Windows to MEPIS Overview

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This document is intended to help you feel more comfortable when you begin to use your new SimplyMEPIS system. It provides some basic Linux notions that you might not be familiar with, and a small Glossary of common Linux terms. For more on these and other topics, see the MEPIS to Windows guide, based on work by Alan D. Moore, from which this is derived.

Basic notions

  1. Linux files are organized in a different manner from Windows. This page describes how Linux files are organized on a hard drive. Here are a couple of important points to remember;
    1. Each user has his or her own personal directory located under the over-all “/home" directory in Linux. This is represented by the house icon on your task bar. Your data files (documents, pictures, etc.) and personal configuration settings (e.g., email settings) are stored in your Home directory. Since Windows 95, Microsoft has preferred to use the term "folder" to refer to the computer file system category: "directory."
    2. Removable devices, such as floppy's, CD's and USB keys, appear in /media when you attach them (“mount them“) to the system. Hard drive partitions (such as your Windows partitions, if you are dual-booting) show up in /mnt by default, where you will see folders such as “hda1" (first IDE hard drive, partitions have numbers such as hda1, etc.) or “sda1" (usb storage and sata hard drives, or a camera's memory card or a memory stick, which might be sda1 and sda2, respectively). The actual names may be different, depending on the types of drives and how they connected. Most devices can be mounted, accessed, and unmounted through the kwikdisk icon (three stacked cubes) in the task bar. When a USB key is plugged in, an icon for it will appear on the desktop but the device will not appear in kwikdisk.
  2. Security is an important consideration for any computer user. In addition to the vital separation of Administrative rights from ordinary computer user rights (see #8 below), MEPIS repos have excellent antivirus and firewall applications. The firewall starts automatically when you connect to a network. So far, viruses and malware do not affect Linux. At all. The primary purpose of the anti-virus program clamav is to check for viruses on any Windows partitions and files that you may share.
  3. SimplyMEPIS is designed to be used through a graphical user interface (GUI), but you can also control the computer through a command line interface (CLI). Each method has its advantages, and you will see references to both throughout MEPIS documentation and discussions.
  4. All your applications are accessed easily through the menu (click on the MEPIS icon) at the left end of the panel at the bottom of the display You might enjoy clicking around to see the great range of applications that come with MEPIS. Your system operations can be easily accessed through the third icon from the left on the Panel at the bottom of the display.
  5. Software for both your operating system and your applications are installed, upgraded, and removed most easily through the Synaptic application-—but only after you have installed MEPIS on a hard drive. Synaptic is the easiest and most secure package management system for beginners to use, though later you may find that using the command line is actually faster.
  6. Windows is, in many ways, like an integrated stereo system. It comes prepackaged with all the basic parts; while you can add to it, you can't really change the basic system. Linux, on the other hand, is like a component system. You can add, remove, or replace many pieces of software on the system, from the very lowest-level operating system components to the desktop environment or core applications.
  7. MEPIS is designed to just work out of the box; you can use it "as is," or you can configure it to suit your tastes and needs. You can choose to change how your desktop looks, which applications you use for functions from photo management to software development, which individual settings you change to optimize performance, and much more.
  8. For system-critical tasks such as installing software or editing global configurations, you will required to log in as root (administrator) by providing root's password in an application, or by typing “su" on a command line and providing the password when asked. This step introduces a level of security that protects the system against malevolent or erroneous alterations by users who do not have permission to make decisions at that level. It is a primary feature of secure computer use, and most computers that employ this traditional separation of process and file-access rights do not suffer from viruses and spyware.


There are a number of common Linux terms you may hear that may be confusing at first. This section provides a list to get you started. For more help on the terms used in the Linux computer world, see the Wiki's Terminology section.

command line interface (CLI): Also known as “console", “terminal", “command prompt", “shell", or “bash". This is a DOS-style text interface, which was based on a UNIX text interface. A root console is one where administrative privileges have been acquired, either by “su" or by logging in as root.
desktop environment: The software which provides a graphical desktop (windows, icons, desktop, task bar, etc) for an operating system user. MEPIS integrates the KDE desktop and configures it to feel familiar to both Windows and Mac OSX users.
file system, also filesystem: This refers to the way that files and folders are logically arranged on a computer's storage devices and it can also refer to the type of formatting on a storage device, such as NTFS, FAT32, or EXT3.
free-as-in-speech: The English word “free" has two possible meanings: “without cost" and “without restrictions". In part of the open-source software community, an analogy used to explain the difference is “free as in beer" vs. “free as in speech". The word “freeware" is used universally to refer to software that is simply without cost, whereas the phrase “free software" loosely refers to software which is more properly called “open source software" and licensed under some type of open source license (such as Apache, BSD, or GPL).
GPL: The GNU General Public License. This is a license under which many open source applications are released. It specifies that you may view, modify, and redistribute the source code of applications released under it, within certain limits; but that you may not distribute the executable code unless you also distribute the source code to anyone who asks for it. The complete GPL can be found at
Graphical User Interface (GUI): This refers to a program or operating system interface that uses pictures (icons, windows, etc), as opposed to text (command-line) interfaces.
kernel: The layer of software in an operating system that interacts directly with the hardware.
live CD: A bootable compact disc from which one can run an operating system, usually with a complete desktop environment, applications, and essential hardware functionality. In 2003, MEPIS was the first version of Linux to include a GUI-based Installer application on the desktop of a fully functional Live CD, so a separate Installation CD was no longer needed. Simultaneously, MEPIS was also the first Linux to include GUI-based tools, now called Assistants, on the Live CD to help a user repair a broken system.
open-source: Software whose source code has been made available to the public under a license that allows individuals to modify and redistribute the source code. In some cases, open-source licenses restrict the distribution of binary executable code. For more information visit the Open Software Initiative at
script: An executable text file, containing commands in an interpreted language. Usually refers to BASH scripts which are used extensively “under the hood" of the Linux operating system, but other languages may be used as well.
source code: The human-readable code in which software is written.
tarball: An archiving format, like zip, popular on the Linux platform. Unlike zip files, though, tarballs may use one of a number of different compression formats, such as gzip or bzip2. They usually end in file extensions like .tgz, .tar.gz, or .tar.bz2. Many archive formats are supported in MEPIS with a graphical application called ark. Usually an archive can be extracted simply by right-clicking on it.
window manager: A component of a desktop environment that provides the basic maximize/minimize/close/move functions for windows in the GUI environment. Sometimes it can be used as an alternative to a full desktop environment.
Unix: Also UNIX. The operating system which Linux is modeled after, developed in the late 1960's at Bell Labs and used primarily for servers and mainframes. Like Linux, Unix has many variations; for more information, see:
X, also X11, X windows, xorg: The basic GUI engine for most Linux and Unix systems.

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