Mepis Goes to 11

It's not the best-known distribution, but Mepis still has its fans. The Debian-based distro is getting very close to its final 11 release. With a major version bump (last release was 8.5) Mepis 11 has a lot to live up to.

Mepis 11 is in beta stages, which means it’s time to pop it onto some test machines and see what Warren Woodford and the gang have cooked up. Despite the Spinal Tap reference (and extreme version bump), Mepis 11 is not a disaster. Nor does it have any Stonehenges in danger of being trod on by dwarves.

New Linux users might be scratching their heads at this point. Mepis (or MEPIS to some)? Mepis is a KDE-centric distribution originally based on Debian, then Ubuntu, then Debian again due to development needs.

Mepis is not one of the best-known Linux distributions, but it does have a loyal following. Though it’s never been my distro of choice, it was a favored distribution with some of my colleagues at Linux.com circa 2005 and 2006. In fact, it was favored by a lot of users then — coming in 5th in the DistroWatch listings in 2005, and 4th in 2006. What happened? The Ubuntu/Kubuntu juggernaut, that’s what. But user base is not a clear indication of the quality of a distribution. Let’s see what Mepis 11 has to offer.

Getting to Know Mepis 11

Mepis 11 isn’t final yet, so any bugs you might encounter now should be taken care of by the final release. One bug that was biting users as I tested Mepis was a problem with the video drivers and Nvidia chipsets. An interesting difference between Mepis and other distros, Mepis gives very fine-grained control over video choices at install time. Since I was testing Mepis in a VMware virtual machine, I didn’t run into that particular glitch.

Come to think of it, I didn’t run into any glitches with 11 — not a one. The installer was flawless, though quite different from what I’m used to. This is not really bad or good, just different. You get the sense right away that Mepis is targeted at folks who know their Linux, at least a little bit. The install is very fast, you won’t be waiting long before you’re using your new system.

After install, you get a nice KDE 4.5.3 desktop, which is a good news/bad news situation. Good, in that 4.5.3 has had time to settle — bad in that 4.5.5 has been out for a few weeks, and 4.6 is around the corner. By the time you get Mepis installed, it’ll be slightly obsolete. But Mepis has always taken a conservative approach to KDE. It was one of the last holdouts in terms of moving to KDE 4.x, sticking with KDE 3.5.x until the Mepis 8.5 release in 2010.

Then again, if you like yourself some Debian but want a newer KDE than is going to be in Squeeze, Mepis might be the answer. Squeeze is due out in a few short weeks, but will feature KDE 4.4.5.

Mepis comes with Dropbox pre-installed, which is an interesting addition. Most of the default apps are KDE, but Mepis 11 includes GNOME Mplayer, and doesn’t come with KOffice by default. The OpenOffice.org (sadly, not LibreOffice) install is fairly crusty, though. Mepis 11 comes with OO.org 3.2, which is fairly aged.

Though some of the packages selected in Mepis 11 are somewhat conservative, others are downright cutting edge. For example, Firefox in Mepis 11 is 4.0b8, which was fairly current as of a few days ago.

Overall, Mepis 11 reflects a lot of attention paid to package choice and consolidating on versions that are most appropriate for its user base.

Mepis also sports some custom system administration tools, which are useful. The System Assistant lets you create a USB key, repair the system boot, and repair partitions. How does the system boot tool help if you can’t boot? The Mepis 11 disc can be used as a live image as well as an installer.

The User Assistant offers a migration tool, but the documentation is a bit fuzzy. Mepis has fairly complete documentation, but it can be hard finding information in the documentation.

Who Should Try Mepis 11?

My experience with Mepis 11 was, by and large, very pleasant. It’s using the Debian Squeeze package repositories, so you’ve got a huge selection of packages. The KDE implementation is very responsive and works well.

I don’t know that Mepis is for ultra-new users, but it’s easy enough to use for anyone who’s had even a bit of Linux experience. I’d recommend it for any KDE fan that wants an alternative to Kubuntu.

I haven’t had a chance to try it, but last I checked I know that Woodford was paying special attention to compatibility with Mac hardware — so if you’re looking for a Mac-compatible Linux, this might be a good choice.

Undecided? Give it a try. The 11.0beta images are on iBiblio as SimplyMEPIS-DVD-TEST. Take an afternoon running the Live image or pop it into a virtual machine and try for yourself.

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