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mrentropy's avatar

Easiest Linux on a USB memory stick?

Asked by mrentropy (17140 points ) August 6th, 2009

Because I’m melancholic, retro-active, and slightly crazy I’ve been playing around with the idea of putting Linux on a USB memory stick, loading it up with emulators for old computers, and creating a menu so you can choose what computer to boot into (VIC-20, Atari 800, Apple ][, etc). I’m having trouble figuring out what the easiest approach is.

I’m used to Gentoo and, to a lesser extent, Kubuntu so I’d need a distribution that would be easy to update and install applications to.

Does anyone have any suggestions for this? What I’ve found so far seems to be a bit too minimalistic for my skill level.

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13 Answers

se_ven's avatar

I’m not sure how far you’ve gotten on your search, but I saw this article a while back that might help you.

I think lifehacker.com has done other articles on it as well.

mrentropy's avatar

@se_ven Thanks! I’ll give that a reading in a moment.

In my searches I also found Pendrive Linux. What disturbs me is that despite a USB thumb drive being a read/write device, most appear to not write to the stick. This may cause me issues.

InspecterJones's avatar

Why not just use ubuntu? It can load itself on a usb stick without much effort right from its own boot cd.

mrentropy's avatar

@InspecterJones It would depend on if it makes a minimalist copy of the LiveCD or not, I guess. I don’t really want a LiveCD on a stick because I want to be able to control what gets installed. For instance, I’m hoping to do away with X and any desktop environment. Also, it matters quite a bit if changes get saved.

I haven’t gotten very far in figuring how this would work. What I would really like is to be able to install a disto straight to a USB drive, but that option doesn’t seem to be available.

Ivan's avatar

PendriveLinux has all sorts of good information on the subject. Ubuntu does in fact have a feature that installs itself to a USB drive. You can even do this straight from the LiveCD. I’ve never tried it though, so I don’t know whether it installs the full OS or if it installs the LiveCD. I’m sure the answer exists in the documentation. If you’re going to be disabling X and the DE, the only real issue is your choice of package manager. I personally find Debian very simple.

mrentropy's avatar

Then I reckon I’ll be doing my home work on Ubuntu this evening and hope it does the trick. I’d love to be able to turn on my computer and have an Atari ST desktop waiting for me. Probably blow a few people’s minds, too.

Vincentt's avatar

Guess what I’m on right now? Ubuntu from my USB drive ;-)

Anyway, both Ubuntu and Fedora have built-in utilities that allow you to easily put a modified version of the LiveCD onto your USB drive that will preserve your changes. However, if you are going to do something radical like removing your DE, you might first want to modify the LiveCD image with one of the varoius tools available that do this (e.g. Remastersys), and then install that to your USB drive. Shouldn’t be too difficult, especially if you’re already running the distro you want to run from USB on your normal computer.

Also, I think you could install it directly to your USB drive (I suppose it would just be listed in the installer as another hard drive you can install it to), but that’s not really recommended due to you probably not wanting to wreck your USB drive with excessive writes ;-)

Ivan's avatar

Good luck with this, it sounds like a really cool idea. It would be fun to have my old Commodore 128 emulated with a few bits of software.

InspecterJones's avatar

Let us know what you end up doing, I’d be interested in your findings.

mrentropy's avatar

I have a stick ready to go if I can decide on how to do it. I’ll be giving it a lot more thought this weekend, if I’m allowed to have some time to do it. I may have to go the LiveCD route after giving the flash writing a thought. I just hope I’ll be able to add programs once that’s done.

InspecterJones's avatar

@mrentropy I’m pretty sure on a ubuntu usb you can add and remove programs and save changes and all that.

mrentropy's avatar

@InspecterJones Beautiful. That’ll be what I look at first this weekend (if the fates are willing).

Vincentt's avatar

@InspecterJones Yep, definitely possible, I do it all the time.

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