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USB Linux Howto

I started this blog writing a guide on how to set up a usb stick to boot multiple versions of Linux. At the time. despite the fact that it’s easy to do, there weren’t many detailed guides. I’ve endeavoured to make the information useful and easy to follow by editing it and adding screenshots.

Some methods to make a USB stick bootable are destructive (You need to format the drive, wiping everything off it.) Since the days of “Mac” and “IBM” floppy discs, all USB sticks, as well as flash cards come formatted with FAT, which works on everything. If you format your drive, you might have problems on some machines and make it hard to transfer big files. This can also cause problems due to the 100,000 writes issue. Using a non destructive method, all of the Linux information is compressed inside normal files. They can be copied off if you want more room to copy something else on, or can be deleted with no hassles.

You can use a great program called ‘Unetbootin’ to easily make a drive bootable.

>> Using Unetbootin

Also, if you have Puppy Linux on a CD (or another USB stick) then that can also easily set up your USB stick to boot Puppy Linux.

>> Using Puppy Linux’s Universal Installer

There are a lot of different Linux distributions that can do different things. If you want your USB stick to boot up several of these, you can follow this guide.

>> Adding Another Distribution

I also made this guide on how to modify a bootable USB stick to also boot Puppy Linux (from Ubuntu) with screenshots.

>> Puppy 4.1

Here are some useful Linux distributions and other tools you might be interested in.

Puppy Linux.

Puppy's Desktop

Puppy Linux

>>Backtrack. Backtrack 3 comes with a nice KDE interface, and a lot of computer forensics and other interesting tools.

Backtrack's Desktop

Backtrack Linux

>>Ophcrack. This can crack windows passwords easily, and is useful when passwords have been forgotten.

Memtest86+ is a really useful tool to check a computer’s memory for errors. Good to keep this one handy.

You can also add Grub to your usb stick. Supergrub Disk (SGD) is a useful tool for emergency booting and repairing broken grub installs.
>> Howto: Set up Grub and Syslinux toghether

>>McGrew Security Ram Dumper (msramdmp) A tool that can be used in a ‘cold boot’ attack in which you take information left in the ram after a computer has shut down. Can potentially be used to recover encryption keys.

You can add files to open with F keys to give more information, boot options and so on for each distro. Often distros come with files called “F1” and whatnot with information. Just change their names, and put lines like this in syslinux.cfg.

F1 /linux/Menu1.txt
F2 /linux/Menu2.txt

>>Adding Colours

Other things to play around with:

Syslinux can run “com32” applications. ‘reboot.c32’ will reboot, ‘chain.c32’ chainloads to a hard drive. (You need to append ‘hd0’ or ‘hd1’) I recommend adding these to the menu and to syslinux.cfg.

Syslinux comes with a thing called ‘menu’ that you can use to give a basic boot menu. Many live cds use “vesamenu.c32” to display a menu with graphics in the background. I prefer not to use this as it’s complicated to set it up to look right.

A Google Summer of Code entry that looks exciting is to use the SUSE ‘gfxboot’ to add a more interactive, graphical bootup menu as a com 32 application, like vesamenu. Gfxboot can handle some animations and whatnot.

I hope that what I put here is useful and easy to follow, but I can’t guarantee that everything will work. Feel free to leave comments.



1. Howto: Install Puppy Linux to a USB stick « Aronzak’s Rantings - 7 October, 2008

[…] USB Linux Howto   […]

2. USB Linux Howto: Puppy Universal Installer « Aronzak’s Rantings - 7 October, 2008

[…] USB Linux Howto   […]

3. Dr. Mike Hughes - 1 January, 2009

I would like to get the files I need to run Puppy linux from a USB stick. Can you send them to me all ready to just drop on a stick?

4. Dr. Mike Hughes - 1 January, 2009

Forgot where to send – mailmikealrhughescom. I have a Toshiba I would like to try Linux on.

5. aronzak - 1 January, 2009

Ok. “Can you send them to me all ready to just drop on a stick?”
Sorry, but not really. Something like that doesn’t really exist and I wouldn’t encourage it. I prefer not to wipe files on the stick when installing Linux.

In order to put something on, the usual method is to copy files from an ordinary disc image and then install syslinux, a bootloader for USB. As above, the program Unetbootin can automate this process, or you can use the puppy universal installer from a live session.You can also do this from QEMU. I wouldn’t recommend installing it manually, but that is possible too.

Please reply and I’d love to help you more.

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