A bunch of useless crap
SimplyMepis is the Way to Go
Published on February 28, 2005 By MasonM In Personal Computing
Since I have been sitting around unable to work due to my injuries from the December car accident, and being a long time Linux user, I decided to spend some time evaluating some of the multitude of distributions (flavors) of the Linux operating system out there today. All were evaluated on the same computer, an older Compaq Armada M700 notebook, PII 399Mhz processor, a Linksys Network Everywhere NP100 ethernet card connected to a dsl router, a Motorola WN825G wireless card, and a home built CD-R/RW burner connected through a Dynex DX-UC202 USB 2.0 card.

I intentionally used a lot of pcmcia cards for my testig as this seems to be a common compatability issue in Linux.

I had used Mandrake for a couple of years and found it to be very buggy and at times very frustrating to try and set up certain hardware, especially wireless cards.

I will say that Mandrake's installation was very intuitive and easy. It's a very popular Red Hat based flavor, especially among Linux newbies who are accustomed to the familiar point and click.

There is also the dependency hell of installing software packages. Basically, if a package needs some other file or program to run which isn't installed, you have to go out and hunt it down and install it, along with any dependencies for THAT one as well. Can become a long process.

Mandrake recognized my on-board system hardware and ethernet card no problem. Didn't recognize my wireless card at all. Did recognize my USB card and CD burner no problem.

I tried SuSE which is also a Red Hat type distro. Installation was also very simple. Much less buggy than Mandrake, but some hardware issues with it as well. I never could get my ethernet card to work, but it did use my wireless card and CD burner. Same dependency hell.

To get away from the whole dependencies issue, I decided to try some Debian based flavors. Debian and Debian based Linux deals with package installation in a totaly different way. While the Red Hat distros install software packages using RPM (Red Hat Package Manager), and you have to chase down dependencies manually, the Debian flavors use a handy package management program called APT.

Using APT to install software packages either from a command line or from one of several graphical package managers is a whole different ball game. APT not only downloads and installs your software packages for you, but it also "fetches" any dependency programs and files needed to make it all work.

The first I tried was Ubuntu as I had heard that it recognized most hardware tright out of the box. If that's true, I guess a lot of my hardware is in that small niche that it doesn't recognize. The istallation was simple enough in spite of the lack of a graphical interface.

My basic system hardware wasn't configured properly. To be honest, I didn't spend much time trying to fix the problems in this distro as my over all impression of it was less than favorable.

The next Debian based flavor I tried was Libranet. Libranet installed quite easily. No graphical installation interface either, but not a real challenge. It leads you through it no problem.

Libranet seemed very well put together at first impression, although there were hardware issues there too. My ethernet card wouldn't work, but the wireless card would. CD burner wouldn't work.

I tried software installation. The APT lived up to it's reputation in that packages and their dependencies were downloaded and installed automatically with no problems at all. Very nice. Next I tried an distribution upgrade, and this is where I spotted problems. The difference is that not only are existing packages upgraded, but any availble new stuff is also installed. The upgrade broke several key parts of the OS.

OK, in all fairness, I did some research, checked the repository source list file to make sure there were no problems there, and tried again. Same results. There were always key components that were removed or broken during upgrade. No good.

Finally, I tried SimplyMepis which is a Debian based flavor from West Virginia. I'd seen several very positive posts about this one in many Linux forums.

The first thing I noticed was that after burning the cd and booting, the SimpyMepis OS runs right from the cd as a LiveCD version for demo purposes. Everything seems ok so far, so I click the desktop link "Install Me".

The installation went smoothly and was very easy to get through. The only thing a newbie may have a little trouble with is the disk partitioning which I would recommend a new user learn something about before installing any OS in a dual boot configuration.

Once installed, I began testing my hardware. Everything, and I mean everything, was recognized and configured correctly. Great. The system uses the KDE window manager by default, and also offers Gnome. You also have the option to install any of many other window managers you may want to use allowing you to customize your desktop any way you please, and switch between the different window managers as you see fit.

I tried some software package installs using the included graphical package managers as well as command line. Everything went smooth as silk so I decided to try a basic upgrade. No prblems at all. APT found, downloaded, and installed all available upgrades for the software on my system without a single hitch.

OK, now for the final test I chose to do a distribution upgrade. No problem. Went smoothly.

I have to say that I was very impressed with SimplyMepis and have chosen to not only keep it as my Linux OS, but to remove Windows from my system completely as it does everything I want it to do and much more. SimplyMepis comes with a very complete suite of software packages so that I was up and running right away.

And being as SimplyMepis can be downloaded for free, the price is right too.

Comments
on Feb 28, 2005
I am a dedicater windows user for many, many years. But I have tinkered with Linux off and one for about 6 or 7 years, always returning to Windows because of lack of support for much of my hardware, and general lack of polish and all those things I have comet o expect of a GUI-based O/S. THen about four months ago I stumbled onto Mepis. WOW! Is all I can say.

SInce my first install I have been continually impressed, surprised adn pleased with each of the upgrades. Since I had such a good experience I went and tried several other distros to see if this chagne was because of Mepis itself or due to industry wide changes in Linux itself. I have tried over a dozen distros since then and none of them come close to the ease of use, compatibility with hardware and general polish and presentation of Mepis. Iwthout question I feel it is the overall best distro there is.
on Feb 28, 2005
Mason: Really informative article. I appreciate your effort. I have been curious about trying out Linux, but had no idea where to start (other than tinkering around with Knoppix). Looks like Mepis is the way to go. Thanks again.
on Feb 28, 2005
Great article. Sorry to hear about your accident, but glad you found something constructive to do.
I tried out Mandrake a while back, and found it to be a little buggy as well. Example, installing Firefox. Between Mozilla.org, linux forums, and Mandrakes site, I found no less than four different sets of instructions for installing. None of which worked. I somehow got it installed, but then never could find the path to run it without going back through the installer (if that's what you could call it) I've been playing with a Suse 9.1 live eval to see if I want to install the full version. I'll give the Mepis a try though ofter your post.
on Feb 28, 2005
Mason have you tried Fedora Core 3? Great distro I think!
on Feb 28, 2005
Hawkeye; Your comments pretty well reflect those of most people who have tried Mepis, myself included. Warren is doing a great job.

BlueDev; You're welcome. I would definately suggest trying it out.

tjesterb; Thanks. SuSE was ok, but still the dependency hell problems. Mepis is really a great distro to try out.

kona; yes I've tried FC3, I didn't mention it here because I honestly didn't spend much time with it. I know a lot of people seem to like it, but I wasn't impressed. Hit hardware issues right out of the gate and so moved on to the Debian flavors.

While I have been using Linux for quite a few years, the focus of my little project was to find a truly user friendly and intuitive Linux distribution that would be comfortable enough for a new user coming from Windows and provide all of the features a more experienced user could want. I think SimplyMepis meet's those quite well.
on Feb 28, 2005
I've been looking for a nice flavor for a Web Server.

Once I get the rest of the hardware and get it installed, I'll be testing out the software.

I have Suse 9.2 Pro to test out and after reading the article posted, I might check out SimplyMepis also.

MasonM, do you have any info on how well this flavor works as a server?
on Feb 28, 2005
While SimplyMepis can work quite well on a server, but I'd recommend taking a look at their ProMepis for a serious server application. I haven't really looked at the Pro vesion, but I understand it's better suited for a high volume server.
on Mar 01, 2005
I have heard many good things about CentOS as far as the server side of things. It's basically a complete rewrite of RHEL only free.
on Mar 01, 2005
It's intresting. I'm posting this from SimplyMepis.

So far, it's most polished linux I have ever ran, and I'm speaking from recent experence. My computer class teacher had us install linux, in least version he likes, and it wasn't quite as good as this one.

Hmm methinks I gonna get another computer so I can actually install it and not run it off the cd.
on Mar 02, 2005
I love this liveCD stuff. I'm not familiar with Mepis (yet) but this link may save those interested a little web-searching.

Link
on Mar 05, 2005
The liveCD is ok for checking out a distro and see if you like it but due to obvious speed limitations of running off a cdrom, I believe you just can't beat an HDD install. One thing that makes the Mepis distro interesting is that to do an install, you boot into the live cd and do the install from the livecd desktop.

Yesterday I decided to give Debian a try again. I downloaded and installed it from cdrom. The installer has improved a little but would still be far from easy for a linux newbie. Post install configuration and tweaking must be done manually as there are no graphical interfaces for the user to make some very basic system and network adjustments.

Today I re-installed SimplyMepis and I'll be sticking with it. It just works.
on Mar 06, 2005
I'll be checking out Mepis once I get the last two hardware pieces replaced and get the server up and running, then I'll post my comment about it.
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