Run Linux on a USB device
The most obvious and desirable
use for a bootable USB key is to cart your entire operating system around in
your pocket. Enterprising Linux enthusiasts have made it possible to do just
Linux (in case you didn't
know) is an open-source, Unix-derived operating system. As it is open-source,
people are free to experiment and re-invent the code in new ways. This has led
to many interesting Linux operating system variants, the most useful of these
being the 'live' Linux distributions which boot and run the entire operating
system from a single CD or other storage device. Regardless of the operating
system that might be installed on the system's hard drive, booting from the
'live' CD will load and run Linux instead. The advantages of this are obvious.
You can have a familiar environment and set of applications with you wherever
Recently, some of the smaller
'live' Linux distributions have been re-engineered to work from USB drives.
These portable operating systems use the system's memory for performing
operations, and your flash disk as the 'hard drive' for storing personal data.
The rewritable nature of USB disks actually makes them a better platform for
portable operating systems than CDs. For now,
let's look at one of the easiest of these 'flash' Linux distros to get to grips
with; Puppy Linux.
Puppy Linux was originally a 'live CD' Linux distribution notable for
its extremely small footprint. All applications load fully into memory (on a
machine with 128MB of RAM or more), making loads from the CD non-existent.
Fairly recently, instructions
and a wizard for creating a USB drive-based version of Puppy were included on
the CD. This 'Flash Puppy' operating system is what we'll use for the purposes
of this article, as it is incredibly simple to set up and run. Your USB drive should be formatted with the FAT file system
(not FAT32) before you begin this process. To do this, right click the removable
drive in 'my computer,' choose the 'format' option, then choose 'FAT' as the
file system. Do not do a quick format.
First things first: You need
to go to the puppy Linux site
and download the latest version of their 'live-puppy'
operating system. This will come in the form of an .ISO file which you can use
to create a CD with the CD burning software of your choice. If you need help
with this process, see our guide here. We used Puppy Linux version 0.9.6 for the purposes of this article.
Once you have created the
Puppy Linux Live CD, boot your system from the CD to load the Puppy Linux OS
(note that you may need to change the boot options in your BIOS to boot from CD.
You will be asked if you wish to use a USB drive as a storage device for
personal data. Hit ENTER for no, since we have another use in mind for your USB
Choose the 'US QWERTY'
keyboard layout (or whatever is appropriate), enter your mouse type (PS/2 or
USB), then choose an appropriate (and safe) graphics resolution. Whatever you
normally use on your Windows desktop should be fine here. Now that you are on the Puppy Linux desktop (Puppy uses the
FVWM Windows manager by default), go to the familiar 'start' button in the
bottom corner, open it up and go to 'utilities\install puppy USB drive.' This
will start the USB installation dialog.
This very friendly and simple
wizard will walk you through the process of installing Puppy on your USB device
(note that you will need at least a 64MB USB key to do this). There are a couple
of things that need to be changed though.You will need to type the address of
your USB drive as displayed in the dialog. If you have only the one drive
plugged into the system, this will generally be '/dev/sda1'
Assuming you formatted your
drive cleanly with the FAT file system as instructed, enter N for no when the
dialog asks for permission to erase all files on the drive. You will also need to specify a keyboard layout also. Choose 'US' if you are
in the US or English-speaking Canada. The final choice you need to make is
between the two possible installation modes. Mode 1 will allow you to
access documents you created in Linux from a Windows operating system, provided
you have applications that can open them correctly. Mode 2 will not, but
may run more efficiently.
The process will now format and
install the necessary files on your USB drive. When it is finished, reboot and
set your computer's BIOS to boot from the USB drive as instructed in the first
part of this article. Congratulations! You now have a fully functional pocket
operating system at your disposal, complete with the Firefox web browser and
ABIword word processor. Now start learning Linux!
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