Spotlight on Linux: SimplyMEPIS 8.5.x
SimplyMEPIS is a simply wonderful distribution. It was the first to offer a complete out of the box experience all tied up in a pretty package. It would be fair to say that it was probably the inspiration for many of the easy-to-use distributions available today.
SimplyMEPIS began life as MEPIS in 2003 during a time when Linux could still be a bit of struggle for new users to enjoy. At that time its contemporaries were KNOPPIX, another easy distro known for its exceptional hardware detection and auto-configuration; and Mandrake, another easier to use distro with a large community of friendly users. But even those lacked some of the codecs, files, and drivers needed for full enjoyment that could be found in MEPIS. Eight years later, it is still one of the best.
Despite the small development team, SimplyMEPIS releases are full featured and pretty. It ships with a stable KDE, lot of handy software, and full multimedia support. It even ships with popular proprietary wireless Ethernet drivers and proprietary graphic drivers are a click away. It comes in 32 or 64-bit versions in installable live CD format. SimplyMEPIS is based on Debian Stable and Warren Woodford, the lead developer, goes to great lengths to insure none of that stability is lost. Woodford delayed the migration to KDE 4 until 8.5 for that very reason.
Today SimplyMEPIS features KDE 4.3.4, Xorg X Server 1.4.2, Firefox 3.5.6, and OpenOffice.org 3.1.1. Each release brings new tasteful artwork to enhance the desktop without creating distractions. Perhaps the most significant aspect of SimplyMEPIS is MEPIS tools. With the various MEPIS tools one can configure your network connection, configure your graphics handling, create bootable USB keys, repair partitions and the boot loader, set the computer name, and add or delete users. In later releases one can also find the new Welcome Center. From this users can get help and information or install language packs and other software. One can even install third party contributions for a wider selection if desired.
MEPIS Welcome Center
Software and updates in SimplyMEPIS, like most Debian derivatives, is handled by APT and Synaptic. Synaptic has become the defacto APT front-end in recent years and with good reason. The interface is tidy, intuitive, and easy. With the search function, it is very convenient as well. Clicking on any of the broad categories in the left-side pane will bring up package choices in the right side upper pane. Clicking on any of the choices shows detailed information about the package in the lower right pane. Any package can then be installed with a few clicks of the mouse. APT will automagically resolve and install any dependencies as well, which is one of the reasons it's become so admired.
With rock solid stability, a pretty interface, handy applications, original tools, multimedia support, proprietary driver installation, and APT -- SimplyMEPIS has it all. The only two characteristics one might see as disadvantages are packages that may be a version or so behind some other cutting-edge distros and repositories are not as fully populated as some of the other larger projects. But SimplyMEPIS is compatible with Debian, so one could use packages from that project if needed. In fact, Debian repositories are already setup in APT/Synaptic. Add to that a one-CD download and easy installer one finds SimplyMEPIS is just simply wonderful.