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Ubuntu-based SimplyMEPIS 6.5 arrives
Apr. 05, 2007

Analysis -- After months of development, MEPIS maintainer Warren Woodford has released SimplyMEPIS 6.5 for 32- and 64-bit Intel- and AMD-based PCs and Mactels. What was originally meant to be a minor update to the Ubuntu pool-compatible 6.0 release of SimplyMEPIS, turned into a major upgrade.

By the time the distribution finally went final on April 4, the distribution included the 7.1 X window manager, newer display and wireless drivers, Mac Intel support, Amarok music player with music store and MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) support, and baked-in support for the experimental Beryl 3D desktop.

In an email discussion, Woodford explained that "When we started working on 6.5, we quickly realized that, while the Ubuntu pools were a good source of stable reference builds of packages, yet the packages for 6.0 were not being updated the way our users wanted, that was due to conservative Ubuntu maintenance policies and Ubuntu being very busy building newer reference releases. So we decided to take it upon ourselves to provide an upgrade path for 6.0 that would allow 6.0 users to enjoy the benefits of the newer software without having to perform a complete reinstallation. About 20% of the deb packages in 6.5 are maintained by MEPIS and are freely available to the users of MEPIS and Ubuntu 6.0."

Between the release candidates and the final version, the "major changes include placing the SimplyMEPIS Assistant for Mactel on the CD; Amarok has been updated to support the MagnaTune music store; and Firefox and OpenOffice have been updated with their latest security patches." The distribution as a whole has also had "some minor tweaking" since the last MEPIS release candidate.

However, Woodford continued, "It doesn't include OpenOffice 2.2. We expect that we will be able to make an unsupported and unofficial release of OpenOffice 2.2 packages soon. It will not be fully integrated with the [Ubuntu] 6.0 codebase, but it should work for those who are willing to make some of compromises."

Woodford also said that "We were urged to switch to a newer kernel but that was not consistent with our goal of updating 6.0. A package dependencies nightmare would have ensued. Instead we improved the kernel with newer drivers for wireless and with patches to support other newer hardware. For example, our 2.6.15 kernel works out-of-the-box with the JMicron IDE chip that was placed on several Intel 965 based motherboards including the Asus P5 series."

"Likewise," Woodford continued, "we retained KDE 3.5.3 because it's the most stable version of KDE that works with 6.0 packages. Updating KDE would also trigger major dependency issues. As a compromise we patched and recompiled 3.5.3. And the fact is, KDE 3.5.3 works fine. As some of our users have pointed out on MEPIS forums, 'sometimes a bigger number doesn't mean that something is better.'"

"We also felt that the amd64 support for multimedia and Internet were finally mature enough that we could build a 64 bit release that would offer 'the Magic of MEPIS' that our users expect. I think we've done a pretty good job of producing a 64 bit release that is functionally almost indistinguishable from the 32 bit release. The main difference is that the 64 bit version requires a 64 bit processor and may run 10% faster performing common tasks, but occasionally you will find a web site or multimedia content that will play better in the 32 bit release," Woodford said. The 64-bit version of MEPIS supports the amd64 chip family.

Woodford also added that "A late addition was the inclusion of the Beryl 3D desktop fully integrated with KDE as a unique session type. Even though this is experimental software, we felt it was important to include Beryl with the default installation, so users can try it out, brag to their friends if it works, and get involved with the Beryl Project if they want the software to get better. Beryl can be tested from CD if you have an Intel, Radeon or newer NVIDIA graphic chip. To use 3D with NVIDIA you must explicitly choose to run the proprietary NVIDIA driver. From the CD, only the new NVIDIA driver is available. If your NVIDIA chip requires the legacy NVIDIA driver, you have to install on hard drive before trying Beryl."

In's review of a late release candidate of MEPIS 6.5, we found that setting up Beryl can be troublesome. We highly recommend only trying Beryl out on a fresh installation of MEPIS 6.5.

Some of the important package changes in the 6.5 release are: an updated and security patched 2.6.15 kernel, 7.1.2, Firefox, Digikam 0.9.0, Sun Java 6.00, Amarok 1.4.4 with MTP, mplayer 1.0.rc1, fuse driver 2.6.1, ntfs-3g 1.0, madwifi-ng Atheros driver 0.9.2, wpa-supplicant 0.5.4, ALSA sound drivers 1.0.14rc3, NVIDIA driver 1.0.9755, NVIDIA legacy driver 1.0.9631, ATI fglrx driver 8.31.5, Beryl 0.2.0, and QT 4.2.3.

The MEPIS CDs contain an experimental "SimplyMEPIS Assistant" for OSX that helps prepare a Mactel computer for the installation of SimplyMEPIS. The MEPIS installer detects Mactel hardware and disables features that might damage an OSX system drive.

The i386 and amd64 ISO images are available in the "released" subdirectory at the MEPIS Subscriber's Site, and from various sites listed on the MEPIS public mirrors. The Penn State servers update the most frequently but may not be available due to high download demand. Indeed, as of April 4, the Penn State servers were swamped. To get immediate access to this and future new releases, you can buy a MEPIS subscription.

-- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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