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Linux Live USB Media

It is pretty common these days for laptops, and even desktops, to be able to boot from a USB flash memory drive. So you can save a little time and a little money by converting various Linux distributions ISO images to bootable USB devices, rather than burning them to CD/DVD.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor on

It is pretty common these days for laptops, and even desktops, to be able to boot from a USB flash memory drive. So you can save a little time and a little money by converting various Linux distributions ISO images to bootable USB devices, rather than burning them to CD/DVD. Oh, and one other reason - it is getting more common, especially with pre-releases, for the Live image to be too large to fit on a CD so it requires a DVD, and I don't keep blank DVD media as close at hand as CD. Here is a quick overview of how to make Live USB media for some of the most common Linux distributions:

- Ubuntu: They have been pretty much at the front of the pack in making this available and easy. I don't recall for certain, but since at least 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) there has been a "USB Startup Disk Creator" option in the Administration menu. Basically all you have to do is download the ISO image to a running Ubuntu system, start the USB create utility, and select the ISO image source and USB device target. The only minor niggle here is that they have recently changed the menu option name, from "USB Startup Disk Creator", to "Startup Disk Creator". Not a big deal, of course, I just overlooked it because I always went in looking for "USB", and the name change also caused it to move to a different position in the Administration menu.

- Ubuntu Netbook Remix: In addition to the above "standard" Ubuntu method, UNR has been distributed as an "IMG" file, which can be copied directly to a USB flash drive, using dd, to create a bootable USB device.

- Fedora: They have their own LiveUSB Creator utility. There is a version that can be downloaded and installed on Windows, and there are packages that can be installed on running Fedora systems.

- openSuSE: They distibute a hybrid image which can be either burned to a CD/DVD or copied directly to a USB drive. Their article describes how to do this, and the necessary utilities, for Windows and Linux.

- Mandriva: The Mandrive One Live image is a hybrid, and their Installing Mandriva Linux page describes how to copy it to a USB drive - basically, use dd or download their script that helps select the image and target.

- Linux Mint: As for other Ubuntu derivatives, it has generally been possible to create USB media by using the Ubuntu USB Creator. Of course, if you didn't have a running Ubuntu system, this was a bit of a problem. With the latest releases, Mint now includes a similar USB Creator item in their Administration menus.

- SimplyMEPIS: As described in Bootable MEPIS USB key, their "simple" method involves burning a CD, and then using their "MEPIS System Assistant" to create a bootable USB image of that. Of course, this loses the advantage of not having to burn a CD in the first place. They also describe using the unetbootin utility, which is available in their repositories. If you follow up on this, you will learn about a much more generic way of creating Linux USB images that I am not going to get into here.

As I said, using a USB Flash drive rather than CD/DVD media saves money, and even though blank media prices have come down to very small amounts, it still adds up if you go through pre-releases and updates like I do. It saves time, because creating the USB Flash image is faster than burning a CD/DVD, and again because it boots faster than a CD/DVD. It saves distraction, because I don't have to keep blank CD/DVD media handy around my desk, and I don't have to keep track of where the external CD/DVD burner for my netbooks has been hidden.

jw 14/4/2010

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