The traditional and most common method of installing Linux is by burning the installation ISO image to a CD or DVD. But with many laptops, notebooks, ultra notebooks, subnotebooks shipping without an optical drive, installation via USB flash stick has become the most common method for installing Linux on these types of computers. That’s were a Linux USB installer come into play.
In our neck of the woods, where virtually all computers running a Linux or UNIX-like operating system did not ship with them pre-installed, users are very familiar with the tools to burn or transfer their favorite distribution to removable media. The same cannot be said for those on the other side.
With this article, four of the best graphical applications that Windows users may use to transfer most actively-developed Linux distributions to a USB key, and, therefore, use it to install the Linux distribution to a computer that does not have an optical drive are presented.
Note that these applications do not just make it easy to install a Linux distribution from a USB key, but also allow you to run supported distributions in Live mode, that is, run it from the USB stick without installing it to the computer’s hard disk drive (HDD). In that (Live) mode, they also allow you to have persistent storage on the USB stick, such that any data you store on the USB key is not lost when the computer is rebooted.
They also have other features in common. For example, you can install an installation image of supported distributions stored locally, or they can automatically download a supported distribution from the nearest download mirror. Because they don’t have support for the very latest of many distributions, I find it more convenient to manually download my distribution of choice and point the application to the download directory.
In no particular order, the applications are:
1. LinuxLive USB Creator: This has a beautiful and flowery graphical interface. It is a Windows-only application and has supported for many popular distributions. I find it kinda fun to use. LinuxLive USB Creator or LiLi, may be downloaded from here.
A distribution can be downloaded from the nearest mirror.
2. Unetbootin: This runs on Windows and Linux. Its interface is not as fancy as the LinuxLive USB Creator’s, but it gets the job done.
Its list of supported distributions tend to be one or two revisions removed from the current stable release.
3. Universal USB Installer: This runs only on Windows. Universal USB Installer (UUI). Like Unetbootin and LinuxLive USB Creator, UUI does not support all distributions, but it does give you the option of attempting to install an unsupported distribution on a USB Flash drive. I tried it with Mageia 2, and it did not work. You may download UUI from Universal USB Installer.
4. Your Universal Multiboot Installer: This is from the same author as UUI, and it, too, runs only on Windows. The only feature that sets Your Universal Multiboot Installer (YUMI) apart from the others is the claim that it can install more than one distribution on the same USB key.
I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll attempt it before the end of the day and let you know what happened. YUMI is available for download here.
Being able to install a Linux distribution from a USB key or USB flash drive is neat, but when it comes to running it in Live mode and storing persistent data on it, I’d rather install the distribution on an SSD or a small, external HDD. Then I don’t have to worry about how much persistent storage space I can allocate to it.