OS on a Stick

2011-Feb-10, Thursday 03:24 pm
chebe: (South Park)
[personal profile] chebe
Ever get that oddly uncomfortable feeling whenever you sit down to use a computer that's not yours? Even if it's the same OS, everything is just in the wrong place, all your shortcuts missing, it's distressing.

Ever wanted to simply bring your Desktop around with you, no matter where you are?

First thing you might try, especially if you're a Linux user, is persistent Live USB. Like a Live CD, only on a USB stick, and you can save files to it.

  • Put the Live CD into the CD-drive. Reboot your machine, and at the BIOS make sure the CD-drive has priority in the boot list.
  • If you're using the Ubuntu 10.10 Live CD it will ask you to either try it, or install it. Try it.
  • Plug in the USB key (2.6GB+), and wait until it automagically appears on the Desktop.
  • Go to the menu: System > Administration > Startup Disk Creator
  • The iso and USB key should be auto-populated, but check to make sure.
  • The slider is how much persistent storage you want. For me it went up to 4GB (for an 8GB stick).
  • Press the 'Make Startup Disk' button. Wait.
  • When done you will have a bootable Live USB disk with persistent storage.

    (Don't want to burn a CD? You can download the iso, and use the in-built Live CD creator tools, most distros have them. Or use UNetbootin (Windows version too).)

    Great? Well, not really. Every single time you boot in it asks you to Try It or Install It. That takes extra time, it gets annoying. What I really want is a portable computer drive, an OS on a stick!

    So I can just choose Install It and point it at the USB key? Nope. It will pick up your hard-drive and try to include those existing partitions. Which will either mess up your existing MBR/grub/lilo/etc, or mean the key will only boot in that machine. Some people say to disable the hard-drive in BIOS, then try it. My older laptop doesn't have a BIOS option to disable the hard-drive, and when I tried it on my EEE it also disabled its ability to detect my USB flash key (a type of hard-drive). So, I was left with one alternative. (Okay, so there are others, but this is the simplest.)

  • Remove the hard-drive.
  • Boot into Live CD (iso no good here as the hard-drive is gone).
  • For Ubuntu: Choose Try It. Then plug in USB key, when it automagically appears, start the Install, either from the Desktop icon or the menu.
  • For BackTrack: Choose Live CD from the boot menu. Type 'startx' for a graphical interface if so inclined. Plug in the USB key. Run install.sh on the Desktop.
  • Make sure it picks up your USB key, and only your USB key. Continue installation as usual.


    There. Done and dusted. You will probably have to change the BIOS boot order on most machines you plug it into, but as long as it isn't password protected that's okay. Go, enjoy the comforts of home, wherever you are!
  • Date: 2011-02-10 04:20 pm (UTC)
    From: [identity profile] mollydot.livejournal.com
    Thank you! I'd been using Windows on my netbook cos it was just too much palaver to go through the whole "try it" set up.

    Date: 2011-02-10 09:45 pm (UTC)
    From: [identity profile] mollydot.livejournal.com
    I would, but I doubt there's enough room. It's only a likkle netbook. My desktop is dual boot, but I hardly ever use Windows on it. I'd considered turning the netbook entirely to linux, but if I ever need/want Windows on it again, I probably couldn't re-install.
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