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Spawn of Debian faceoff: MEPIS Linux

By Joe Barr on January 16, 2004 (8:00:00 AM)

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This is the second in a series of reviews of Debian-based distributions. The first review looked at LindowsOS 4.5. This one examines a lesser-known distro called MEPIS, which is unique in many ways, including the name. The MEPIS site explains that the origin of the name may have been the city of Memphis, Egypt, which in ancient times was the largest city in the world. Of course, it's possible that someone is pulling our legs.

The buzz about MEPIS Linux

What do you do if you grow tired of waiting for the leading Linux distros to produce the kind of Linux desktop you want? If you're Warren Woodford, founder of MEPIS, you simply do it yourself.

Reviews of MEPIS are popping up on the Internet now, but I had never heard of it before editor-in-chief Roblimo mentioned the name to me one day last month. That's why I contacted Warren Woodford and requested a copy for review.

Woodford has a fascinating history in high tech, stretching back to the '70s when he tried to start a PC company. He has designed satellite ground stations, battlefield management workstations, written a thesaurus of the American language, and had success as a NeXT developer and a Java developer.

Somewhere along the way he moved to Linux, trying SuSE first and then settling on Mandrake. In 2002 he felt that Mandrake was never going to deliver the quality Linux desktop he wanted and decided to do it himself. Warren told me by email that "I decided to take matters into my own hands and create the kind of desktop Linux that I needed as a successor to the promise of NeXT and as a foundation for my larger vision of a computing environment that is incredibly easy to use and that facilitates collaboration, publishing, communication, and community by and for all people." MEPIS Linux is the result.

The test environment

I am using a low-cost desktop box I purchased from Fry's Electronics for $199.99 for the review. It came with an 800MHz VIA processor, 128MB DRAM, 30GB hard drive, 52X ATAPI CD-ROM drive, and mainboard with built-in AC97 Codec sound, 3D Graphics Accelerator video, SiS630E chipset, and a 10BaseT/100BaseTX NIC.

The box is connected to the Internet through my home LAN. A Belkin Wi-Fi router sits next to my office desktop, and the test machine connects to it via Cat 5 cable. Connected to my desktop box is an HP printer which is configured to allow sharing with others on the LAN.


Woodford sent me the two-CD set of the latest release of MEPIS (2003.10.01). When you first boot the MEPIS CD, you are asked if you want to run in Demo or Live version. If you choose Live, MEPIS starts in LiveCD mode, similar to Knoppix or one of the other LiveCD distributions. To install the system, choose Demo mode instead of Live.

After starting in Demo mode, the MEPIS desktop appears. It looks almost identical to the LiveCD desktop. I clicked on a desktop icon for the "MEPIS Install Center" to begin the installation process. After entering the default root password and confirming that I wanted to install MEPIS on the hard drive, off we went.

The first install screen showed the disk that would be use (/dev/hda) and offered me the choice of modifying the existing partitions or using them. I wanted to remove them all so that MEPIS would have the same starting point that LindowsOS did.

The installer started a program called QTPartEd. Just as the name suggests, it is a GUI partition editor. I used it to delete all the existing partitions. Then I proceeded with the installation by allowing MEPIS to partition and format the drive as it saw fit.

Once the formatting of the drive was complete, I had a few more decisions to make. Should LILO live on the MBR or in /root? Was the localization of language and keyboard correct? Then I added a normal user and provided passwords for both root and that user.

Then came one screen each to configure network names (for Samba) and services and servers to run at startup. The default selections were to run Guarddog firewall and leave everything else off. One interesting choice of services was RAID/LVM. I don't believe I've ever seen that offered as an installation option before.

That finished the installation. It took just over half an hour, and most of that time was spent formatting the 30 gigabyte hard drive. The format must have been checking for bad blocks. I don't remember requesting that it do so.

Next: Desktop look and feel


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on Spawn of Debian faceoff: MEPIS Linux

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Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 17, 2004 06:34 AM
Good review.
However putting a price tag of $17 in the final score is a bit misleading.
I downloaded it for $0.00, and as you said, support is also free.
In fact I am told that Warren will help you by email even if you are not a paying user.



Posted by: Joe Barr on January 17, 2004 07:05 AM

I do note in the story that the distribution is available for free download. I guess that's not real clear from just looking at the box score, though.


But you missed the most exciting thing...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 23, 2004 11:13 AM
The whole idea of MEPIS is that you can install the system at home/work and use your PC - but if you need to travel, synchronise a usb flash-ram and all you need is your MEPIS cd and your flash-ram, and ANY computer becomes your computer - with no installation - just the cd & the flash-ram. COOL eh???? I love MEPIS, and I've been using linux since RedHat 5.2, so I'm not a newbie...

PS try the cd + flash-ram trick with a M$ os - I think not... Windows on a Live CD?


Mepis is excellent

Posted by: Robert Heym on January 17, 2004 07:34 AM
This is a good review, but I wanted to add the perspective of an actual Linux noob as a comment.

With a little more than 6 weeks of Linux experience, most of it with Mandrake, I decided to try Mepis (which I got as a free download). Now I've been using it for a little more than a month, and it is hard for me to imagine a more user-friendly distribution.

Don't think that because it installs from a live CD that it lacks for anything. Once you've installed it, you have access to all of the Debian apps. So far every one I've tried has gone in and worked correctly. That's the distiguishing feature of this distro: everything just works, and works well, right after the install. By everything, I mean Nvidea video card drivers are installed, flash, shockwave, and realplayer are configured, the local network is fully accessible, printing works transparently...everything important to me.

Sure you'll add software, do tweaks, and make it yours, that's what is great about Linux in general. I also had to locate a driver for one of my printers that CUPS doesn't support on any distro. I've also used alien to convert a few RPM packages that I liked from Mandrake.

As a newcomer to Linux, I couldn't be happier. I have recommended that several of my friends try this distribution.


Mepis just rocks!!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 27, 2004 12:47 AM
Mepis rocks!! I too installed Mepis on two laptops resizing Window$ partition with QTParted which comes with Mepis. Installation was smooth and fast!

Best of all it is based on Debian. One can easily manage the system with apt-get. Keep up the good work Warren!


Best Distro Available

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 17, 2004 08:20 AM
I've tried several versions of Linux while "jumping out of windows--cold turkey". Even took a long hard look at freebsd. Played with Knoppix (too much unnecessary junk, hit & miss package handling). Used Mandrake for six months--it's not bad, but their proprietary RPM system is not apt-get. The fact that you almost have to join their club to get Mandrake rpm's makes them the more expensive than Microsoft for a home/small office user!

Mepis is BY FAR the best solution going! Everything you need on ONE CD--not 7 like Woody or 3 like most other distro's. A better mix of software than I've seen on ANY other distro.

Mepis is today what Sid will be in 3-5 years--if they're lucky--VERY lucky!

Lance Haverkamp


Re:Best Distro Available

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 17, 2004 08:45 AM
>Used Mandrake for six months--it's not bad, but
>their proprietary RPM system is not apt-get.

Small correction -- Mandrake's URPMI isn't proprietary, in any sense of the word. It is, however, used by Mandrake exclusively. The code is open source, and other distros are certainly free to use the same system... but haven't. Probably because apt and yum provide the same functionality.


Re:Best Distro Available

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 13, 2004 09:25 PM
no..apt and yum do not provide the same functionality as urpm*...mostly but not quite..

if you want to search for a given header ( say you are missing one in a given compilation of a package your installing ) you just:

urpmf blah.h

and it tells you what package to install to satisfy the dependency...apt nor yum can lay claim to that slick urpmi is ahead on that count anyway

you can search the debian mirror for said header file but there is no command line tool for doing the same which can come in handy...


Re:Best Distro Available

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 17, 2004 08:49 AM

been using Mepis for 4 weeks now, have used Icepack / Arch / Ark / Alt / ELX / Knoppix and Mandrake in the past. Not a "noob" by any means, but not really a command line guru either.This is by far the "least" frustrating distro I have used, just about everything is there, easy to use, looks good etc.

Overall I think I would score it 95%.
Excellent distro


Sounds very good...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 18, 2004 10:09 PM
But (sorry!) I do wonder--is there some explanation given to the user of what "Demo" and "Live" mean? If you were to tell me just that one of them runs MEPIS from the CD, and the other installs it on the hard drive and then asked me to guess which was which, I'd guess that "Demo" runs from the CD (it's demonstrating what Linux is like, right?) and "Live" installs it on the hard drive, which is backwards from what you say they in fact do--and an erroneous choice here will lead to an upset computer user.


Re:Sounds very good...explanation

Posted by: Robert Heym on January 19, 2004 04:19 AM
"Demo" is the default name (and password) given for the non-root user when running from the "live cd." "Live cd" means that the operating system will boot from a cd using your system RAM without being installed on the hard is good to have about 256M or more of RAM for this.

You can actually test out the distro with your hardware before you make a decision to install it, or even take it to a store with you and try out a new computer that you may be considering to see if everything works with Linux.

To install from the cd, you actually boot up the live cd as user "demo", select the "I" button (the installer button) and log in with the root password (root) and then you go through the install sequence, which is pretty much self explanatory.


Re:Sounds very good...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2004 02:09 AM
Actually, they wouldn't be dissapointed because you don't have to go to demo mode to install to the hard drive. There's a clear way to do this from running the "live" version and I used it with success.
So, there are two ways offered, not one confusing one.


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