Wednesday, July 20, 2011

long live mepis

Warren Woodford came out with the Debian Stable-based Mepis before Ubuntu existed. It wasn't the first Linux live CD, but Woodford's creation gave us a live/installation CD -- a complete, easy-to-use system that could be run from the CD or used to install Linux to the hard drive.

I've been using Mepis since early 2006. During that time, I've also used several other distros, but Mepis continues to be the one distro that I fall back on. The live CD (and now, the live DVD) has been convenient to have around, and I know I can count on Woodford to turn out quality releases.

So, why hasn't Mepis become more popular than it is now?

Being based on Debian Stable means that Mepis doesn't come with the latest and greatest packages. (By the way, for a short time, Mepis was based on Ubuntu; the experiment didn't last, and Mepis moved back to a Debian Stable base.) Mepis users can acquire more up-to-date packages the Debian way -- by creating a "mixed system" and pulling things in from the Testing or Unstable repos, or by compiling packages on their own. They can also get newer stuff from Mepis' Community Repos. But those aren't always good solutions for people who want things a bit more "cutting edge" out of the box.

The Debian Stable base, along with the fact that Mepis is a one-man distro, produced, primarily, by a guy who has limited time and resources, means that you don't see Mepis in the news as often as other distros like PCLinuxOS, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and Fedora. Woodford puts out one version of Mepis -- it's always just a KDE distro. Other distros have several different versions and release more frequently; Mepis releases come out once a year, at best -- Woodford releases it when it's ready, and usually it takes longer than one year for the next version to come out. So we don't see as many announcements about Mepis at sites like DistroWatch, for example, as we see about other distros.

Most people in the Mepis community don't hear from Woodford much. He doesn't participate at the Mepis forums. He tweets, but not often. He's great at putting out a solid distro, but not so great at selling it to the Linux public. His eccentricities may put off a lot of people, and many people would rather not use a one-man distro as their primary operating system. I mean, what happens if Woodford croaks?

Also, folks have questioned Woodford's commitment to the project. The guy has to work for a living; he's got other things going on in his life, and doesn't say much, if anything, about the long-term direction of the project. Several times, Ive wondered if the current release would be the last. There are no guarantees that Woodford won't bail on the project at any given time. Many people aren't comfortable with things being up in the air like that.

My take on that is that a Debian Stable-based Mepis release is good for a few years -- for the life of the current Stable (a couple of years), and a bit longer if you don't mind not receiving updates for awhile. It should be fine to use for quite some time. After that, it's anybody's guess.

The uncertainty and the lack of popularity don't keep me from sticking with Mepis, though. I decided awhile back to just enjoy the ride. Woodford's release always seem to be a little bit less than perfect; you'll see a few bugs here and there. But Mepis is always solid, stable, and quick and easy to install. No major surprises slap you in the face; from one version to the next, you pretty much know what to expect.

The Mepis community is one of the most knowledgeable, friendly communities out there. They'll bend over backwards to help someone out at the Mepis forums. You're free to discuss other distros at the forums, but distro-bashing is held to a minimum -- forum moderators don't have to step in very often, because, to a large extent, the forum membership polices itself. They know what a good thing they have going there, and they aren't about to let some troll step in and ruin it. Politics, religion, and personal insults are not tolerated.

The documentation is very good, and you can also fall back on the larger body of Debian documentation because so much of it applies to Mepis as well.

As Woodford has found himself more stretched for time, the community has stepped up to the plate, helping out quite a bit with documentation and with testing alpha and beta releases on different hardware and providing Woodford with important feedback. Increasingly, they've contributed artwork, helping to smooth out the rough edges in an area that hasn't been one of Woodford's strengths.

Mepis remains one of the best-kept secrets in the Linux world. I recently joked that it should be named "secretMepis" instead of the official "simplyMepis." Its users swear by it. Even with the relative lack of popularity, Mepis generally seems to have a good reputation among folks who've been around Linux for awhile -- a reputation for quality, consistency, stability, and ease-of-use out of the box.

Anytime another computer falls into my hands, whether it's new or simply "new to me," the first thing I do is try a Mepis live CD (recently, a live DVD) on it. If that works (and it almost always does), the next thing I do is install Mepis. It's got a great track record here, which is why I've contined to use it, and why I'll stay on board and enjoy the ride for as long as Woodford continues to do his thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If they had an Xfce vairant, like "Xepis,
I'd jump on that in an instant! I really dislike KDE, that's my only reason for not jumping to Mepis amd staying put.

As for it's continued presence as a viable OS "if Warren croaks," couldn't that be achieved just by updating the repositories to the next version of Debian Stable when it is released? Or editing your sources list to "Stable" instead of "Squeeze?" Then you'd have a permanent Mepis, right?