December 29, 2005

My desktop OS: SimplyMEPIS

Author: Kristine Joy Carpio

Since 1998 I have used Linux mainly for checking email through Pine, running neural network software, and converting JPEG files to EPS in the GIMP. This year I bought a refurbished laptop (IBM ThinkPad A22m, 1 GHz, 256MB RAM, 30GB HD) on eBay that came without a pre-installed OS. I couldn't stand the thought of paying more for the OS and office suite than the hardware, so while my laptop was being prepared for shipping I started searching for options. I was surprised by the number of choices available. Since I'm writing a thesis for my graduate degree, I needed an OS that would let me install LaTeX and a nice front end. I instantly fell for SimplyMEPIS because of the wonderful reviews and its big community of helpful users.

The SimplyMEPIS 3.3.1 installation was painless, but my initial installation of LaTeX and a front end was rough. I didn't know anything about Debian's Advanced Package Tools utility, so I was compiling tarballs. I managed to install LyX and TeXlive but I couldn't get them in sync. I went back to Google to try to work things out, where I learned about Debian files. I downloaded and installed TeTeX and Kile, and my problems were solved.

I also had a minor issue with my network adapter. I searched for a Wi-Fi card that works with MEPIS and found the Netgear MA401, but initially it didn't work. Someone forgot to mention that one has to link wlanctl and wlanctl-ng first. After issuing that command everything was perfect. And I initially had problems with the sound when using the multimedia devices, but it was because I forgot to point these applications to the sound card.

I love many of the applications integrated in KDE, SimplyMEPIS's desktop environment. Konqueror is faster than Firefox, and its Web shortcuts is an amazing feature. My Konqueror usually crashes when I do a search on eBay, but including searching eBay on the list of Web shortcuts solved that problem. I simply type "ebay.au: whatever," and it brings me to where whatever is on eBay. I've managed to read my email in Google's Gmail through KMail. Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to send messages through Gmail using KMail, so I use my university's SMTP server to send email from KMail.

There's so much to like in KDE: KWeather, KWiFiManager, Ksound, KLaptop, KsCD, Kdict. Heck, I even like the address book! KDE may be a bloated desktop environment, but I keep only the applications I want. Everything that seemed useless I threw out -- although one must be careful in doing this because of dependencies. It amazes me that KDE may have everything but the kitchen sink, yet I don't find it slow.

My Canon PowerShot A85 digital camera works with SimplyMEPIS out of the box, and I like the features of digiKam. The multimedia package is great. Xine plays my DVDs and VCDs with no problems and the quality is superb. XMMS is a nice MP3 player, and bless Audacity because I can now save songs in my old tapes to MP3s. OpenOffice.org is nice, but I'm not very impressed with Impress's ability to read Powerpoint documents. Writer and Calc, however, are pretty good, especially after I installed msttcorefonts.

I had problems at first using Gaim because my proxy server requires a username and password, but the MEPIS forum users had a solution. As you can see, most of the problems I had were because of my ignorance and not because of technical problems with SimplyMEPIS.

I've been using SimplyMEPIS happily for six months. I've never had big problems with it. Sometimes applications crash, but it's very rare and it has never ruined my files. I guess SimplyMEPIS just suits my-not-so-adventurous self. I'm not really that fond of configuring stuff, but at the same time I like to do geeky stuff. For me, this OS is a perfect fit.

What's your desktop OS of choice? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what you use and why. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we don't already have a story on your favorite OS in hand.)

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