Before Ubuntu Was SimplyMepis: A Long-Term Review
The Big Move
Before Ubuntu there was Mepis. At that time it was one of the most user-friendly Linux distribution available. Despite being overshadowed by the popularity of Ubuntu in recent years, SimplyMepis is still one of the most friendly desktop distributions in the Linux landscape. I've been a fan from its early days and I try to test every release. While it often remains a choice on my rarely booted laptop, I've not used it as a long-term solution on my daily workhorse - until 8.0. This release I packed up a USB kitbag with my Mail folders, Akregator data, bookmarks, wallpapers, and other essentials collected from six years with Gentoo and moved into my new distro. Moving to SimplyMepis wasn't stressful at all. In fact, it was quick and easy. But how would it hold up to the rigors of daily use?
The move to a new distribution must begin with obtaining a disk. While Mepis appreciates your support, it is available as a free download as well. Once the image is stored locally, it can easily be burned to a standard 700 MB CD-R. Since it's a live CD, one can test it on their target machine before actually changing anything. I booted the default option, but others are available as well as handy boottime Cheatcodes to accommodate cranky or exotic hardware.
Once at the desktop one can begin to get an idea if SimplyMepis is for them. The screen resolution was set optimally per my monitor specifications and my internet connection was ready to use. SimplyMepis ships with KDE 3.5.10 for those, like myself, still leery of making the leap to KDE 4. It comes with a professional-grade background and an attractive panel. The menu is based on the KDE original for easy navigation and SimplyMepis retains the familiar and effective KDE Control Center. Not all of the KDE components will come with the default install, but most of the more commonly used applications are included and the rest are easily installed through Synpatic (the APT graphical front-end). I haven't looked for anything that I didn't find as of yet.
After looking around and finding the performance of SimplyMepis to be exceptional for a live CD, I decided it was time to install onto my harddrive. The easy-to-use wizard makes installing worry-free even from a new user's standpoint. One nice aspect of the installer is the detailed instructions for each step. If one needs to partition their drive, GParted, one of the easiest graphical partitioners, is available as well as the option for Auto-install or install onto existing partitions. The Auto-install will use the entire disk but it does have the option of allowing the user to leave some free space for other purposes. The supported filesystems include Ext3 and Reiserfs. After the installation of the system one can choose some limited GRUB options although I did have to do some manual editing to add other systems on my machine. Next are some basic configuration steps to set up hostname, keymaps, users, and root password. All in all, the process was very fast and easy.
Once booted into my new desktop, the process of unpacking and setting up began. The first thing I needed to do was install proprietary graphic drivers for my video card so I can make use of a dual-screen display. Fortunately, SimplyMepis makes this process easy as pie too. SimplyMepis provides several assistants (configuration tools) to aid users with such things as adding more users, repairing your bootloader, or setting up X Window System. With the latter one can set up their mouse, monitor, dots per inch, and graphic drivers. In addition to installing the proprietary NVIDIA drivers, it also allowed me to set up Twinview, Shadow Cursor, placement and resolution of the second monitor. That was so much easier than experimenting with the Xorg configuration file manually as I've had to do in the past with some other distributions.
All the other hardware on my desktop system was fully supported and easy to set up if not automagically done. My TV card is never configured accurately and requires my intervention, but it worked very well afterwards. In fact, the picture quality rendered from various television applications was superior to that seen in other distros. My printer was easily set up using the graphical KDE printer configuration. Sound and the Internet connection was auto-detected and ready to use at first boot.
Next I moved in my essential files. KDE applications have export and import functions for this, but it can be just as effective to move the files manually. Once I had everything setup and ready for use, I resumed my usual daily activities.