Home News Software Applications Whatever Happened to These Red-Hot Linux Distros?

Whatever Happened to These Red-Hot Linux Distros?

fig-1 mepis

Once upon a time SimplyMEPIS, Mandrake Linux, and Lindows were popular and generated a lot of attention. Where are they now?


Way back around 2003 entrepreneur and technologist Warren Woodford released the first version of SimplyMEPIS. Mr. Woodford felt that the popular desktop Linux distros had too many rough edges, so he built his own sleek distro based on Debian and KDE 3.1.2. New releases appeared every 6-12 months, and each release was more polished and user-friendly. Nice helper utilities like MEPIS X-Windows Assistant, MEPIS System Assistant, and MEPIS Network Assistant made system administration easier. It hit the upper range of the DistroWatch rankings and stayed there for several years. My friend and colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols called it SimplyMEPIS: The best desktop Linux you haven't tried.

But that was then, and now MEPIS appears to be defunct. SJVN observes that "Back in the day, I loved MEPIS. It was a great desktop distribution. But its founder, Warren Woodford, couldn't make it pay so he's gone on to other projects, and the community he left behind hasn't been able to keep improving it. It really is a shame, but sometimes one person really is essential to a project's success, and that has proven to be the case with Woodford and MEPIS."

MEPIS had a lot of fans, and also detractors as Mr. Woodford started charging subscription fees and selling CDs, and making controversial comments about the GPL, like "Some people call me a whiner about the GPL, while from my point of view they are the whiners. The GPL deserves to be scrutinized closely and to be debated, as does any legal document that restricts people's rights." Then MEPIS got caught up in GPL compliance issues because they didn't maintain their own source code respositories, but rather expected that users could fetch sources from upstream. (See A GPL requirement could have a chilling effect on derivative distros by Bruce Byfield.) As if that weren't enough drama, there were also questions about the licensing of the proprietary tools in MEPIS; for a long time there was no license, and copying and re-distributing MEPIS CDs was restricted to "You can make copies of the SimplyMEPIS bootable CD and give them away for non-commercial purposes only." Which is a GPL violation.

Later releases of MEPIS were built on a combination of Ubuntu and Debian sources. antiX Mepis was developed for older, less-powerful hardware. The current stable release is Mepis 11, which was released in 2011. It's usable, but old, with a 2.6.36 kernel and KDE 4.5.3. In comparison, Ubuntu 14.04 has a 3.13.0 kernel and KDE 4.13. A MEPIS 12 beta was announced last year, 11.9.x, and if you poke around you might find a download. The active MEPIS community has moved to, which hosts the newest antiX release, MX-14.

MEPIS had two domains:, the community site, and, the commercial site. is still up with all fig-2 mandrakethe old archives and occasional announcements, but is now MEPIS Patent Monetization.

Mandrake Linux

Mandrake Linux was the easiest introduction to Linux for a whole lot of new Linux users, including me. Back in the 1990s, when there were both chain and mom and pop computer stores all over the place, you could buy Mandrake boxed sets in actual stores. It had a nice installer that knew what to do, and superior hardware detection, which was a big deal then because configuring audio and video could be a real nightmare. It came in many flavors: Mandrake Linux Free, which contained only Free and no-cost software, Mandrake Linux One, which included non-Free codecs and drivers, Discovery for novice users, Corporate Server and Desktop, Firewall, and portable versions for CD and USB sticks. The good Mandrake people were all full of ideas, and pushed out a steady of stream of excellent graphical tools for system and network administration, and nicely-polished releases.

Mandrake lost a trademark lawsuit brought by King Features, who for whatever weird reason felt that Mandrake Linux infringed their Mandrake the Magician character. So they became Mandrakelinux. Then they bought Conectiva, which was a nice Brazilian distro, and merged the names to become Mandriva.

Mandriva has had many financial ups and downs, and in 2010 laid off most of the Mandriva developers and maintainers. These former employees forked Mageia Linux from Mandriva, and created a non-profit organisation ( to support it. Mageia is community-supported, free of cost, and is a top-quality distro.

Mandriva is still in business, selling enterprise software.


Remember Lindows? It was one of the most ambitious distros, the first to take on Microsoft Windows head-on. Founder Michael Robertson wanted to develop a friendly, polished distro that could run major Windows applications such as MS Office, and to get it on OEM PCs and into stores. In 2002 you could buy Lindows PCs at Walmart. But poking the behemoth is risky, and Lindows paid the price. Microsoft sued them and lost. But big bank accounts never really lose, so Microsoft kept suing, and then offered a settlement. They paid Lindows $20 million and got the rights to the name, so Lindows became Linspire.

fig-3 linspireLinspire's Click'N'Run is the precursor to Ubuntu's Software Center, a graphical front-end to apt-get that also installs commercial software. Linspire was an active community supporter and supported ReiserFS, several KDE projects, and hosted conferences.

Linspire was based on Debian, and just like MEPIS got in trouble for not making source code available. They generated considerable controversy with their 2007 agreement with Microsoft, which included some document and multimedia interoperability goals, and patent covenants for Linspire. (Groklaw published a detailed critical analysis.)

Xandros bought Linspire in 2008, and that was the end of Linspire. Like it or dislike it, Linspire lived for six action-packed years and stirred up both the FOSS and proprietary computing worlds.



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  • Allenbeme Said:

    SimplyMepis 3.5 was the first Linux distro I was able to use full time. At the time, Ubuntu was new and didn't recognize my old Dell PII's onboard video or network controller. Fedora would not even install. SimplyMepis' installer simplified resizing and partitioning my hard drive and installing Linux alongside Windows XP. Everything worked out of the box. It was attractive, stable, fast and had a decent repository of software. Unfortunately, when I upgraded my hardware, SimplyMepis would not install. I went to Kubuntu.

  • Helen South Said:

    I found the same, Simply Mepis was a really lovely little distro.

  • Fred Said:

    Same here 3.5 was the first distro that worked out of the box and I became a loyal user. But with the delay to v12 I tried other KDE distros and am now using Chakra.

  • dwss5 Said:

    Right around the same time as Linspire's heyday, I recall another Debian-based distro in ITS heyday that was also widely used. That woulde be the useful liveCD distro DamnSmallLinux (DSL) website Although DSL was not designed for any sort of simple installation as was SimplyMEPIS, DSL was incredibly small and compact; everything fit into 50MB. I recall that other liveCD distros buried DSL soon thereafter, notably Puppy Linux, SystemRescueCD, and PCLinuxOS. Puppy, SystemRescueCD, SLAX, Knoppix, DSL's slimmed-down TinyCore, and several other liveCD distros are still thriving today, though.

  • Adrian Said:

    A correction: "MEPIS Patent Monetization" has a link to MX Linux distribution instead of

  • Kiki Novak Said:

    Anyone remember Libranet? A nice Debian-based distribution with excellent hardware recognition, a graphical administration tool and a nicely themed IceWM window manager as default, though KDE was also sported. It was a commercial distro in a 2-CD-box, the price was 69 dollars. The repositories were a healthy mix of stable and testing (done with apt-pinning), and back in 2003, it felt like Ubuntu before its time. Unfortunately its creator Jon Danzig died young, and development was discontinued.

  • Carla Schroder Said:

    I sure do remember it-- I used it and paid for it and wrote article about it and everything. I was sad to see it go away. I

  • Earl57 Said:

    Simply Mepis 3.4.3 was the first real Linux operating system that I used where everything actually worked. The only other linux that I managed to install that came close was Mandrake. Mepis had it beat as far as simplicity of installation and choice of pre-installed apps and has been my OS of choice ever since. Best version ever: Mepis 8.0! Am currently writing this using Mepis 12. Warren stopped at this beta version, but it is so good, he should've gone ahead and released it as a final--it is that good! I tried Ubuntu but it was like black and white compared to Mepis' Living Color. Too vanilla. I felt like I had just installed Windows XP. I had an OS but no apps. Lindows/Linspire wasn't one of my favorites. If I remember right, it had a pay-to -install app model like Apple or Windows--a big turnoff for me. I've slept since then, so I might be mistaken. DSL was fun--it and AntiX were the only versions of Linux that will run on my antique Dell 486DX4 laptop. Current favorites: MX 14.1.1. It has the speed of AntiX plus the personality of Mepis. Kinda like a midweight OS. If your machine can stand it, install PCLinuxOS-the Full Monte! I think it really shows what a Linux OS can be. Awsome!! Mint is good, too! Remember--your'e never truly root in Windows! If you've never used Linux, you don't know what I'm talking about...

  • Lance Parkington Said:

    I'm afraid to say I never like having to pay for a Linux distro. I doubt anyone else does either. I've had fingers burnt with some allegedly enterprise versions that don't work well on even PCs made by the same manufacturer. There are plenty of free distros (eg ubuntu) that work extremely well.

  • iDimensionz Said:

    Like Earl57, I'm also using Mepis 12 to write this...from my HP laptop that can dual boot into Windows 7. (Mepis runs faster than Windows 7, BTW.) I originally installed Mepis on an old Sony desktop that has an Nvidia graphics card and Mepis was the only (easiest?) distro I could get to install WITH video drivers that worked out of the box. A couple years ago, I build a new "server" myself. I decided to try some more "server" type distros like Centos but it locked up (either during install or immediately afterwards) and I didn't want to have to choose between a Server and Desktop version like Ubuntu makes you do. (The box has a hex core AMD processor and wanted to use it for video processing so it would be a desktop machine too.) Wound up installing Mepis 11 and it worked perfectly. Ran web sites on it and a desktop for editing video. Finally switched to Debian 6 when the hard drive failed and I wanted to get into playing with VMs. But the laptop continues on with Mepis 12.

  • Masoud Pourmoosa Said:

    I did pay for Ubuntu at some point. It was powering my personal laptop and my desktop workstation for a good 8 years. At some point I realized it is too nearsighted not to pay.

  • hughetorrance Said:

    Vector Linux was the distro that impressed me and led to my favourite Linux Slackware,so I am so pleased to be a Slacker... !

  • thevictory Said:

    Who remembers PHAT Linux. They were the first to run on a fat file system. I could boot my windows 98 into DOS and then start PHAT. It was a nice OS on kde

  • Nicolas Rodrigue Said:

    i downloaded it from my dial-up at the time. My first one also.

  • Chacon Said:

    There was a distro called MaryanLinux, best ever!

  • Jerry3904 Said:

    Glad you mentioned the new hybrid MX Linux at the end of the MEPIS section. We have been guided by Warren's early ideas and successes in the design of this new OS, and by antiX's code base for function. speed and range of machines. The now well over 20K downloads in the last 12 weeks seem to confirm that this is a good direction for us to be heading.

  • Scott Said:

    Xandros and also Corel Linux, which included WordPerfect.

  • Jason Said:

    The purchase of Connectiva by Mandrake was sad. Connectiva was a solid and very complete distro on it's own.

  • Matt Gilbert Said:

    PHAT Linux, oh yes, I remember that well !!!!!! In the 90's, PHAT and similar linux distros, based on slackware, unzipped right into their own directory on a DOS or Win9x partition and started right up, while in DOS with a .bat file. I cut my teeth on Dragon Linux, again, based on slackware, installed to a FAT partition, and since it did not have X that is how I actually learned linux by doing things at the CLI on a pentium 90 for several years. So there was dragon linux, phat linux, pygmy linux, and BL3 or Basic Linux that would all run just fine on my DOS and Win9x machines, as time went on of course I got brave and started making linux partitions and then tried every distro under the sun, but have always come back to Slackware, the purest and most awesome distro on the planet!!

  • Greg Said:

    Ahhh Mandrake... that brings back memories. First Linux distro that I ventured forth with as well.

  • Charles Said:

    Mandrake 6.0 was the first one I used. Bought it at a local Staples store for a mere $13. Loved it then, but unfortunately, without an internet connection, and no one to talk to, I just couldn't figure it out. Though I used it off an on for about a year, I finally moved back to DOS. About 2001, I moved to Windows XP, then about 2008 I started with several distros, then finally settled on Zenwalk. A few years later I moved to Slackware 12.2 and still on Slackware.

  • Dave Postles Said:

    Mandrake - well, now we have OpenMandriva as well as ROSA. Both are superior to Mageia, IMHO, for people new to Linux. Mageia has more customization thatn ROSA/OpenMandriva, but it seems to have gone off the boil.

  • tonyb Said:

    Uh? Mageia gone off the boil? Release 4.1 was a few days ago, security fixes appear almost daily and the Mageia 5 alpha will appear in the Cauldron cooker in early July. The cauldron in bubbling nicely!

  • Matt Gilbert Said:

    Bravo Charles!!!!! Believe it or not, my main distro is still Slackware 12.2, with the KDE 3.5.10 desktop, and over the years, I have copied it to larger hard dries and moved those into machines with faster CPU's and more memory, it runs everything I need it to run. On other machines I have slackware 13 and slackware 14, and on my main machine I can boot also to my old versions of slackware 10.2 and 9.1 even. I also still have slackware 7.1 on my old pentium 120 mhz and it's still rock solid, though of course running the KDE GUI on it with the old browsers is not practical of course. I kept slackware 12.2 as my main distro on my 1.8 gHz machine (upgraded to 2.2 gHz) because when sw 13 came out I did not like KDE 4.x but I do have a slackware 13.1 box that runs very well and it's KDE has been seriously tweaked and tamed, it's a time consuming process. I have a Slackware 13.7 machine that I completely removed KDE 4 and installed the Trinity 3.5.10 desktop, a fork of KDE 3.5.10 and it's an awesome machine as well. Finally I do have Slackware 14 and the latest greatest KDE and it's awesome in it's own right. KDE 4.x simply has tons and tons of bells and whistles I don't need and simply get in the way, at least for me. My Slackware 12.2 box runs 24/7 and keeps me a happy camper. That's the great thing about linux, you can do whatever makes you happy, not what you are told or forced to use :)

  • AdamW Said:

    "Mandriva has had many financial ups and downs," Really? I must've missed the ups... :P

  • eagleram13 Said:

    Great article! Mandrake was my entry point. Thanks for all the great comments, I learned a lot about so many distros new to me.

  • Hendrik Said:

    This article brings back a lot of memories. My first Linux distro was Mandrake 7.1. I later upgraded to 8.0 and then to 9.2. I still have the installation CD's. Mandrake was the easiest Linux distro at that time for newbies. When I read the article about the latest OpenMandriva 2014 release I decided to give it a try and I must admit that I really like the ease of use. I am also using OpenSuse 13.1. I am never going back to Window$.

  • oldtimes Said:

    Thinking about old time makes me go weak in the stomach.

  • waseem hassan Said:

    please my know how to change text mode in graphical mode

  • anoobi Said:

    I'm currently running a dual-boot system with OpenMandriva 2014.1 and it works nicely. I started with Mandrake and i think OMA is its natural prosecution. It is worth a try. Mageia is a good product too, it powers one old 2000s machine. Plenty of choices in linux world.

  • marke54805 Said:

    I started with Linux purchasing Mandrake 7.0 after my first virus with Windows. I've had many distros since, but now I'm running variations of Linux Mint on several PCs. (...and just for fun, a Raspberry pi as well).

  • Kaustubh Ghanekar Said:

    I am one of the users who started off learning Linux using Mandriva/Mandrake. It was a good distro. Clean installer. Old days. :)

  • David Said:

    Shame on those GPL ranters, they are like "Why is the GPL restricting me from restricting others?".

  • djagga Said:

    im used for years mandrake and mandriva it was my favorite distro both for server / desktop

  • João Patrício Said:

    Mandrake Linux/Mandriva Linux just "gave the code" to the community, now the distro is called OpenMandriva and is run by a free independent association. Jut check

  • TPG Said:

    Hi, i'm OpenMandriva contributor :) i can say a lot good things about OpenMandriva, but i have feeling there is not much space here. First OpenMandriva is far most innovative "forks" of Mandrake/Mandriva. Last year we were present in most importnat events like FOSDEM, RMLL, LinuxTAG, FISL, Solutions Linux etc. We did a great job of getting OpenMandriva work on ARMv7 (by default we support devices), and we did a great work to switch to LLVM/clang as our default compiler. OpenMandriva also started a fundraising campaign, please take a look and donate :) Cheers

  • Ken Roberts Said:

    My first distro was SLS Linux - followed by Slackware. If it wasn't for some requirements on a project I'm currently working on, Slackware would still be my main distro.

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