Covert library ops
January 1, 2006 7:13 PM   Subscribe

Can I run Linux under Windows with no reboot, no installation, and 100 MB on a USB drive?

I often work in a library where security is fairly restrictive. It would be really helpful if this was possible.
posted by poorlydrawnplato to Technology (16 answers total)
This may help you.
(Googled for linux on windows without reboot.)
posted by disillusioned at 7:20 PM on January 1, 2006

Response by poster: Problem is that it requires tweaking Windows settings, which I cannot do, unfortunately.
posted by poorlydrawnplato at 7:22 PM on January 1, 2006

You could try a Linux Live CD. Just take a CD, pop it in your CD ROM drive, and Linux boots off the CD. No install needed.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:34 PM on January 1, 2006

A copy of a cygwin distribution & a bat file to set up the environment variables should do it, if you don't need linux binary compatibility (or can compile the programs you need on cygwin)
posted by devilsbrigade at 7:47 PM on January 1, 2006

Best answer: Can you? Yes. Is it painful? Yes, unless you're a patient person.

Check out Run (Damn Small) Linux on Windows. I just tested it on my 1G USB stick and the initial install was around 50M of disk space. Very slow to run, though, at least on a 1Ghz 256M Win2K system. CPU was pegging at max a lot of the time. You might be able to tweak some of that overhead downwards after startup. It uses QEMU to run the Linux kernel, if that means anything to you, so there is always going to be emulator overhead.

On the other hand, Damn Small Linux did work as expected, at least with a couple of the applications I tested it on. No Windows install or reboot, per your spec.

I use Cygwin myself. 100M might be too tight for a Cygwin install, but it's hard to determine what requirements a minimal Cygwin install needs to operate. Mine is definitely not minimal at 4G+. Of course, Cygwin isn't exactly Linux, but it's surface compatibility is pretty good.

Could help if we knew more details on what you needed the Linux capability for. Depending on what you want to do, there are potentially several different directions to reach a solution, not all of them involving a pure Linux system.
posted by mdevore at 8:04 PM on January 1, 2006

mdevore beat me to it. But his analysis of Damn Small Linux is exactly what I would have said.
posted by SuperNova at 8:22 PM on January 1, 2006

Might it be more beneficial to run a VNC client to tap into your home computer? It seems like the lag might be more than made up for with the drop in performance the above posters mention, and as long as you can get out on the ports necessary for VNC, you'd be able to do whatever you'd like, since it's running on your own PC and ISP.
posted by disillusioned at 8:37 PM on January 1, 2006

Yeah, I'd VNC. There are Java applet VNC clients. While you could run linux in a situation like you describe, I can't imagine it being really useful. What are you trying to do exactly?
posted by phrontist at 8:49 PM on January 1, 2006

Best answer: The free VMWare Player plus a Damn Small Linux Virtual Machine might be faster than the QEMU solution mdevore mentioned while providing the same or similar functionality. However, never having used the VMWare Player, I don't know if it requires installation to work. (It appears to claim not to.)
posted by xiojason at 9:54 PM on January 1, 2006

Unfortunately, this part of the docs on VMware appear to be killer...

Host System Requirements for VMware Player

Hard disk: At least 1GB free disk space for each guest operating system. For installation,
VMware Player requires approximately 150MB.

That's not going to fly unless he's allowed to use a native hard drive for the guest OS after startup. Then still, install is at 150M. Assuming he's got a 128M stick (given the 100M maximum size requirement), doesn't look like he's gonna make it with VMware. Perhaps it could be a better solution if a minor stick upgrade is allowed -- 256M sticks can be had for less than twenty bucks nowadays. Even giggers are relatively cheap.

But as we've all said for the last few posts, the Linux approach might be a boondoggle with better choices.
posted by mdevore at 10:29 PM on January 1, 2006

why on earth would you go through the pain and poor performance of running linux on a virtual machine when you can simply boot native linux off a USB key? flonix is a (free, of course) linux distro that runs off USB keys as small as 64mb. check it out here. you've already marked the VM answers as best, but it seemed to me that this is what you were asking for.
posted by ori at 10:49 PM on January 1, 2006

I suspect the main reason on earth is that one of the original requirements is not to reboot the machine.

On pain and poor performance, general agreement all around.
posted by mdevore at 11:01 PM on January 1, 2006

Response by poster: Just tried mdvore's answer out (admittedly on my fast comp) and it works perfectly. Thank you!
posted by poorlydrawnplato at 11:12 PM on January 1, 2006

It's too bad about the VMWare Player installation requirements. I just tried it out now, and it's pretty responsive, even on my 800MHz PIII Windows XP box. QEMU running Debian under XP, which I have at work on a 3GHz XP box, is generally slower!
posted by xiojason at 11:26 PM on January 1, 2006

I've heard good things about VMware, but from personal experience, I can tell you that Bochs makes QEMU look like a veritable spee-demon.
posted by mdevore at 11:28 PM on January 1, 2006

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