Review of SimplyMepis 6.5
So let's discuss what I'm looking for. As always I'm evaluating distros from a new-users' point of view; to attempt to assess how easily an XP user could make it their new home. Why can I do this? Because I too am an XP user natively and have dabbled in many distros, studied user interfaces and HCI (human computer interaction) and therefore feel in a suitable position to make a judgement.
I'm looking for how well SimplyMepis 6.5 handles media playback, connecting to my current network and general editorial use.
Under the premise that the "average" user will play music and videos on their machine, browse the Internet and dabble in Office/Graphical applications I will be putting the distro through these same tasks. I'm deliberately not touching the gaming issue for obvious reasons.
#1. Network to my Windows network and grab a video file to play
SimplyMepis is a KDE app so I'm more at home here but it's not a complicated procedure: click applications, what do I want to do? Transfer files across the Internet/network, right, so I hover over "Internet" and then "File Transfer" and there is my normal app - GFTP. Not a difficult process to find an obviously named FTP app (it just so happens I run an FTP server in the house for secure file transfers, but you could just as easily grab the tried and tested NTFS R/W driver from Synaptic). There were no issues what-so-ever connecting to the Internet or accessing my current network and in the screenshot below you'll see the episode of Family Guy transferring across to my desktop:
#2. Play the episode of Family Guy
Any XP user will know the pain of a fresh install and media-support. You need to install Codecs and remove any clashes and likely spend more than 30mins sorting it all out (unless, like me you've done it so many times you have everything you need backed up on a DVD). Codecs in XP can be an absolute pain in the arse so it's not strange to expect similar levels of discomfort from Linux. Lies, all lies it seems. Once again I double click on the episode and it just plays without issue or delay. Infact see it playing in the screenshot below with this review being written in KWrite behind it... Yet again this new wave of usable Linux continues to impress me through the no-hassle approach.
#3. Browsing the Internet
Well, clearly not an issue anymore (although this wasn't attempted on a Laptop with a wireless connection as I would hope to - I still haven't placed a sensibly priced notebook to do this on). Distros come with Firefox preinstalled and there's never going to be a problem connecting to a hard-ADSL line so connecting to the Internet isn't the headache it once was (although the situation is probably different when battling with all the different wireless devices of this world.
#4. Editorial, Office and Image editing
The GIMP comes installed as standard (as normal) so your image editing needs are always catered for in this Photoshop substitute. OpenOffice comes as standard too so that's all your office needs sorted as well (and if you've used MS-Office before then you'll be right at home). So out of the box functionality is quite comprehensive as you'd expect but what about installing new software?
#5. Installing new software
It's worth expressing again that "stereotypically" people think it's difficult to install things in Linux - with hours of sitting scratching your head at the command line trying to install packages, finding the pre-requisits and then trying again. Times have changed people, now Synaptic Package Manager makes everything easier than you could have dreamed. You open it up, browse a catalogue of applications and pick the one you want. Mark it for download and it'll download it (along with any pre-requisits), install it and notify you when your new app is ready to be used. Difficult? No. I can't actually remember the last time I needed to use the Terminal (command line) in these popular Linux distros... Which is a good step.
Everything seems to be catered for once again. Out of the box functionality is equivalent to a few hours of tiresome installing in XP
Obviously that's what you want from these new distros - a level of usablity that borders on fool-proof. You don't need to venture into the wide world of the Internet to find applications (well, not in the traditional "browser" sense anyway) and SimplyMepis just handles all the complicated bits for you.
How does it feel to use
Obviously less quantifiable but it feels good - a fairly typical KDE environment. I set up my location to be Cambridge UK and the desktop informed me of the time and the weather (including times for sunrise/sunset, dew point, temperature...) which I do quite like (albeit if it's not functionality beyond that offered by Google Desktop... It doesn't have all the razzle dazzle of PCLinuxOS2007 (Compiz/Beryl enabled from the second you install it) but it can be obtained through Synaptic without issue - that I'm nigh certain of. It just works is all I can say. This is yet another great distro to rightfully stake for a place on the "Usable Linux" battle
Overall it's great. SimplyMepis takes a lot from the first word of it's name "Simple". As per the other distros I've reviewed recently (Ubuntu Feisty Fawn, PCLOS2007) everything that you would want is just offered directly out of the box - you could seriously be watching DVD-Ripped movies within minutes of installing SimplyMepis (as you could in Ubuntu and PCLOS I might add). Of course the distros ARE different in how they do things but when I'm looking at things at this level of basic functionality. SimplyMepis just works and that's exactly what it should do - offering what you'd expect from a few hours of installing in XP directly out of the box. This is yet another strong contender for the Usable Linux title.
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