Ubuntu on a USB stick

I finally had the chance to play with the usb-creator feature on the Ibex live CD a few days ago. In short the Ubuntu 8.10 Live CD comes with the option to create a USB startup disk or burn the Live CD iso file to a USB stick, to put it differently.

The usb-creator program can be launched from the System -> Administration -> Create a USB starup disk on the Ubuntu 8.10 Live CD


This is a great way to carry around a Ubuntu Linux install, without having to bring my Laptop everywhere. I just need a spare pc with USB boot enabled and I’m good to go, whether I’m trying to show others what Ubuntu can provide or just trying to get some work done. The boot time is of course a bit longer than usual, since everything happens over USB, but once the boot is over you have access to all the fabulous tools that comes with Linux. And if you want you can also install Ubuntu Linux onto the machine you are working on (but don’t do this on other peoples machines without their consent!).

The size of your USB key does limit the fun, both how many extra programs you can install and how many files you can carry around. But with a 4 GB key like mine there is room for the programs I need and can’t seem to find on the Windows machines at work.

It is not all roses though. During install and upgrades I quickly ran into this bug which seems to prevent upgrades of the kernel. Security also seems to be an issue. There is no password needed to log into the system or to use sudo. There is also the risk of forgetting the USB stick – somehow forgetting an entire laptop seems less likely than forgetting a USB key in the USB drive as you get up to leave.
I haven’t yet looked into the possibility of using the private encrypt directory to protect files on the key, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t work on the Live CD.

So, what other uses have you put your Live USB keys to?

8 thoughts on “Ubuntu on a USB stick”

  1. After using usb-creator, what do you have to do to make it bootable? I just get “Missing Operating System” errors when I try to boot from USB.

  2. I didn’t have to do anything special to make the USB key boot. It might be a problem with formatting…?

    You could try formatting and adding the boot flag to the USB key with GParted (System -> Administration -> Partition Editor) before running the usb-creator.

    If that doesn’t help you might want to request help at the forums or write a bug report at Launchpad.

  3. mackenzie: are you sure your computer supports booting from usb (I spent once about twenty minutes trying to make my computer boot from USB before I realized it was too old for that)

  4. USB installers are important, I’ve been waiting for a while to have an automagic one for ubuntu. A lot of laptops (mine included) don’t even have a CD/DVD drive, and messing around with fdisk and the like is pretty complicated for a new person.

    Great work!

  5. pendrivelinux.com offers many tips and solutions to getting a wide array of distros onto a USB stick. They supplied the solution to my Ubuntu install onto an ACER netbook.

  6. I agree that linux website is brilliant, it’s helped me in the past with various solutions. Thanks for the help from this post, it’s great having an automatic usb installer for ubuntu.

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