posted by Christian Paratschek on Mon 3rd Jan 2005 18:35 UTC
IconA long-time Gnome user takes a week to try out SimplyMepis to see what all the hubub is about. The result is not only a favorable look at a capable Linux distro, but an examination of the state of the Desktop Environment landscape, and the areas in which KDE can tempt even a dyed-in-the-wool Gnome fan.

Most of the readers here probably know from my previous reviews that I am an avid Gnome user. Thus I prefer Gnome-centric distributions like Ubuntu and Fedora. This time, however, I wanted to give KDE another try. So the first thing I had to do was choose a proper distribution. I hesitated between Novell/Suse, Mandrake and Mepis, but finally decided to settle for SimplyMepis 2004.06. This review is kind of split: it is a review of SimplyMepis 2004.06, but it is also a look at a tested and proven implementation of KDE from a Gnome-user perspective. I am fully aware that SimplyMepis 2004.06 has KDE 3.2.3, an already outdated version of the KDE desktop. I still chose this distribution, mainly because I was interested in the small hype around Mepis Linux.

Part 1 - The review:

mepis_pic01-sm.jpg Initially, I had planned to install SimplyMepis on my main workstation, replacing Fedora Core 3 completely and test it for around a week. However, I, err... decided to cop out and just install it on my secondary computer: this is a pure workstation (and a pretty loyal one at that), a 500MHz Pentium 3 with 256MB RAM, IDE and SCSI hard drives, some old 4MB graphics card and some more 1999-standard hardware. I did not expect to have any hardware compatibility problems, as I never had any with other Linux installations, and, as expected, everything worked right out of the box. SimplyMepis 2004.06 is a full-featured Live CD, I just put it into the CD-ROM drive and booted the computer with it. I logged in with username and password "root" started KDE with the "startx"-command and installed SimplyMepis with very few easy clicks on my primary hard drive. You'll need basic knowledge about Linux terminology but on the whole, the installation process is very straightforward and I really like the idea of installing my operating system after I have already successfully booted it. This minimizes unexpected installation issues. I proposed such a routine in Fedora's Bugzilla a long time ago. I really think this installation method is superior and should become standard for all modern operating systems. I hope that others will, over time, adapt a similar installation routine.

mepis_pic02-sm.jpg Regarding the software: SimplyMepis comes with a slew of packages (ca. 950 vs. ca. 450 on my Ubuntu system), most of which are a bit outdated. That is perfectly fine because 2004.06 is a maintenance release that targets maximum stability. The (for me) most important pieces are Kernel 2.6.7, XFree 4.3.0, KDE 3.2.3, Mozilla 1.7.2 and OpenOffice.org 1.1.2. Just as with Ubuntu, most of my install was English even though I chose German during the installation. This was not unexpected because SimplyMepis comes on a single CD. I found out that I had to install Synaptic (via apt-get of course), which is probably a shame because this program is a worthy addition to every Debian-based distribution. Then I installed the packages kde-i18n-de, openoffice.org-l10n-de, openoffice.org-hyphenation-de, and mozilla-locale-de-at. That solved the issue mostly, but there were still missing pieces: the printer configuration dialog showed up in English and there were a few English words and texts scattered all over the distribution (not a real problem for me). Then I added Juk, because I am a regular Rhythmbox user and planned to compare these two.

mepis_pic03-sm.jpg I have used SimplyMepis for more than a week now and I am quite pleased with it. The transition from Gnome to KDE was easier than I thought, I do not miss any specific application. SimplyMepis 2004.06 lived up to my expectations to be a "KDE Ubuntu". Being based on Debian you never have to hunt for a specific package on the internet - if it's not available via apt-get and Synaptic, it probably doesn't exist. While the software is a little outdated, the system is very stable - in fact, not a single application crashed for me during the test period. Also very nice: SimplyMepis 2004.06 comes with all the delicate stuff pre-installed: Java Runtime Engine, Flash Plugin, MP3 playback, Videoplayer. There's probably an application for every possible task included in SimplyMepis. The problem is, you sometimes have to search through the slew of packages and the complex menus for quite some time until you find the right application for the job you want to get done. SimplyMepis includes three distribution-specific tools, Mepis System Center, Mepis Installation Center and Mepis User Utilities. The latter does not have many features, but you can do two small jobs: clean userspace of logs, history and cache and align Mozilla's fonts with KDE. The Mepis System Center is a central place where you can set some preferences that the Mepis team wants to have in one location. You can, for example, set your apt-repositories and some apt-preferences here. I didn't quite understand the purpose of these two tools. They're just two more tools, in a distro that already has a big KDE Control Center and every other configuration tool available because it's Debian based. The third utility however, the Mepis Installation Center, proved to be quite good. Also, I see the need for this application as SimplyMepis has its special installation procedure - thus neither the Debian installer nor Anaconda is an option.

A small conclusion: SimplyMepis 2004.06 is an astonishingly bug-free, stable distribution. I'd recommend it to everyone who likes KDE. You get a distribution that has the power of Debian behind it, comes on one handy CD and, overall, makes a fine, polished impression. All the software included, though a little outdated already, is of top quality and will get the job done. Installation is extremely hassle-free, probably one of the main strengths of SimplyMepis 2004.06.

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