Suggestions for making a Linux boot flashdrive
July 27, 2008 10:29 PM   Subscribe

(Paging All Linux Masters) Suggestions for making a Linux boot flashdrive

Hey everyone,

I've wanted to try out Linux for awhile so I'm finally going to, and I want to make make a flashdrive that can boot linux off of it and maintain a persistent OS environment, i.e. I can plug the flashdrive in to different computers and have my changes and settings saved from the last time I configured it. My question is: What version of Linux would you suggest for a long time Windows user who feels confident with most computer stuff, AND what flashdrive do you think would be best for this sort of thing?

I am currently thinking Ubuntu for the version of Linux and one of these two flash drives: Corsair 8gb OR Kingston 8gb

What do you guys think?
posted by coolguy#1 to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, Ubuntu is currently the most popular desktop environment. Here's instructions to get a persistent environment on a USB drive.
posted by team lowkey at 11:24 PM on July 27, 2008

Why don't you try a live cd first? USB installs can be tricky, though I haven't tried one in a while.
If you are only familiar with windows, Ubuntu is usually a good choice.

There is a way to use a flash drive for saving state between reboots with the Ubuntu live CD, described in this mini HOWTO.
posted by ghost of a past number at 11:38 PM on July 27, 2008

I'll second ghost of a past number. The problem with flash drives is that they're painfully slow.
posted by rdr at 1:12 AM on July 28, 2008

If your machine has enough horsepower/memory, you can try out Linux in a virtual machine, also. VirtualBox is an open-source VM system, and has provisions for installing a variety of Linux images.

I have to stand up for Fedora, since everyone is going to say Ubuntu. Fedora has a Live CD/USB creation tool that runs in Windows, so your image will be better customized for your hardware. Note that I haven't used this tool yet, so I can't vouch for how well it works. Fedora also has a variety of different Live CD/USB images over at Fedora CustomSpins if you're looking for particular configurations.
posted by chengjih at 2:14 AM on July 28, 2008

Watch out for two things:
1) all those read/writes will shorten the life of a flash drive much faster than a HD. You might want to do this on a portable USB HD instead (gives you more room for stuff, too).

2) "different computers" and "persistent". Files are easy, settings are hard.
I tried this with Ubuntu about 3 versions back, using a Seagate Pocket HD and got it working but ran into the following:
a straight install to an external drive will configure the installation for the hardware on the computer you do the install "through", meaning that you might have problems when connecting it to another different computer.
a live CD auto-detects the hardware on different computers just fine by itself: but when you go persistent, you'll often find that settings specific to the hardware you're on get saved and then cause problems on the next PC(you save the settings for one wireless or graphics card on PC A, then move to PC B with different hardware....) .

They may have improved this in later versions, especially the latest.
I found that usually all I had to do was reconfigure the X server (what gives you the graphics for the GUI) when moving my Ubuntu-on-a-stick using the following two lines in a Terminal:
sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg (then just choose auto-detect and all the defaults)
sudo /etc/init.d/gdm restart
Again, that's what got it working for DapperDrake, which was several iterations ago.
Hopefully you'll get some more current advice.

Getting a LiveCD on a USB stick is pretty easy; 8.04 Heron even has a package that will do it automatically, I hear. But not all PCs will boot from USB, and there's that persistence problem. If you're just saving files, try a LiveCD boot partition and then another for your documents, etc. That should work fine.

Depending on what you're trying to do, you might want to look into the "wubi" install option; it will turn a PC into a dual-boot Ubuntu machine, but without any partitioning, etc. Much quicker process, and when you're tired of it, you just uninstall it like any other program.
posted by bartleby at 1:10 PM on July 28, 2008

I just came across UNetbootin earlier today - it appears to be a GUI which takes an ISO image as input and will output (format, make bootable, etc) a drive you specify.
UNetbootin allows for the installation of various Linux/BSD distributions to a partition or USB drive
Binaries are available for Windows and Linux.
posted by unmake at 7:08 PM on July 28, 2008

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