SimplyMEPIS Desktop Linux

SimplyMEPIS is a masterpiece of desktop usability. I have to say I am very impressed with it as a simple, immediately useful, and rock solid desktop Linux system that “just works.”

One of the reasons I switched to OSX was because I was constantly fiddling with Linux desktops on various distros and forever attempting to get them to work to the point where a lay person like my family members who are not computer literate could be installed and up and running with little difficulty. Until I’d encountered SimplyMEPIS it was like hunting the Grail.

SimplyMEPIS has managed to do what so many other commercial distributions, even Ximian Gnome (recently acquired by Novell), have aimed at but fallen short of : provide a usable Linux desktop for complete beginners that also appeals to experts.

SimplyMEPIS is virtually there. It boots up from a single CD which you can also install from with a simple desktop icon, is incredibly useable and even my relatives were capable of using the software immediately. The speed difference between it and Windows XP had my relatives and friends literally stunned. And that was it running slowly off the CD rather than a fully installed version. One of the great things about 1 CD distros is that you can try them out before installing your system.

SimplyMEPIS is a debian based 1 CD distribution running the 2.6 kernel and a KDE Desktop. It seems to concentrate on usability and stability rather than being leading edge. I think this is a good thing actually. The mozilla browser is well integrated and has all players, plugins and java working correctly. Flash, DivX, and other niceties are already installed and working correctly. It uses mozmail for email but that can be simply changed by using Kontact or Evolution with a simple install. The kopete multi protocol IM browser works great. Skype, the VoIP program that I personally use on my OSX desktop, is also there and works just as one would expect. Open Office works great and is quite quick. the is an included and easily accessible Samba browser as well for connecting to windows network which is easily comparable to the Windows network neighbourhood.

Quite simply, once even complete novices figure out which programs do what, they are up and running in no time flat. Literally, you can go from disk in, to using the installed system in a comprehensive way, in under 30 minutes. If you just need the bootable CD, 5 minutes. SimplyMEPIS could be the drop in replacement for windows that so many people are begging for. The speed and responsiveness of the distro are impressive particularly when compared to a running windows system.

Package management is handled via debian’s mature and best-of-breed apt-get which can use either the Synaptic GUI or KPackager for graphical package management for newbies.

Anyone who is looking at a desktop distribution that needs to be rolled out and can be built up from a very usable core desktop should check it out. As a desktop solution, the only thing it lacks is a certain professionally designed aesthetic compared to say Ximian, Mandrake or Red Hat’s Bluecurve. It looks very blue, for instance, but could be easily altered and there is even a MEPIS beautification project bad link to help novices with making the desktop look better.

I’m seriously investigating SimplyMEPIS with the idea of recommending it as the base for a Linux desktop rollout for some clients. While there are still a few things I need to test (in particular extending it to a typical server configuration), I am more than willing to say that I think it is perhaps the easiest, most accessible desktop distribution available for Linux at the present time. Very impressive, particularly when compared to paid offerings from Linspire, Lycoris and Xandros.

The latest .iso to burn the CD is a little hard to find which is a problem with the SimplyMEPIS site design I think. At time of writing, the latest stable release is SimplyMEPIS 2004.04 which you can find most easily at mrbass (which also has nice additional info and screenshots and such).

If you’re a Linux sysadmin or involved with Linux projects you really should check out this distribution particularly if your organization is considering desktop Linux or evaluating upgrading Windows.