This 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.
Warren told me that:
“I care a lot about support. I think it’s very important for users and therefore important to MEPIS and Linux as well. I have ideas and plans for using technology to make support easier for MEPIS. I hope that we have the beginnings of an infrastructure in place within a month or so.”
Given the current pace of things with MEPIS, I would not be at all surprised if he actually does get something going within a month or so.
I also like the way that MEPIS takes current the KDE applications and puts them to practical use. Some distros seem determined to write their own customized version of various applications, while ignoring the fact that KDE already has many items that duplicate those functions. MEPIS tries to integrate existing functions into a coherent whole, without spending a lot of effort on re-inventing the wheel. I like that approach.
Another aspect of MEPIS that I did not get a chance to try is the USB keyring disk. Warren calls this a Traveler Disk and describes it thus:
“The MEPIS Traveler Disk seems to be misunderstood. It is a USB keyring disk that enables what I think is cool functionality. In (version) 2003.10.01, if you format the disk with the MEPIS System Center, then it contains two partitions. The first partition is fat32 and shows up in “Removable Disks.” It can be used to exchange files with a machine running MS-Windows. This has been tested only with XP. The second partition is ext3 and it can be used in a number of different ways. This is experimental but it seems to work ok.
The MEPIS System Center can be used to synchronize part of your desktop to and from the disk. The speed of the sync varies depending on the firmware in the USB keyring disk. For example, you can sync between home and office. It contains a shared directory with global permissions and there is a corresponding shared directory in your regular home, so you can include arbitrary files when you do a sync or copy. But also, it is a working home directory. You can go to any machine running MEPIS, plugin the Traveler Disk, and then login to your desktop, via the guest account. This means, if you have access to MEPIS, you can travel and not carry a laptop, if all you need to have with you is your email account and some space for some files to edit or for a presentation.
Imagine going on vacation, carrying your Traveler Disk, and being able to use it in a cybercafe. It also means that you can simply keep a Traveler Disk around as an insurance policy. If your system crashes, and you have access to a second system that runs MEPIS, you can remain in email contact with people while your system is being repaired, and later you can merge that activity back into your main system.
I was flattered that Mandrake appears to have rushed a USB keyring app to market in their live CD, but I think they have missed the point.”
Now perhaps it is becoming clear why I am not assigning values on this one. How can I rate something that is in startup mode and in a constant state of upgrade?
I am really torn here. I am having fun playing with MEPIS. In fact, I haven’t had this much pure fun tinkering with a distro in a long time. I also think that MEPIS is rapidly evolving into a force to be reckoned with. At the moment the MEPIS community is small but fierce, and growing fast. Warren is obsessed with quality and constantly hammering on the latest version of Debian to turn out a solid bleeding edge product. On the other hand, I can’t afford to trust my day-to-day operation to a bleeding edge system. I just don’t dare.
So I am going to compromise. I will keep MEPIS close at hand for use as a bootable CD and emergency repair kit. And I am going to watch this one very closely. For instance, Warren tells me that he intends to incorporate a standardized update option for MEPIS, as well as other additions. I can’t use it for my daily desktop operations, testing (Sarge) is as close to the edge as I dare let my data get.
But I can’t hold back from playing with it either. This thing is fun! And if you are not having fun, what’s the point?
I intend to write another review of MEPIS down the road, just to check out how much has changed. I am certain a lot will have changed. And improved.
Next Victim…Xandros 2.0. Stay tuned.
(If any reader wishes to suggest another commercially released, Debian based distro for review feel free to send me an email. I will be glad to include it.)
“this review is atypical in another respect, in that it includes several quotes from Warren himself.”
I only saw one quote but nice job anyway! I’ve been a Libranet/Debian user (because Libranet managed to detect my hardware) for 3 months now and I really like your series, I’ll be longing for the Xandros review!
What happened to the day to day uses? Were there any problems installing?
P.S. I have been watching Mepis for a bit, however I havent installed it. Keep up the good work. I like the articles.
I too am going to “watch this one very closely”. I did burn it to disc and had a VERY good impression of this distro. It looks very polished. I’m amazed that it is largely the effort of one person!!!
The biggest drawback – I have to call it an Achilles heel – is that you can only have swap, / and /home partitions.
Also, I do not believe you can use two drives (I like /home on a separate drive).
If any of the above is untrue please enlighten me.
Went with Mandrake 9.2 instead but MEPIS looks like a winner!!
It was an interesting article, but should have described more about his actual experience with Mepis.
It’s cool to have distros like MEPIS, but the distro that wants me to switch from Libranet isn’t invented yet
Anyway, nice review. Keep up the good work.
“It was an interesting article, but should have described more about his actual experience with Mepis.”
I agree, I wanted to read more about that, too. However, after reading the entire article, it seems to me he thinks currently this is not finished enough to “review”.
Oh well. Lots of interesting ideas, though.
Have you tried any of the Morphix versions yet? http://morphix.sf.net
I am having a great time tinkering w/ and customizing my Morphix 0.4.1 LightGUI. I have an old 233 MHz laptop that was aching for Linux. I needed a portable to take to my LUG meetings instead of LUGging around a monitor and such. The LightGUI version uses the awesome lightweight desktop, Xfce 4, by Olivier Fourdan. I can’t say enough good about Xfce. This old laptop responds snappily to commands and runs lots of GTK apps. It already does more than I expected on this old machine, but I’ve found more toys to load. I only have a 2GB disk, but I have room to spare. Try it out, you’ll fall in love.
How did the distro perform on the test machines. Really slow or really fast? I’m looking for a good distro for a PII 350.
thats what i experienced with Mepis a while back when i installed to the harddrive, i could only utilize one harddrive, and i have two harddrives, one for OSs and two for file storage & home and swap partition, once i seen i could not use both harddrives i aborted the install…
i keep an extra disk partition just for testing Linux distros…
First, sorry for my rusted English.
I was realy upset against mandrake 9.2, at my opinion the worst dist they have done yet, I bought 5 of theirs boxes so far, but that one (In fact the whole 9 serie) NO and I was looking for a suitable distro (RH and Suse was tried…but.)
And then came this “Mepis” I installed the cd and 10 euh no 20 minutes later all was in.
Since now 2 weeks I use, it nothing went wrong (I mean nothing a medium-basic linuxien could handle)
I think the cleverness of this distro is the “equilibre” between the use of each group
Internet, Multimedia, Office, developpement… everything essential is there already.
But the main strengh is the lightness and speed (after suse Mdk and Red hat …easy isn’t it)
Just I wish they find a way to give more help for newbies coming to debian because to find a suitable debs reposit it’ a mess.
Of course I know it is still a beta mixture but so well born that it deserve to become one of the major distro to come… if the work already done continue this way.
Bravo et Bon courage….A bientot
Have not tried out this distro yet. But it is amazing that one person is working on this solo. I wish him luck and this is the spirit that got me into Linux and continues for me to use Linux. Among other things
The articles are great. Cant wait for the next one on Xandros 2.0 as well.
Morgantown is home of West Virginia University. It’s a college town.
More correctly, the motto is “Montani Semper Liberi”
Well, Warren still works alone at most of the technical things yet. But he already built Team MEPIS, consisting now of 63 persons from the whole world.
We’re indeed at the stage of setting up the infrastructure for a community based development approach.
What we look for are volunteers of all levels of knowledge and skills. Docs need to be written, marketing needs a boost, questions need to be answered in the forum and in the chatroom @ freenode.net (/join #mepis) and software developers and packagers are never at the wrong place.
Mepis will appear 1st time at the Magazine DVD of the german Linux Intern magazine with three or four feature articles. The december issue should be at your dealer around 15th.
Thanx for the nice review Barry!
Hope we meet soon @ mepis.org, cheers from Germany!
Knoppix is still the best live-cd/debian variant.
“I also like the way that MEPIS takes current the KDE applications and puts them to practical use. ”
The reason most distros decide not to use them is that they’re usually inferior or harder to use than those other programs.
By Jason wrote:
>Also, I do not believe you can use two drives (I like /home >on a separate drive).
>If any of the above is untrue please enlighten me.
I used the last release of Mepis for a while (2003-08-xx), I think. While it’s true that the installer did not give me even the ability to create a seperate /boot, never mind adding a second drive, it’s not that hard to do manually. Basically, you need to edit /etc/fstab (as root) and add the new hard drive or partition. To do this you have to specify the device (eg /dev/hdb1 for the first partition on the second IDE drive), the type of filesystem (Reiserfs in my case), the mount point (/multimedia for me), and some other stuff that you can figure out from looking at your existing /etc/fstab or by running man fstab.
While I didn’t move my /home to a second drive, I’m fairly sure you could also do this manually: first create the new /home partition on the second hard drive, then initialize it with your file system of choice (mke2fs, mke2fs -j, mkreiserfs, mkxfs, etc), then mount it as root (“mkdir /newhome”, “mount -t ext3 /dev/hdb1 /newhome”) and copy the entire contents of your /home over – rsync is a good way to do this – making sure to preserve file ownership and permissions with the appropriate option (-a for rsync). Then edit /etc/fstab to make the new partition your /home, unmount /newhome, reboot, and you should be in business.
I used this approach to add a large second hard drive that contains most of my music (ripped from my CD’s using the awesome FLAC lossless codec).
I too have been very impressed by the level of quality Mepis shows this early in it’s development, but experienced a few niggles that have kept me from keeping it on my system. In particular the version of Mepis I used had trouble using a third very large (200 Gig) hard drive mounted via a Promise PCI IDE controller card, while Knoppix 3.3 had no troubles with the exact same hardware. Also on my system (Athlon XP 2400+, 512 MB DDR 2100, ECS motherboard) Mepis ran incredibly slowly after being installed to the hard drive – at about the same speed as Knoppix running from the CD! A third problem was that Mplayer could not play DVD’s without incredible numbers of missed frames under Mepis (problems with poor Soundblaster Live card support, I think), while Mandrake 9.1 had absolutely no trouble playing DVD’s with the same hardware.
It is possible some of these issues have been fixed with the new release of Mepis, and I intend to give it a try. And whether or not these problems have gone away yet, I would like to congratulate Warren on probably the most impressive start to a new Linux distro that I’ve ever seen! If Warren doesn’t suffer burnout before he gets the community help he needs, this promises to be a fine distro one day. My best wishes to the project.
I have been running Mepis for a couple months on a laptop and pc, so I guess I’ll share my thoughts. Installation, hardware detection, and auto-configuration were all excellent (I think it uses the Knoppix script for this).
The install stuff is important to me, but not as much as having a distro that’s upgradeable and stable over the long term. This is one area of Mepis that I feel needs change, which I have posted on their forum before with no real feedback. The issue at hand is they use a mix of stable, testing and unstable. Anybody that has used Debian before knows that you are asking for trouble when doing an apt-get update/upgrade/dist-upgrade. The first few times I did this I ended up with broken packages all over the place, it was a nightmare to fix and got worse as new packages were introduced (primarily from unstable).
This time I’m using priority pinning (which is not used by default), as in a /etc/apt/preferences file to manage this a bit better, and changed the apt.conf file to read “testing” instead of “unstable”.
Here is what my preferences file looks like:
Explanation: see http://www.argon.org/~roderick/apt-pinning.html
Pin: release o=Debian,a=testing
Pin: release o=Debian,a=unstable
Pin: release o=Debian
This way, when I run apt, it will only pull packages from testing to upgrade, and over time it will turn into a pure testing distro without busting up my current unstable and stable packages. I’m an intermediate/advanced GNU/Linux user, so I have no issue digging in config files, but the average user would have problems with this I think. I started using pinning on my Morphix (Gnome, KDE, and Lite) box, which uses testing and unstable and it has worked excellent over the last several months; not one broken package.
Other than that, I would highly recommend this distro, as it has excellent hardware detection and configuration, includes a well though out group of apps, and little things like flash and JRE out of the box (lots other little things like this). FYI, I’ve ran FreeBSD, Debian, Morphix, Knoppix, Gentoo, Redhat, Mandrake, SuSe, Damn Small Linux, Ark and others I can’t remember on a variety of pcs and laptops, and none has topped Mepis for overall out of the box excellence. Give it a try.
This is one of the best distros for laptops. Warren has applied the acpi patch to the kernel. I have a Toshiba 5205-S505, and this is the only distro which also has the special Toshiba ACPI patch integrated into the kernel (Warren has a Toshiba laptop too). As STIBS sais, if you are in need of support, come visit #mepis on irc.freenode.org or visit the Mepis forums at http://www.mepis.org/forum
I’ve used Mandrake for about a year now. Have tried other distros and have stuck with MDK 9.1 – UNTIL I INSTALLED MEPIS 2003.10
Amazingly simple install. A couple of clicks and 20 minutes later I’m using MEPIS from my hard drive. It’s fast, it’s stable (so far) and, like the editor, I’m having a GREAT time just tinkering around with it.
To be fair, I did have a problem with my onboard NIC, a Broadcom 4401. I emailed Warren with some information he requested and he emailed me back in no time flat. It took several emails until we discovered that the module used by MEPIS for my particular onboard NIC (it’s on an ASUS A7V8X mobo) wasn’t kosher. So I downloaded the latest drivers from Broadcom and Warren sent me detailed instructions on how to remove the old module and insert the new one once it was compiled. Now everything works like a charm.
My hats off to Warren!
Mark M Young
Can you do a minimal install and avoid KDE?
“Can you do a minimal install and avoid KDE?”
No, I don’t think so, this is a KDE specific distro, although GTK libraries are there. It does install IceWM by default as well. If you’re looking for Gnome, you can apt-get it and then remove KDE. However if this is your plan, you’d be better off using Morphix (Gnome and XFCE), and Gnoppix which are pretty decent.
>Now perhaps it is becoming clear why I am not assigning values on this one.
>How can I rate something that is in startup mode and in a constant state of
So what do you think of the Linux kernel, which fits the above description?
I came to MEPIS after stops with a few versions of Mandrake and also freeBSD. I ran MEPIS 2003.8 for a couple of months and now run 2003.10 on both and Athlon XP1800/512mb system as well as a Duron 700/256mb.
MEPIS just flies on the main box and performs very well on the Duron. Both installs were flawless, and the NVIDIA support included in 2003.10 was a nice touch. I’ve found it very stable. The included QtParted disk partitioning software did a nice job resizing my NTFS partition and as noted the install is very simple and fairly quick.
Seeing the added polish and refinements that 2003.10 brings over 2003.8 I can imagine that the future may hold more flexibility when it come to install time. Warren has done a tremendous job so far.
I recommend MEPIS to anyone looking for a change.
Benn using Mepis for about 6 months now. The latest release is a very stable release.
I have been very pleased with this OS. I have Slack9.1, JAMD, Mepis and WIN2k.
For daily use Mepis work very good and is fast. However, not as fast as Slack.
I ma waiting for future releases of this distro. I also would like it to contain a update feature besides Apt. I am glad warren is addressing this issue.
Overall Mepis is a solid distro.
I’ve tried the newest (as of Dec 4, 2003) live CD version of Mepis on my Dell Inspiron 8100 laptop as well as on an old 450mhz Gateway desktop. I’ve been very impressed with it so far on both machines. The desktop is probably the best default desktop I’ve seen on any linux distro–it doesn’t waste space with huge taskbars and icons and the wallpaper is clean. Aside from that the config tools are done well (networking with XP was a breeze) and for me, the most important software is all there.
I also had a brief email exchange with Warren who was very cordial and helpful. I’d recommend this distro. I’m definitely partial to Debian, and of the Debian based distros I’ve tried, this one comes out on, or near, the top.
I’ve been playing with MEPIS for a while and it amazing how fast it has matured. After 30 years of using MS, this is the one for me for the next 30 years.
I actually downloaded Mepis back in June and put it on my laptop, not always the best ideas. Linux still doesn’t seem to get along too well with it, but its fun to test against. Honestly, I was impressed with Mepis but the version I downloaded ages ago never correctly installed a bootloader, no problem though, just used Mandrake to repair it
I do have to agree though, the creater is insane…he never sleeps. I posted about the problem and within 10 minutes he was helping me through a fix. I hadn’t gotten a response like that from any other distro group so I was impressed but, it still wasn’t quite useable enough for me and I was still too lacking in the knowledge to fix some of the problems that cropped up. I might give it a try again though, can’t hurt.
I am crossing my fingers that it wont have any problems with keyboard (USB) and mouse (USB), as it uses the hardware detection based on the one by Knoppix, which was the only distro that I tested that didn’t have any problem with them.
I don’t really care if it is not as fast as slackware is, as someone said.
I care about upgrading the system and will use all the tips that I can get on how to do it safely.
Oh well, I am still looking for a distro that will support the new 2.6 kernel from the installation on.
does MEPIS have US International keyboard support?
Can’t wait to give it a try. Will get the Linux Intern Magazine as soon as it’s available.
I quite happy with MDK 9.2 at the moment, but would like to give a debian-distro a try………..
Where is a link to the first two installments? I remember the first one, but did not get to read the second. Any links would be helpful.
I’m actually running it on a brand new toshiba satellite A30. I have not seen any review of linux on that laptop so I was a little scared. Mepis activated ACPI on boot and everything looks fine so far. Battery level is reported correctly and the fans are doing their job at cooling the 2,5 GHz cpu. I think I’ll make some space on the drive and run it from there. I just hope Xandros 2.0 will support ACPI that well.
> 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…
Eh? This implies that Knoppix’s developer looks down on h/d installs, or that they’re difficult.
I’m not a very experienced Linux user, and I found Knoppix’s install script quite easy. In fact, I installed it _because_ it was so impressive as a “live-CD” distro:
_ It showed its excellent autodetection abilities.
_ It had such a good package assortment (including the latest KDE, not in the normal Debian release).
_ It required downloading only one CD image (with 2GB of compressed software).
Well, sorry for the rant. But although Klaus hasn’t gone out of his way to advocate installs—obviously, that’s not his focus—he’s never “begrudged” people who liked Knoppix enough to put it on their hard drives. It’s a compliment.
I find it quite amazing that the author has troubles trusting the ‘bleeding edge’ aspect for his day to day work. First of all, debian’s bleeding edge is not bleeding edge for the rest of the world (not even in unstable). Next to that, everybody trusts it’s MS Windows desktop for it’s day to day work. I myself found debian’s bleeding edge ofter more reliable then any Windows product out there.
I downloaded the iso’s after reading the article. It was a very easy install. Found my network, ethernet, hardware right off the bat. I’m able to transfer files to/from my Winxp box. I love KPackage with Debian. I am actually using Linux, not just playing with it. Thanks Warren!
P.S. I just registered my copy of it!
I really liked the 2 first reviews/experiences better, I see nothing here as entertaining as they were. Hope the 4th one will go back to the roots