Sunday, July 26, 2009

Distro Hoppin`: antiX MEPIS 8.2

After taking a look at Pardus, a full-blown operating system, it's time to return to lighter alternatives. And not that I randomly decided to do so, it's because antiX MEPIS 8.2 was recently announced and I couldn't miss the chance to try it out.

For those of you who don't know, antiX MEPIS is the resource-friendly version of SimplyMEPIS, a great Linux distribution based on the even greater Debian. With a bit of extrapolation, it's obvious that antiX is built upon Debian.

The main difference between the two MEPIS distros is at the desktop level; antiX is using the light IceWM manager, so old computers will feel at least 5 years younger, thus performing much better.

antiX MEPIS can be downloaded from the official website as a 466 MB ISO and can run straight from the CD, leaving your precious HDD partitions untouched. But I didn't want to linger much in the live environment, so I went ahead and clicked the Install button from the antiX menu. When I instructed it to use the whole hard drive (my most important files live in the cloud anyway), it went ahead and deleted all the partitions I had but failed to create new ones. Happily, the installer gives you quick access to GParted. I decided to create only the two mandatory partitions this time around: root (ext4) and swap.

Though the version of GParted that comes with antiX supports ext4, in the installer I could only choose between ext3 and reiserfs, so the partitions were reformatted and the installation process began. About 5 to 7 minutes later, it was already complete and I had to configure some aspects of the OS. Network, system clock and the usual username/password/root password selection. antiX MEPIS was also kind enough to install and configure a bootloader, so I could choose between it and other systems, if they were there.

Once installed, starting the system is very quick, about 30 seconds from the boot menu to the fully loaded desktop. Not the fastest (Puppy is quicker, for example), but you certainly won't have time to make yourself a cup of coffee. The first thing I wanted to change was the weird resolution (for my screen) that was set by default. After a minute of going through the menus, I stumbled across the awesome antiX Control Center which is pretty self-explanatory: a portal, if you wish, to most of your OS settings.

As I looked through the tabs, I eventually arrived at the last one: Hardware, containing my destination: Set Screen Resolution. I clicked on it, typed in the administrator password and surprise, surprise, no 1440x900. Oh well... What to do? The XWindow tab also looked promising so I went back to it: Configure X Server. Yep. This sounds legitimate. Again, administrator password and poof the X-Windows Assistant popped up and within it, the glorious NVIDIA tab, waiting for driver installation instructions from me. I had two choices: nvidia (new) and nvidia (legacy).

Usually, there are three of them, high (latest), mid (173 series) and low (96 series), but now there were only these two. Well, as my GeForce FX5500 certainly doesn't fit in the "new" category, I humbly checked the legacy box, clicked apply and waited for it to download and install what was needed. A few minutes later, I had to reboot the system in order for the proprietary NVIDIA driver to take over... the WORLD!!! (no, not really, just the OS). Everything went fine, but, again, the Holy Grail of resolutions still wasn't listed in antiX control panel. There was only one (easy) thing left to do: open the nvidia-settings. But how to do that if it isn't installed? Open Synaptic (I love it!), search for nvidia, scroll to the nvidia-settings entry, select it, install it, run it. And voila: 1440 was there! Phew! With that out of the way, I was fully prepared to explore antiX MEPIS 8.2.

The desktop is very clean (well, duh, you can't put any icons on it :) ) and welcomes users with an atmospheric image showing some serene sun rays and a bunch of scary looking clouds hovering across a water landscape. In the top left corner of the screen there's some Conky action going on, displaying the Linux kernel version (quite old by the way - 2.6.27), total uptime (aka geek bragging tool), date and time, various system monitors and the free space left on disk.

Whether you right click on the desktop or you open the bottom left antiX menu, you'll get the same options. At the top section: home, App killer (very useful), Screenshot (absolutely horrid, more on it later) and search (I never use search really...). Going further down the line, we see the following: Applications, Games, Graphics, Multimedia, Network, Office, Desktop, System and Help. From what I could gather, extra applications that are installed from the repositories will only appear in the Applications entry, which also has several subcategories. Quick example: I have installed GIMP but its shortcut never appeared in the main Graphics section, instead I could find it in "Applications --> Applications --> Graphics". It's a bit of a mess, but you'll get the hang of it.

As I promised, I will say a few words about the included screen snapping tool, generically named antiXscreenshot. Well, if you take a snapshot two times a year, sure, go ahead and use it. But if you need to take more than 1 in a row, you'll definitely want something else. Why? Because it doesn't remember settings! Not even one. So you open the program, set any delay if necessary, name the image, select the image file type and browse to the directory in which you want to save it. Click ok, wait for the picture to be taken, click ok again and it doesn't pop back up. Oh, no. You have to reopen it and surprise, surprise, you have to set all those things again. Moreover, it doesn't have the ability to rename images in order, so if you forget to change the name field, your snaps will consequently be replaced, leaving you with one lousy image instead of 20. :)

Luckily, it's a Debian system we're talking about here, so you will be able to download and install GNOME's or Xfce's screenshot tools. The web browser that comes pre-installed in antiX is Iceweasel 3.0.11. For chatting, XChat and Pidgin 2.5.8 are there to accompany you.

One of the coolest elements, which I found extremely useful, is the simple, yet powerful audio mixer, aumix. There are a lot of tutorials and forum threads instructing you how to record "stereo mix" in various Linux distributions. Well, with the help of aumix, antiX MEPIS provides the easiest way to do that. Simply click the "rec" button at the left of the main volume bar and that's it! Really, that's it. Start an audio stream, open up Audacity, click record and you'll be able to save it for eternity!

You'll probably want, at some point, to browse the contents of your HDD. To do that, antiX MEPIS provides you with two file managers. If you open the home folder from the quick launch bar, PCMan will open, if you decide to open it from the antiX menu, ROX Filer will pop up. A bit inconsistent, but hey, choice is good!

There are also a few games available out of the box, just to chase away those boring hours: Gweled, Breakout and XMahjongg. For some quality old-school gaming, DOSBox is a great place to start.

Office productivity doesn't have to suffer while you're running antiX MEPIS, and you'll find the Abiword / Gnumeric duo to do a pretty good job at handling your tasks. Of course, you can always install OpenOffice from the repositories, no problem. Your email account will be taken care of by Claws Mail.

If you get bored with the looks of antiX, you can choose from a rather big selection of themes and wallpapers. Speaking of boredom, you will want to maybe listen to some music, or watch a YouTube video... For that, antiX MEPIS 8.2 comes preloaded with MP3 support and the latest version of Adobe's Flash Player integrated in the web browser. If you're like me and your music collection comprises handful of titles, you'll be happy to hear that the included Streamtuner is a great place to look for radio stations, be they political debates or the newest Rap tunes. Once you find a station to your liking, double click it and XMMS will connect to it.

Other than that, you have the Transmission BitTorrent Client, gFTP, a DVD player, some programming tools, backup software, CD/DVD burning solutions, Fluxbox as the alternative window manager and many more.

The verdict

I am really enjoying the time spent with antiX MEPIS 8.2. It's speedy, it's responsive, it has plenty of useful tools, it looks as good as an IceWM system can look (oh, I forgot to mention... I absolutely love the icons!) and it's very flexible. Good stuff, really! :)


  1. Comment from rokytnji (thanks!), who couldn't get past the word verification, because of a bug in the template. I have decided to remove this step as I moderate the comments anyway. So here's the comment:

    Enjoyed reading your review. I am a bit of a distro hopper/slut myself. I like AntiX because it is more flexible than Puppy or other Minimal Desktop distros. For those that prefer/like click-able icons on their desktop. Go to Desktop>Alternatives>Rox Pinboard On-Off and turn on Rox Pinboard.

    Icons can be dragged and dropped, made launchable by right clicking said icon and setting a run action. You can open /usr/bin and drag and drop what app you would wish to launch. You can then drag and drop what you would wish to set the icon to look like/appearance by dragging and dropping a png. Renaming icon is also possible in the window. Happy Trails, rokytnji

  2. I'm using AntiX from the LiveCD. My first impressions are positive, much like your review.

    The Wi-Fi didn't work with wicd, but with the "Configure network interfaces" button in the (really awesome) control center started up a terminal application that was easy as pie to get things running. Aside from that, this is the best low-profile Debian installation anyone is going to get!

    The arrow keys don't work on my laptop, and I had the same driver/resolution issue that you had (good to hear it's fixed with nVidia drivers), but hey, with a distro this good, I'm not complaining. Whether or not I wipe Ubuntu is the next question, but everything is running so well I can't really think of a reason not to.

    Good review!

  3. Hi thanks for the positive review.

    Just one point on the screen resolution.

    When using the livecd, at boot menu screen, you could hit F3 and choose the screen resolution of your monitor and this *should* carry over to install. You can use the livecd with F3 selected and copy over the /etc/X11/xorg.conf as well.

    Hope you have fun with the 'lean and mean' antiX!

  4. Hi! Great review!

    I've encountered similar resolution problems and did the hardware set-up in the control center but my settings are not saved. I am sure I did something wrong.

    How did you set-up your partitions during the istall process?

    Thank you!

  5. I just installed AntiX from the live CD and I noticed on the live CD menu, that if you choose [F3]-Video mode, you will find the 1440x900 resolution. When I selected this resolution and then went ahead with the instalation, 1440x900 was installed on the hard drive. I hope this helps.

  6. I like Antix 8.2 enough to install it to my netbook hard drive as my third OS after Ubuntu Netbook Remix and CrunchBang. Two issues, though, might force me to dump this lovely distro unless I find the solutions:

    1) My rtl8187se card isn't being detected (I'll see if I can use ethernet cable to download the driver)

    2) Function keys are not working properly

    I would urge the Antix developers to provide better hardware support for netbooks (the most popular ones, anyway). I also think that Antix should start using kernel 2,6,30 and support the ext4 file system.

  7. Thanks for all the comments!

    anticapitalista, Anonymous... indeed, the F3 solution worked perfectly. So, Anonymous #2, you should try the same. :)

    "How did you set-up your partitions during the istall process?"

    From the MEPIS Installation I ran GParted to create two partitions: ext3 and swap. I then went back to the installation, chose "Custom Install on Selected Partitions", selected the corresponding partitions for root and swap (if you have a separate home partition, select it too) and that's pretty much it. :)

  8. You mentioned this distro is well suited for old PCs so, for my own curiosity what were the specs of the test machine you used for the review (CPU, Memory, HDD)?

  9. Pentium 4 @ 2.4 Ghz, 2 GB of RAM (DDR1), 80 GB HDD and the lousy NVIDIA GeForce FX5500. :)

    It's certainly not an old machine, but also it's certainly not recent. :)

  10. regarding old (?) machines, mine is a PIII@650MHz with 106MB RAM free (16MB shared with video) with a 10GB hd...
    wireless card fully operational (LinkSys USB WUSB54G ver4) from the very 1st moment... as for the OS, yes you're right, I'm using antix 8.2.
    Thanks for your review about this light distro

  11. Got AntiX running on a old Sony Vaio with a 128 stick of ram, an eight gig drive, and a AMD Duron @ 100MHZ. I AM AMAZED!!!

  12. Have been using Puppy Linux for some years now, but am unhappy with the security issue of running online as root.

    OTOH, I like the speed of running entirely in RAM. SLAX can run in 1 GB of RAM, how about Antix?

    SLAX can read and write UDF formated DVDs, including DVD-RAM disks. Can Antix?

    Am confused by conflicting reviews/comments on Antix re:

    HDD install - one reviewer says it kicks you back if you try to install to the whole disk, you say it goes ahead and wipes the disk.

    system requirements : I thought I saw 233Mhz cpu as minimum, but user above is talking about running on an AMD Duron @ 100Mhz - is that a typo or what?

    I guess my greatest anxiety about any small distro is continuity. Puppy has been going through a succession crisis for more than a year now, and there doesn't seem to be any resolution in sight.

    What are the prospects of continued development/bug fixes for distros like SLAX and AntiX if their originators bow out?

  13. just read the review, would like to say Antix was the only distro that would run on an old 64mb pc straight off, that was after trying puppy,tinyme dsl etc

    handy distro to have around