11 Jan 2012

Simply SimplyMEPIS 11.0

I had heard of this Linux distribution a long time ago. Different readers who commented on my blog mentioned it. But I continued postponing a review of it all for a long time. The last time the Mepis name was dropped was during my interview with Geek-in-Pink who mentioned this distribution as her favourite.
The time has come.
I made my way to the official site of Mepis to download it. There are several downloading options available. I used the most “community-oriented” one, i.e. torrent.
Actually, what I downloaded was named SimplyMEPIS 11.0. This version was released in May 2011. The ISO image size is about 1.3 Gb, which makes it impossible to run it from CD. You need to either burn the ISO image onto a DVD or use a USB drive.
Mepis is actually quite an old distribution. It was initially based on Debian, briefly flirted with Ubuntu, then finally settled on a combination of its own source code, a combination of Ubuntu and Debian, and enhanced by using the standard Debian Stable repositories.
With its history and roots, it was not a surprise that Mepis was supported by Unetbootin utility. I successfully created a Live USB using Unetbootin.
So, USB stick is in the port of my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let’s go!

Booting up

The boot process of Mepis is more or less standard for anything you run via Unetbootin. The first screen shows the boot options, and Live run was the default. The boot process itself was actually quite quick. What distinguishes Mepis from the majority of other Live USB distribution is that you need to manually login into a Live session. There are 2 users available: demo with password demo, and root/root. There is a note about usernames and passwords at the top of the login screen, so no difficulties should be encountered at this stage. It is good idea to login as demo, but keep root's password in mind. You may need it later for configuration purposes.
What does SimplyMEPIS 11.0 use as the platform for Live run? It is Linux kernel 2.6.31 with KDE 4.5.3 on top. I was surprised to see the results of command uname –r, because the official web page promises Linux kernel version 2.6.36. I guess it is still possible to upgrade the kernel version after the installation, but Live run has 2.6.31.


The SimplyMEPIS desktop layout has no rude surprises. I would say that it is boringly standard.
The desktop has a blue-themed “Underwater” wallpaper. It somehow reminded me of the wallpaper from the latest Fedora 16 Verne release. Of course, you can change the wallpaper to your taste. There are many wallpapers in the default distribution. But, except for a couple, they are all KDE-generic.
The panel is in the usual place: at the bottom of the desktop.
The menu button with the Mepis logo on it is in the bottom-left corner. By default, the menu has the classic layout. Of course, you can easily switch to Advanced layout in just 2 clicks.
The switcher for 4 virtual desktops is next to the menu button.
Quick launch icons are next to the desktop switch. There are shortcuts for System Settings, Dophin file manager, Firefox and KMail.
As usual, the Taskbar is in the middle of the panel.
Notifications area is to the right. It includes the usual items like USB devices monitor, volume control, network manager and clocks.
There are a few icons on the desktop, including 2 Mepis manuals. One of them is more like “KDE introduction” while another is proper documentation for system settings.

Network configuration

I could not configure the network in SimplyMEPIS 11.0. I tried different options, but none of them worked.
Neither Network Manager, nor Mepis Network Assistant were able to enable the connection on my Intel 3945 ABG. Command dmesg only showed messages like
[ 494.495423] ADDRCONF(NETDEV_UP): wlan0: link is not ready
[ 494.499707] eth0: link down
[ 494.500020] ADDRCONF(NETDEV_UP): eth0: link is not ready
[ 498.100210] iwl3945 0000:05:00.0: Failed to get channel info for channel 140 [0]
The absence of a network connection meant I could not check the package management tool of SimplyMEPIS 11.0 (Synaptic) in a working state, mounting of network partitions or playback of multimedia files from remote network drives.


Although I could not check playback of multimedia files from a remote drive in Mepis, I still was able to check the same using files on my local drive.
Both audio and video files opened OK in VLC, which is the default player in SimplyMEPIS 11.0. It means that video and audio codecs are included by default. It would be strange to see it otherwise, because VLC is famous for its ability to switch everything on in one go.
Video playback in VLC
in SimplyMEPIS 11.0
Obviously, it was not possible for me to check Flash playback. But my gut feeling is that you should not have an issue with that.
As I said, VLC started playback of the files straight away. But it does not mean I could hear the results immediately. There was an issue with volume control. The mixer settings for speakers are set up to very low level. Yes, you can hear the sounds, but you need to increase the volume to listen to them properly.

What is in the box

SimplyMEPIS 11.0 is based on KDE. As in many other KDE-centric distributions, you should expect to see mostly KDE-centric applications included. And you’re almost right, except for some obvious cases.
Many menu sections in SimplyMEPIS have sub-sections. They are named “More” in most cases, and you can find less often used applications in these sub-sections. I think this is a useful approach. You get an uncluttered list of application you are more likely to use, right under your fingertips, while the others are just a mouse movement away.
There are about half a dozen simple games included in SimplyMEPIS, like K-Patiance and Frozen Bubble.
Productivity suite is the full LibreOffice set, including Math and Draw. I was able to start Calc and Write without any problem. Moreover, I drafted this blog post in LibreOffice Writer.
Graphics section of SimplyMEPIS menu includes Okular, Inkscape, digikam, KSnapshot, GIMP and a few others. Quite a big choice, you see. While KSnapshot exists in the menu, it is not linked to the PrintScreen keyboard shortcut. I had to call it up from the menu to make screenshot of SimpleMEPIS 11.0.
There are 2 browsers in Mepis: Firefox 4.0.1 and Konqueror. Other than browsers, the Internet menu contains KMail, KFTPgrabber, Kopete, KPPP, KNetAttach and some other KDE-specific applications. Unfortunately, I noticed no KTorrent or any other torrent client.
Multimedia section is represented by VLC, which I have already mentioned, Amarok, K3B disk burner, KMix, Kdenlive, KsCD player. As I have written above, VLC is the default player for MP3 and video files. I like this choice of the Mepis developers, because it allows quick-starting application to run for users who only need to play back the files, leaving a powerful tool like Amarok available for those who actually need it.
There is a whole section called Settings. It includes KDE standard System Settings panel, enhanced with Mepis's own tools like Network Assistant, System Assistant and User Assistant. In the same section, you can also find OpenJDK policy configuration, Nvidia driver settings and ADSL/PPPOE configuration. I have not tried other Mepis Assistants, but Network Assistant did not work for me, as I mentioned above.
System tools are more or less standard. They include KDE Partition Manager, Konsole, Dolphin, Synaptic, KUser and some more mostly KDE-specific applications.
Utilities include KWrite, Klipper, Ark, KCalc and other usual suspects. I have not found Kate among the menu items. From the applications, which are not in the usual list, I'd like to mention luckyBackup (backup utility) and Sweeper (system cleaner).
As you can see from the above, SimplyMEPIS comes fully packed with the usual set of software you might need.
What about additional applications? There is Synaptic package manager for this.
Unfortunately, I was not able to start Synaptic in Live mode in Mepis, because it generated an error about inability to write into some file in /var. What I was able to do was check the file /etc/apt/sources.list. It shows that, by default, SimplyMEPIS 11.0 uses Debian Stable repository in addition to its own. The Mepis repository, if I correctly understand the Wikipedia page, contains packages based on Ubuntu and Debian source codes slightly reworked by the Mepis team. The sources.list file contains links to additional repositories: Debian Multimedia, Mepis restricted, non-free and so on. These links are commented out, although it should be quite easy to uncomment and to start using them.
Because of issues with the wireless connection, I could not check for presence of applications in the repositories. But as long as Debian repositories are listed, it should not be a problem to find almost any tool you like.

General thoughts

SimlyMEPIS 11.0 run from Live USB was very responsive. Most applications started up in a reasonable time. For example, GIMP took 11 seconds to launch, Inkscape – 8 seconds, Amarok – 12 seconds until the first question was asked about its configuration.
But actual system resource usage was rather high, taking into consideration that SimplyMEPIS uses almost the same base as Debian KDE Live. When all the windows were closed, SimplyMEPIS 11.0 took just below 300 Mb of memory, compared to about 180 Mb for Debian.
The general impression which SimplyMEPIS 11.0 left on me during Live USB run was it is rather boring. Yes, from my personal point of view, it is “just another Debian spin”. As you can expect from any Debian-stable spins, it is very stable, functional and reliable. There is nothing wrong with using SimplyMEPIS as your permanent Linux distribution. But it lacks some salt, some spice, something unique which would make me switch from anything else to SimplyMEPIS. There are many more distributions equally approachable.
As for Live-USB run and its specifics, I'd say that Mepis is a good system which you can actually enjoy... but not in Live mode. There are too many restrictions which left me unsatisfied: issues with network connection and the inability to start the package manager are just a couple to mention once again.

If you are using Mepis now, or have used it in the past, I would be more than happy to see your arguments pro (or maybe even contra) regarding this Linux distribution.

This post was edited by djohnston.


  1. I used to use Mepis as my main desktop in the past. I think it doesn't really make much sense as it did back then, when, compared to others, it was a user friendly, modern distribution. I think it somewhat lags behind now. It's still stable, thanks to debian's stable branch, but it's not as polished as other today's distros to attract Linux newcomers, nor does it make a lot of sense for power users that will probably just run plain Debian. Also, its installer and custom configuration tools look and feel dated.

    I think its strong points is stability, a fairly modern (functionally not aesthetically) and feature packed desktop (thanks to KDE), a well written user's manual, and a great dedicated and friendly community.

    PS. As for the network problems you mention, I generally tend not to trust Live sessions too much, so maybe a regular install might solve the issue? Or maybe there is some 'forbidden' firmware that is not utilized thanks to debian?

  2. @someslack:
    I have to agree with you about the fact that Mepis loses its positions. It is far from the top now, I am afraid.
    But, as you confirmed, it is still stable, feature-rich and well-documented.

  3. Mepis is not sexy, nor has it ever been leading/bleeding edge. It is, however, stable, feature-rich and well-documented, as you said. If those are the attributes you seek, it would be a very good choice. Cosmetic items like colors and backgrounds are easy to change. Opinions differ, but I think it's one of the best KDE distros. While I have and will continue to try others, I have not been able to move completely away from Mepis. It's loaded on all of my computers.

  4. DarkDuck, I have used Mepis since 2004 and have rode the ups and downs of it including the Ubuntu stint that I was totally against. Overall I find your review pretty fair for an initial run of the OS. However once it's updated to include the community repositories it starts to become a different duck altogether and the farther you push it the better it gets. My current Mepis-11 install is running kernel 3.1.0-1 pae and kde 4.7.4 and it's fast and furious... I would not trade for anything offered today and I have tried the latest Mint, Ubuntu, and Fedora and was not impressed with them compared to what I have. The wireless issue has persisted far to long in Mepis especially when a quick install of Wicd usually does the trick and if not Ceni will. Was not aware of your site here till I saw mention of this review with a link on our forum today. Take care, cowonjolt

  5. I have run Mepis on all of my production machines for the last 6-7 years and I have to agree with you that Mepis is boring, at least for anybody that is looking for the next greatest thing, but Mepis is fantastic for those that have grown tired of all the distro hopping because it just works.

    The unetbootin derived grub screen you experienced lacks a critical component of the Mepis Live on thumb drive experience, so it's no surprise that you were stuck in a read-only live session. When run from a DVD, or a thumb drive created from the tools provided within the Mepis System Assistant to create a bootable thumb drive, you will see 4 menu entries, Default, AUFS, Troubleshooting, and Test_and_explore_hardware. Choosing aufs will give users a read-write system using the host systems ram, but they'll need at least 2GB to get a suitable experience, but once your RAM is full, it is lockdown city.

    Concerning the Live-media kernel version, The latest 64-bit DVD (SimplyMEPIS-small-DVD_11.0.09_64.iso) runs a 2.6.36-1-mepis64-smp kernel, not a 2.6.31.

    There is a trick to wireless connections with networkmanager, which I agree has to be addressed, the icon in the notification area is a tiny little dot that is near on impossible to see at any resolution and if you are clever enough to find it, a connection is impossible without first answering yes to kwallet twice, another item that IMHO requires attention. Couple this with an older kernel and the stable version of xorg and associated libraries, it's no wonder wireless can be an issue for some as this is in part responsible for the poorer hardware support, however if you have a lan cable handy, with a hard disk install, you can simply enable the community repos and get a 2.6.39 kernel which is all that is usually required to get most wireless adapters functioning after a reboot.

    Based on Debian stable, you have to expect the inevitable older packages and of course, hardware detection, but with the aid of the Community Repository and the immense flexibility of Mepis, it can be easily upgraded to keep up with the top of the pops distros and actually out-perform them as does my 18 month old production laptop.

    I have to admit that I do sometimes get a little frustrated by the limits of running older stable xorg and libraries because we lose out on the latest and greatest hardware support, but it is far more valuable to me to have a system I can absolutely trust to run my IT business and my home computers.

    Notes on the installer and portions of the aesthetically boring tool set are no indication of this distros suitability because in reality, users tend to install with intent to use, not repeat the install over and over again, however, compared to e.g. Ubuntus installer, it is lightning fast, taking only 2-3 minutes to do its work on semi-modern machines, altered only by the time it takes to format the partitions, with larger partitions obviously taking longer. Day to day usage is vastly more important to 99.99% of users than the installer or the tool set.

    Mike P

  6. I've been using Mepis for nearly six years (now on 64bit). Although there are minor issues (not deal-breakers), it's solid and reliable, and totally configurable. No boring there, then. Perhaps DarkDuck could elaborate on what salt, spice and uniqueness would satisfy him/her.

    I've tried the latest Mint, Mageia, openSUSE, Fedora, dreamlinux, Arch, and one or two more: none come close.

    Had DarkDuck gone for a full install, and TESTED it properly, I'm sure the review would have been infinitely more positive.

  7. @Anonymous1:
    As I said, there's nothing wrong with SimplyMEPIS. It is a decent distribution which you can work with. But for my taste, it is too bland.

  8. @Anonymous2 (cowonjolt):
    Thanks for your comment. I read your discussion about this post on forum.mepiscommunity.org. I think you're one of few who actually accept constructive critic. Others are just blindly decline any review if it does not shout "Mepis is the best". Mepis is not the best, neither it is the worst. It has its own niche of middle-level stable distros.

  9. @m_pav:
    I saw AUFS option in Unetbootin menu too. But there was no explanation, that's why I went into Default option. Anyway, I only have 1Gb memory on my laptop, so I would not get best results.
    I did run 32-bit version, because of hardware. And I downloaded the ISO via official link. It means that either official link leads to old distribution, or 32-bit version has older kernel compared to 64-bit.
    Having issues with wireless card and Synaptic in Live run, it would be tricky to investigate anything about community repositories. And here we have a vicious circle. I don't want to install a system which does not work for me (wireless in Live should work, otherwise how can I be sure it works in installed system?). And without installation I can't check how non-working things can be improved.
    From my perspective, and I reflected this in here, system should work in Live run without additional tweaks. Otherwise it is just a piece of crap which only fanboys can pray on. It won't attract new users, especially newbies.

  10. @Anonymous3:
    Spice, salt and uniqueness means that distribution should have its own face, easily distinguishable from others. Please wait for my next review. It will be a system with Debian roots, although not Debian itself. It is very similar in methods of working to Debian, hence to Mepis. But it has something which make it different.
    About installations... There's good Russian proverb: "Don't tell me what I should do, and I won't tell you where you should go to". As soon as you started your recommendations about "what I should do", here is your address to go to: Why do I do Live system reviews. Take care!

  11. I run Mepis. I don't care if it's not "cutting edge," it works and I can get things done. Sometimes I want "boring" (not that it really is).

    Not every distro works on all hardware. But Mepis works on my Dell E1405 laptop and even have dual-screen working out of the box with v11 on my desktop.

  12. @Anonymous:
    There's nothing wrong in Mepis, as I wrote. If you use it, and like it, that's great.
    You're in Mepis' niche.
    I am not, and my post was about it, wasn't it?