Boot Fedora or Ubuntu Live via USB
I think I’ve earned some FOSS badges of honor this past week or so. I’ve become very efficient at flashing my USB key and getting it ready to either boot Fedora or Ubuntu Live. There is a way to totally customize your USB key by not having to use Pendrive or LiveUSB Creator, but I’ll leave that for the advanced post. However, in this post, I’ll talk about the basics of getting your USB key ready to test the latest versions of Fedora 13 and Ubuntu 10.04. It looks like a pretty intimidating list of what needs to be done, but they each have very short executions:
- What’s Needed
- Getting Your ISO’s
- Getting the USB Software
- Preparing Your USB Key
- Boot via USB key
As a side note, I’m a little embarrassed to say that I did this in Microsoft Windows. At the time, I couldn’t get into my Fedora 12 x86_64 install. It was a simple GRUB issue, but I didn’t make the effort to correct it. Quite the irony (-5 HP).
I’m going to primarily reference the Fedora Project, but the concept is basically the same for Ubuntu and other Linux distributions. You will need:
- A USB Flash Drive with at least 1 to 2 GB of storage (here’s a list from Newegg).
- A Linux distribution’s “Live” ISO file (ex: fedora-13-x86_64-Live.iso, ubuntu-10.04-Live.iso, scrappydolinux-x86_64-Live.iso, etc)
- Software to convert the Linux distribution’s ISO file into a working bootable format. The two most popular are:
Getting Your ISO’s
So; you’re ready to get your ISO file. All (or most) Linux distributions have a list of additional servers that are hosting various files. Since they “mirror” what’s on the main web site, other people can get to that data quicker. If the main server is bogged down with users trying to get the latest distribution release then the mirrors can take some of that stress. All that to say – download the ISO file that you want to put onto your USB key. In this example, I’m going to download Fedora 13 x86_64, which can be found at:
- http://mirrors.kernel.org/fedora/ – this is the starting point. From here I can go into whatever directory your heart desires.
- http://mirrors.kernel.org/fedora/releases/13/Fedora/x86_64/iso/Fedora-13-x86_64-DVD.iso – it’s a pretty ugly URL, but whatcha’ gonna do!?
Download the ISO file onto your computer somewhere for safe keeping. You’re going to reference it later.
Edited after Peter’s comment below. Fedora also has alternative versions of its distro, which are tailored for various types of users via hand-picked application sets. For instance in my original post I used Mobiln as an example of “mirror site”. In fact Moblin is something specific to mobile users (ex: netbook) and it’s really awesome. You can find out more from their Spin site.
Getting the USB Software
For Ubuntu and Fedora the recommended software used to get your USB key ready for booting is Pendrive and Fedora LiveUSB Creator (as mentioned in the “What’s Needed” section). Fedora LiveUSB Creator software will need to be installed, but Pendrive (also known as Universal USB Installer) runs out-of-the-box. In this scenario, install Fedora LiveUSB Creator.
Preparing Your USB Key
I’m expressing a big fat /facepalm as I write this, but in Windows (ugh) you can open Windows Explorer (keyboard shortcut Win+E), right-click on your USB key drive and do a quick format. You can leave the default setting (file system: FAT, Allocation 32 KB, etc) I believe the software does it too, but I haven’t verified that. Once it’s formatted you’re ready to go.
- Run the Fedora LiveUSB Creator program from the Start Menu.
- Click the “Browse” button under “Use existing Live CD” section.
- Locate your Fedora-13-x86_64-Live.iso file.
- Select your USB key under “Target Device” section.
- Choose the amount of extra space you’d like to use for miscellaneous storage (totally optional)
- Click on “Create Live USB”.
For Universal USB Installer, it’s recommended that you use their preset distribution list. I’ve tried it a couple times with “Try Some Other Live Linux ISO” and I end up with errors and a non-working boot sequence.
I’ve rinsed and repeat this process numerous times while testing different devices. It was smooth sailing for the most part (I hope that’s your experience as well).
Boot via USB key
You’re almost there… that sweet-spot of booting Linux (temporarily) onto your existing hardware. The main thing you’ll need to figure out is whether your BIOS supports booting from a USB device. When you boot your machine and you see one of the bootable devices as “USB-ZIP” then you’re good to go! If not, reference your motherboard’s manual and see how to enable this feature.
So; once you make it past the machine boot sequence and choose “USB-ZIP” (or if you set it as the primary or secondary choice) then the rest should be cake. It’ll start like any other normal LiveCD. It’ll give you the options of choosing to run the distro, install it, test it, etc. Have fun whoring-out your system to the array of Linux distributions available in a try-before-you-buy format. Apple and Windows can’t do that! Booyah!