MEPIS 2003.10 Review

I have had Debian 2.1 for a while now, and had it installed on my Laptop, but the Hard Drive died eventually so I now have an old 5 GB jobby in there. I decided I really like Debian (after having tried RedHat 9 and SuSE 8.2 on it), but didn't want all of the hassle of having to install, setup and configure Debian again. So I started looking around for a good Debian based distro.

I eventually came up with Knoppix, Gnoppix, Xandros, MEPIS, LindowsOS, and Libranet. There are probably more, but these are the ones I read reviews for. After reading the reviews, I decided I should like to try MEPIS.

I ordered the 2 CD MEPIS Pack in November 2003, and received the 2 nicely packed CDs a couple of days later, which I was quite impressed with seeing how I live in the UK and the CDs come from the US. I planned to install it on my laptop first, then if all went well on my desktop. I will document installing MEPIS 2003.10 on my desktop machine here.


My desktop machine consists of:

CPU: AMD Athlon XP 2200+
Motherboard: Chaintech 7VJL APOGEE Deluxe
RAM: 512 MB Crucial PC2100 DDR333
Drive: LG CDRW/DVD Drive
HDD: 80GB Western Digital
Graphics: Nvidia Geforce 2 mx
Monitor: 17" Sony HDM-220A (or something like that)
Modem: SonyEricsson T610 & Conexant HSF Winmodem
Sound: SoundBlaster Live! Player 5.1
TV: Hauppage WinTV GO (BT878 Chipset)

I had SuSE 8.2 running OK (ish) on this machine, but it took quite a lot of effort to get that to a good stage, and to admin it too, so, after I hosed my 20GB HDD, I bought the 80GB WD drive, and decided to give MEPIS a go.

I inserted the first MEPIS CD (Installation Disk), and booted up. It ran straight up, detecting my hardware along the way, and happily started X with KDM. I logged on using the supplied username of demo and password of demo, and was deposited into a nice, albeit slightly dated, looking KDE 3.1 desktop.

On the desktop were three MEPIS specific apps which would allow you to do a few nifty things, including some kind of My Briefcase-esque (remember that?!) USB storage application. I didn't bother to test that as I wanted to go right ahead with the installation.

So I clicked the Installation icon, and followed the simple instructions for installation (maybe a little too simple - you couldn't pick which packages to install), after partitioning my HDD with QTParted (there was an automatic option, but I prefer a little control) the installation went very smoothly.

After the initial installation was done, I was asked about adding a bootloader to the MBR (default is lilo), then I was able to add a new user and also set the password for root, then after a couple more screens about network names, services and servers the installation was done.

I rebooted in great anticipation of how it had done, and to my glee I was presented with a lovely looking Lilo boot screen, Mepis had automatically seen that I had Windoze installed, and added an option to boot it in the list (as well as a rescue system and memtest). Then it booted up, and dropped me into KDM, where I logged on using my new user, and set about checking things.

I'm impressed. My TV card was detected, and the drivers loaded, although only xawtv was installed which bites as you have to tune it by hand, after ten minutes of this I got bored and downloaded and installed tvtime which will happily scan for channels, much better!

Next up was DVD. Now on SuSE this took me flaming ages to get right, but with MEPIS, literally all I had to do was download and install libdvdcss (which I guess wasn't included for legal reasons), and then using xine it just worked. Then I decided to push the boat right out and told xine to try and use my 5.1 surround card, and lo and behold straight away I get DVDs in full glorious surround sound. WOW!

Then came the horrid winmodem. I already had a license for Linuxant, and they very kindly allow you to reuse your license on a different distro! So I just downloaded the DEB file, installed it, gave the setup program my license details, and away we went.

And that was it.

I decided to have a reboot to make sure everything was going okay. After the reboot the modem wouldn't work. I found out this is because MEPIS seems to reset the /dev/modem sym link to /dev/tty0 at reboot, doh! That's a bit annoying as my parents use my PC for surfing the web, etc, but with this happening I will have to find a way to automatically change the link back, or something. Hmm.

Also another nice touch is that spamassassin is installed and setup in Kmail (my preferred mail client) by default. Which is half good, half bad. I say half bad because it is setup to use the spamassassin client, not spamd, which lives in memory, and is a HELL of a lot faster! I will have to change that at some point.

Anyway all in all, MEPIS 2003.10 is a very good distro. I have tried SuSE 8.2 (good), Redhat 9 (never again), Debian (difficult but great), and have now settled on this very nice Debian based distro, and am very happy with it. I would definitely recommend MEPIS to a fairly experienced Linux user, although I wouldn't give it to a complete noobie just yet. Maybe a couple of versions down the line.