Mepis is based on debian unstable and the software included is generally the newest version. As previously mentioned Mepis is primarily KDE based and does not include Gnome. The Mepis website contains a full list of the included packages. All the expected KDE programs were installed as was OpenOffice.org (but unfortunately not spellchecking for OpenOffice.org, a strange omission). One potential downside of the liveCD approach is that there is no choice in the software installed so you end up with a lot of software that you will never use being installed.
Mepis has some nice polish around the software installation, Java, Realplayer and Flash work straight out of the box and are setup for Mozilla and Konqueror (unfortunately firebird is not installed). Mepis also comes with Kmail setup for use with spamassassin and an easy tool to manage spamassassin. Having these automatically installed is great for your average user.
Multimedia support is also excellent, with xmms playing mp3s and having some nice plugins already to go. Xine also worked great for my videos, with most codecs already installed, it played my xvid encoded videos without a hitch and played the quicktime Lord of the Rings trailer perfectly. It's nice to see a distro getting the multimedia right.
Mepis comes with a set of system and user utilities which make system management easier than vanilla debian. The system centre includes localisation tools, which sets up localisations for KDE, Mozilla, OpenOffice.org, ispell and aspell. It also includes tools to change your monitor settings, tweak nvidia video cards, setup your network (including wireless options) and some system tweaks (which allow you to setup your computer and samba domain names).
There is also a user utilities panel which allows you to clean your user space by clearing your browser history and cache (Mozilla and Konqueror only) and clear your bash history. It also allows you to easily set whitelists and blacklists for spamassassin to keep spam at bay. These are very useful tools and a good start to making managing debian easy, but they are still (not surprisingly) very immature compared to SUSE's YAST or Mandrakeís Control Centre. One particular feature I missed was a service management tool as Mepis automatically setup a number of services I donít want to use.
The liveCD also doubles as a repair tool for your hard drive installation. If you break your installation you can boot off the liveCD and access the repair functions. These include reinstalling lilo, reconfiguring Xfree and testing and repairing you partitions. These are very useful tools and a great addition.
There is a package management tool that makes using apt even easier that it already is, all you have to do is tick a box and the second cd is added as an apt source, choose your local area and tick a few more boxes and debian sources including non-US sources are added. This worked perfectly for me a few ticks and I was away apt-getting. Both synaptic and kpackage are installed for easy package management. There is no easy way to add custom sources, but the sources.list file is very clearly set out and tells you where to add any custom sources so they won't mess with the package management tool. This worked fine; I added some custom sources to install a few KDE themes without any problems. It's hard to make software installation easier than Mepis does!
The liveCD also comes with a really cool USB travel disk feature, if you format the USB disk using the system centre it creates two partitions, a fat32 for exchanging files with windows and an ext3 partition that lets you sync your files across two computers. The Mepis website contains a full explanation. This is a really cool feature and worked perfectly for me, I have no doubt there will be a rush of distros following in Mepisís footsteps.
The support section of the Mepis website is extremely good, with most posts responded to quickly and with useful advice. The main developer of Mepis also seems very responsive to questions and suggestions.
Overall Mepis is an excellent distro, it lacks polish in some areas but shows real potential. In particular it would be good to see some more polish around the KDE desktop, including rearranging the menus and having nicer default fonts. Mepis is undoubtedly the best liveCD installation Iíve used and I would not hesitate to recommend Mepis to anyone looking for an easy introduction to debian. I wonít be using it as my main desktop as I prefer the ease of use provided by the tools of Mandrake and SUSE, but Iíll definitely be keeping an eye on Mepis. Mepis seems to be improving in leaps and bounds and Iím looking forward to checking out future versions.
About the Author
Andrew is a researcher who uses linux as his sole desktop OS.
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