Operating Systems on Bootable Flash Drives - *NIX OS Distros
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At the beginning of this article we mentioned that the term "Live OS" came from Linux distributions. They pioneered this technique of booting up without actually writing a bit on the hardware, purely relying on the source media and the RAM. Knoppix Live started to gain recognition at first, and then Ubuntu Live...
USB flash drives revolutionized this, thanks to the ability to write to them. With flash drives, users could also save their settings. Still, loading times are affected; these "live" operating systems won't replace a natively installed one, but they are useful for crisis situations. For a really thorough comparative list of numerous (literally dozens) of Linux distros, please do check out this page.
For a beginner, the first recommendation is almost always Ubuntu. However, first let's introduce the utility that's going to help us with the bootable flash drive creation. This time, it's UNetbootin. This free utility is an Internet-based installer. This means that it doesn't require any installation CDs, it supports all kinds of Linux distributions, and the installation images are downloaded from the Internet.
The following Linux distributions are supported by default, but others are also possible: Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, PCLinux, Linux Mint, OpenSuse, Arch Linux, Damn Small Linux, SliTaz, Puppy Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, Frugalware Linux, FaunOS, Mandriva, CentOS, Elive, Dreamlinux, Slax, Zenwalk, Gentoo, and so forth. All in all, this utility is a multi-Linux distro Internet-based installer.
It is able to create boot-loaders for multi-boot systems (such as dual-booting with an existing Windows XP and with a freshly installed Linux distribution). The utility can seamlessly install these operating systems to a hard drive partition, but also to USB flash drives. This part is what really interests us here!
Just download the UNetbootin utility and launch it. An intuitive interface is going to pop up, and you can select the source image for the distribution already, assuming you have it downloaded. If not, then just pick one from the currently supported list (Linuxes that are available to download right from the utility). Then here's the catch-pay attention and select USB Drive at the Type: prompt, and pick its drive letter correctly!
Behind the scenes of this application, the following process occurs: the said ISO image of the Linux distribution is extracted (if it doesn't exist, then the image is downloaded first, obviously), the files are copied onto the USB flash drive, and then the boot-loader is automatically generated from scratch. Once the process is successfully finished, you are required to reboot, if that's what you want.
This utility does everything, instead of you, just as the "PE Builder + PeToUSB" software combo automated the entire process in the case of Microsoft Windows operating systems. Once again, you could do all of these manually. You may need to double check, once the flash drive is prepared, whether the first partition (or the only partition) on which the operating system can be located is active. Only active partitions can boot!
The boot-loader that's generated should always work. However, once again, be careful; in those cases when your flash drive is larger than 2GB, it'd be best to partition in two parts, at least, and use the appropriate partition types. We've talked about them in the previous part. FAT16 supports only up to 2GB. FAT32 has higher limitations.
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