. Alternatively there is an option to automatically install to your entire hard drive.
A second issue with the install is that it only allows installation on one hard drive, so I couldn't use my already existing swap partition on my second hard drive, but had to create a new swap partition It also only lets you chose your /root, swap and /home partitions, while this didn't bother me others may find this lack of flexibility in creating partitions annoying. There is an option to automatically preserve your /home if you are upgrading.
Mepis auto detected all of my hardware perfectly, with sound, tv card and graphics working well. One particularly nice feature about Mepis is that it automatically installs the Nvidia driver so that 3D acceleration works out of the box. In my case it was installed but not enabled as Mepis does not automatically enable it for older video cards, including my TNT2 (due to the poorer performance the Nvidia drivers can have with older cards), but a quick edit of my XFree config file and I was playing tuxracer.
Lilo is installed as the bootloader and installed fine, including automatically adding my windows partition. Upon booting from the hard drive the first thing I noticed was the lack of bootsplash, not a major point I'll admit, but having one does add a touch of professionalism and polish, and is easily disabled by those who get satisfaction seeing the kernel messages zooming by.
Mepis is primarily a KDE based distro (although it does come with IceWM) and booted straight to KDM, the KDE login manager, which was set to an ugly default scheme, which is odd as the desktop uses Keramik, so you'd think that KDM would use the same theme. However there is a special Mepis login splash for KDE, which is a nice touch (even though the actual splash screen is rather ugly).
Upon booting to KDE the first thing that you notice is how ugly the desktop looks, the fonts are ugly and the menus are a terrible mess. As we already know KDE's menus can be a bit confusing,and Mepis does nothing to improve that, as you can see from the screenshot, in fact it seems to make it even worse. Not only are there so many entries, but they are very confusingly organised with most menus having at least two sub menus, called additional programs and more programs . If you can tell the difference between those menu categories you're doing better than me.
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