One of my favorite features of open source is the ability to do just about anything. Specifically I am talking about booting Linux via the CD drive. This isn’t just installing the OS like you would with Windows, no this is the entire OS fully functional without installing anything on your machine. When I was in grad school we used this to rescue Windows installations or files from a corrupt Windows machine. If you are curious about Linux, but don’t want to actually install it on your machine this is the way to go. Now while the OS was complete, you could even install programs, the one pitfall was every time you rebooted the machine you were back where you started. I had this problem at my last job. In short, we had a machine that had XP 64 installed on it, but there were no suitable video drivers (this gave the screen that annoying lag as your scrolled). Because this was a shared office in a remote location I couldn’t just reinstall the OS or wipe it clean and put Linux on it. My solution was to boot the machine into Ubuntu via the live CD, but since I was returning every week it became daunting constantly configuring every program so I could do my business. I was able to solve this problem by creating a persistent data image on a usb stick. Basically I would save all of my documents and settings, including installed programs and configured programs, to the usb stick. Anytime I booted off the live CD I was good to go and configured. That worked great at the time, but if you have used that setup you know that running an entire OS off of a CD is quite slow.
That is where today’s post comes in. Storage space on usb sticks continues to rise as prices fall, so far that I just purchased a 2GB stick for under $10. At the same time most machines built since 2004 allow you to boot off of a usb device (and if not often there is a BIOS upgrade that will allow you to do this). So it is the perfect time to make the switch from CD driven live distributions to usb driven. There are a couple of clear advantages, for one load time is much quicker (no more jets taking off in your CD drive when you click on the programs menu), and two the memory is non-volatile (meaning that the OS remains in the same state as you left it since shutdown, or better yet, it remembers everything you did or saved). Now, of course, this was always possible before, but it required some considerable step-by-step and a little bit of luck to accomplish this task. Not to mention that dedicating a $60 512MB stick to Linux back in the day just wasn’t an option.
So how easy is it? Very easy if you have Linux (and if you don’t it is still possible). Liveusb is the name of the project. It is a gui project that drastically simplifies the process of creating a bootable usb stick (I used this to test out the latest Mythtv for my homemade DVR). First you need to add their repo to your sourses.list file. This is easily done. First go to the website and choose which version of Ubuntu you are using, I am using Hardy. So open the terminal and type the following:
sudo echo deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/probono/ubuntu hardy main>>/etc/apt/sources.list && sudo echo deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/probono/ubuntu hardy main>>/etc/apt/sources.list
What that does is appending the proper repo to the end of the aptitude sources.list. Now type in the following:
sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude install liveusb
Now you have just installed liveusb. After that it is extremely simple. Insert the Ubuntu CD into the drive and plug in the usb stick. From there you launch the liveusb program (you can launch it from your terminal by typing liveusb) and hit execute. In short order you will have a bootable usb stick.
Three notes, this is a great way to install ubuntu if your machine doesn’t have a CD drive or if you just want to save some time on multiple installs. Also if you don’t already have Ubuntu installed you can do these same steps off of the live CD. Fedora and other Linux OS have similar projects and tools, and it can certainly be done manually at anytime, though I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy (doing this by hand that is).