Warren [Woodford, Mepis founder] continued: "For 8.5 we started with the stable Debian Lenny core and then selectively introduced updated packages that make SimplyMEPIS 8.5 a more timely OS. It could be thought of as similar to a 'Lenny and a half' kind of release, but of course with the MEPIS vision."
Specifically 8.5 utilizes a 2.6.32 kernel for up to date hardware support. It has the new KDE 4.3.4 desktop, yet retains much of the familiar MEPIS/KDE look and feel, so users can slowly become familiar with the new features in KDE 4.3. The new MEPIS Welcome Center guides users through their first steps with MEPIS including finding documentation, connecting with the community, and optionally installing additional apps and language packs.
Warren concluded with: "OpenOffice, Firefox, and other user applications have been updated about as far as is possible while remaining consistent with a Lenny foundation and upstream Debian packaging. Today we are releasing a CD sized ISO. In the coming weeks we may release a larger ISO with more preinstalled packages. Then we will begin work on the next release. Depending on the timing of Debian, it will be synced with the Squeeze Final or maybe with Squeeze Freeze."
While I'm curious to see how well Mepis does with KDE4, I'm thinking that I'll hold off on Mepis 8.5 and stick with Mepis 8 until Mepis 10 comes out in about a year. That'll give Warren some time to work with KDE4; the Lenny-based M8 will still be fine to use in the meantime.