Is it really possible to "install" Linux on a USB-pendrive?

ShipWreck-1

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I've heard of that, I'm not sure I've correctly understood: "installing" an O.S. on a pendrive, it sounds quite weird and many questions are raised:

1) bootstrap manager, is it needed/allowed or what, or starting Linux would be a self promoting action when the PC is started already having the pendrive inserted in the USB hub;

2) what if the PC is started without the pendrive inserted;

3) just few days ago I got complete a patient enduring upgrade to Win10 and I'd like to avoid threatening the achieved peace, is there any concern?

4) will it work just buying a Linux distribution, for instance Suse, on pendrive from this web-site?

Hello folks, I'm ready to collect your contribution !!
 


atanere

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Okay, glad you're back and ready to dive in! This website doesn't actually sell Linux DVD's or USB sticks, but I think one or more advertisers might. I think you mentioned this place before in another post: OSDisc.com. I have bought from them before and they're quite reasonable for DVD/USB media. But you don't have to buy Linux... you can download it for free from links on this site, or another good site to check out is DistroWatch.com where they list 100 different Linux distributions based on the popularity that their website records.

So, let's try to answer a few questions and get you started. Take your time... you don't have to boot up Linux today! Or even tomorrow! You might even want to take some notes, and/or also spend some time Googling around the web about installing and using Linux on a USB drive. Linux is a fully developed and robust operating system, just like Windows or Apple's iOS. That means things can be complicated... especially for new users. You have indicated already that you don't want to destroy your Windows 10 setup, and we want to help make sure that you are happy with Linux... so we also don't want you to make any mistake that will kill Windows. To just run on USB (or DVD) should not be any problem or any threat to Windows.... but that's not to say that you can't kill Windows, you most certainly can. So the standard advice is: ALWAYS BACKUP CRITICAL FILES THAT YOU CAN"T AFFORD TO LOSE! (Everyone should have current backups anyway, right?)

Responding to your question #1 - The Linux bootloader will be self-contained on the USB. It will not do anything if you plug it in and Windows is running. You must cold boot (or restart) the computer with the USB plugged in, and you must either interrupt the boot to choose the USB from a "Boot Menu," or else you must change BIOS/UEFI settings to that the computer always chooses to boot the USB drive before the internal hard drive or SSD.

#2 - The computer cannot boot Linux unless the USB is plugged in at boot time and that the USB is selected to boot first or that your interrupt the boot as I just described above. Otherwise, it goes straight to Windows.

I think I covered #3 and #4 mostly in my opening paragraphs.

I've you're going to purchase a DVD or USB, I'd hold off and carry on this discussion awhile first. You mention openSUSE, and though it is a good system, it is not one that I'd recommend for a first-time user. But the first point I want to make about which distro you get (whether you buy or download)... is that in your case it is critical that you choose a "live distro" as opposed to one that is "install only". openSUSE has both of these types on OSDisc.com.... so that is the first serious warning for you to watch for. Installing will threaten your Windows much more that running "live".

OK, I don't want to go on further... too much too fast doesn't hold folks attention too well usually. There are a number of issues for you to consider, which is why I suggest taking your time and considering the options. But generally we want to focus on getting you running with a USB stick. Perhaps the next round should be to find out how much you know about BIOS/UEFI.... that information will probably be a factor on what Linux distro you choose. You might also check this... when you boot your computer, do you see some options briefly on the black screen, probably with the computer brand logo, but definitely before Windows starts... F-key options usually that will let you go into "Setup" or "Boot options". Sometimes Windows 10 hides those, so if you don't see them it will add another complication that we may have to overcome.

Cheers
 

ShipWreck-1

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Hi atanere, sorry for not answering you earlier. You've been very precise and exhaustive in your answer, and by first I want to thank you for that and for your weise advices. In my issue I mentioned Suse because many years ago I used it for a while until my computer was stolen, but may be it would be utterly renewed to date that it might look new to me; anyhow I've already learnt several things from your answer, enough to make me feel assured; bootup options aren't visible in my computer on starting (that isn't related with Win10 installation, it was that way earlier, perhaps related with having an SSD as a storage device) but I'm wondering "using a live-run version of Linux which will run evenly through a cold boot, adhering to your description why should I need to set up boot options in my PC?", this point seems to me to be smoothly bypassed, instead I utterly share your advice of making a recovery disc and backup copying all my data, but it'll need a bit longer time.
Thank you so much again for now,

the best,
 

atanere

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As I said above, take your time... try to understand all the steps as you go along, and hopefully you can avoid some of the pitfalls that many people encounter when they first begin their Linux journey.

openSUSE (as opposed to their enterprise class distribution) is still a great system, and if you favor that... then go for it. Just be sure when you get ready to download (or buy) that you get the "Live" version and not the "Install" version. openSUSE also has two varieties, a rolling-release (bleeding edge) model called "Tumbleweed," and their more stable product called "Leap". The live versions of Tumbleweed are unsupported and not a true indication of the full installed version (and you cannot later install Tumbleweed from the Live version). Creating a Live version of Leap is different from any other distro that I know of... you actually "build your own" Leap version on SuseStudio here: https://susestudio.com/ (you must create an account to do this).

If your startup options are not visible, it's not due to the SSD drive. Windows 10 sometimes masks those options (I have had that happen on an older latptop with regular hard drive). If your options were masked earlier than Windows 10, then maybe Windows 8 also does that sometimes, but I've never heard of it. Once you have a bootable USB with Linux, it may or may not boot up when you plug it in and restart (or cold boot)... depending on the BIOS/UEFI settings. So if it doesn't boot, it's likely because it is set to boot the hard drive first. And if you can't see the "Setup" option at boot time so you can go in and change it to boot USB first.... then you have to jump through some hoops with Windows 10 to access the Settings. Its too much a pain to describe at this point, so we'll just wait to see if you need to do this or not when you have a bootable USB stick.

Just a bit more about BIOS/UEFI... there are other settings too that can affect your ability to boot up Linux, and sometimes which version of Linux will make a difference. openSUSE is a good choice, in that regard, because it is well developed and can deal with the BIOS/UEFI settings even when they are set for Windows. Some other distros are also quite capable (Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, and some others), and so you should begin with one of these. Some other distros require that you make changes to the BIOS/UEFI settings or they will not work. You definitely want a Linux distro that can play well with Windows, and that can share the same settings in BIOS/UEFI.... at least until you learn more.

OK, enough for now. Follow up and ask questions at your own pace. I'm here every day, but I do work so some days have less free time than others. And other folks here will help you along and offer advice as well.

Cheers
 

wizardfromoz

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Wizard just passing through, and welcome @ShipWreck-1 ;)

Just wanted to be sure that the OP has had identified what he really wants to do.

For example is it the case that you want to run a full install of Linux from a USB stick? If that is so, you would want a 16 - 32 GB stick, and if Windows is the only OS on the HDD that will mean we don't monkey with any Windows startup, but would have to press certain keys at startup, having modified your BIOS to boot from the stick first.

Or do you wish Linux for running and saving some data to, and having that data retained, that involves Persistence?

just covering the bases here, and haven't mentioned Virtual Machines once in this Post (oops :rolleyes:)

Cheers

Wizard
 

ShipWreck-1

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As I said above, take your time... try to understand all the steps as you go along, and hopefully you can avoid some of the pitfalls that many people encounter when they first begin their Linux journey.

openSUSE (as opposed to their enterprise class distribution) is still a great system, and if you favor that... then go for it. Just be sure when you get ready to download (or buy) that you get the "Live" version and not the "Install" version. openSUSE also has two varieties, a rolling-release (bleeding edge) model called "Tumbleweed," and their more stable product called "Leap". The live versions of Tumbleweed are unsupported and not a true indication of the full installed version (and you cannot later install Tumbleweed from the Live version). Creating a Live version of Leap is different from any other distro that I know of... you actually "build your own" Leap version on SuseStudio here: https://susestudio.com/ (you must create an account to do this).

If your startup options are not visible, it's not due to the SSD drive. Windows 10 sometimes masks those options (I have had that happen on an older latptop with regular hard drive). If your options were masked earlier than Windows 10, then maybe Windows 8 also does that sometimes, but I've never heard of it. Once you have a bootable USB with Linux, it may or may not boot up when you plug it in and restart (or cold boot)... depending on the BIOS/UEFI settings. So if it doesn't boot, it's likely because it is set to boot the hard drive first. And if you can't see the "Setup" option at boot time so you can go in and change it to boot USB first.... then you have to jump through some hoops with Windows 10 to access the Settings. Its too much a pain to describe at this point, so we'll just wait to see if you need to do this or not when you have a bootable USB stick.

Just a bit more about BIOS/UEFI... there are other settings too that can affect your ability to boot up Linux, and sometimes which version of Linux will make a difference. openSUSE is a good choice, in that regard, because it is well developed and can deal with the BIOS/UEFI settings even when they are set for Windows. Some other distros are also quite capable (Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, and some others), and so you should begin with one of these. Some other distros require that you make changes to the BIOS/UEFI settings or they will not work. You definitely want a Linux distro that can play well with Windows, and that can share the same settings in BIOS/UEFI.... at least until you learn more.

OK, enough for now. Follow up and ask questions at your own pace. I'm here every day, but I do work so some days have less free time than others. And other folks here will help you along and offer advice as well.

Cheers
Very good, now things go being steered into a frame of "normality", that is live boot is gliding out of mystery: I remember well when the boot sequence might be settled and swapped between floppies A/B ad HD C, I just need to get acquainted of the wiz-key to enter my system's BIOS, this might be a bit tricky. ;)

Cheers,
 

ShipWreck-1

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Wizard just passing through, and welcome @ShipWreck-1 ;)

Just wanted to be sure that the OP has had identified what he really wants to do.

For example is it the case that you want to run a full install of Linux from a USB stick? If that is so, you would want a 16 - 32 GB stick, and if Windows is the only OS on the HDD that will mean we don't monkey with any Windows startup, but would have to press certain keys at startup, having modified your BIOS to boot from the stick first.

Or do you wish Linux for running and saving some data to, and having that data retained, that involves Persistence?

just covering the bases here, and haven't mentioned Virtual Machines once in this Post (oops :rolleyes:)

Cheers

Wizard
Great ! ;) I'm mostly busy with other topics, but be sure that I'm a guy who likes to share, . .. sharing fuels and spurs global improvement with advantage for everybody, .. . :)
 

atanere

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Very good, now things go being steered into a frame of "normality", that is live boot is gliding out of mystery: I remember well when the boot sequence might be settled and swapped between floppies A/B ad HD C, I just need to get acquainted of the wiz-key to enter my system's BIOS, this might be a bit tricky. ;)

Cheers,
As you learn Linux, you will find drive assignments tricky indeed! Linux does not use "drive letters" (A/B/C) and this is one of the reasons it can confuse people in the beginning... and sometimes cause folks to kill their Windows due to not understanding these differences. But, again, booting a "live Linux" on a USB will not cause you these problems so you don't need to worry just yet.

Wizard mentioned something that I think you will want to consider when you create your first USB.... persistence. This is a feature (on some Linux, not all) that you include when you create the pen drive. It allows up to 4 GB of storage that Linux will be able remember between reboots (the info "persists"). This means if you use a wireless network, it will remember your network and your password so you don't have to enter it in every time you run Linux. It will also allow you to install some programs that will stay on the USB. This is VERY convenient and for some folks, it turns their USB into a full system that they can take wherever they travel. It can store your email, your bookmarks, etc... up to that 4 GB limit.

You need a special program to put Linux on a USB drive anyway, but not all of these programs support persistence. My personal favorite used to be the Universal USB Installer, but I don't use Windows much anymore. There are some nice instructions here on setting up Ubuntu Linux with persistence using another program called LinuxLive USB Creator.

Ubuntu would be a good choice for you to start with, but I would also highly recommend Linux Mint in either their MATE or Cinnamon desktop editions.

Wizard suggested a USB stick size of 16-32 GB, but even an 8 GB is plenty... so it's good to go cheap and smaller (and maybe buy several to try different things). You can buy USB sticks on osdisc.com that have persistence enabled, but they are mostly 32-64 GB, so you're paying more for that size and you don't use it. I just took a quick look at Amazon and found a 16 GB SanDisk for only $4.99... and I imagine similar deals can be found elsewhere.

Cheers
 

wizardfromoz

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Wizard suggested a USB stick size of 16-32 GB
... that is if the OP wished to put a full install on the stick, not just persistence. We may be on different pages, a little.

Have to go for a few hours but later when I can :)

Wiz
 

atanere

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... that is if the OP wished to put a full install on the stick, not just persistence. We may be on different pages, a little.

Have to go for a few hours but later when I can :)

Wiz
I've held off going that direction because of his statement in #1 that he doesn't want to threaten Windows. Doing a full install introduces Linux partitioning. and this is where many new users get into trouble because they don't understand the drive assignments and the chance of installing the bootloader into a wrong location. It seems (to me) that USB with persistence is about the safest way to go and still have the flexibility to save information and install some programs.

Cheers
 

arochester

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Hmm.
It seems (to me) that USB with persistence is about the safest way to go
and
Doing a full install introduces Linux partitioning.
A USB stick with persistence will still have Linux partitions. It's like a LiveCD plus a persistence partition.

An even safer way might be to use Puppy Linux or one of its variations.
3. Puppy Linux
Puppy Linux is a fully fledged Linux distribution. It is about 130mb to download and can be installed straight to a USB drive.

The difference between Puppy Linux and a live USB drive with persistence is that Puppy Linux is a fully fledged operating system.

With a live CD or live USB you will get a better experience when you fully install the operating system to your hard drive. Puppy Linux is optimised to run from the USB drive.

Any applications you install are saved to your hard drive under a single file with an SFS extension.

Puppy will not affect your Windows in any way whatsoever so you do not have to worry about the SFS file damaging Windows. The SFS file is just another file in much the same way a PDF, DOC or XLS file is.
http://dailylinuxuser.com/2012/09/5-ways-to-try-linux-without-messing-up.html
 

atanere

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A USB stick with persistence will still have Linux partitions. It's like a LiveCD plus a persistence partition.
Yes, but the OP does not have to set those partitions, the Windows-based software handles those chores. The "full install" to USB requires at least a little knowledge of /dev/sda and /dev/sdb and all that (or else there could be trouble). Plus there is the UEFI issue and needing an EFI system partition (ESP)... since he's using Windows 10, his system is likely configured for that.

Puppy is a great choice, but it is also still a variation of DVD or USB install... not really different from Ubuntu or Mint, except I am unsure if it will work in the UEFI environment. I haven't tested it in awhile. Your link (2012) also offers WUBI as an choice... but WUBI is now discontinued and not a good option. VirtualBox or other VM software is a good way to go though.

Cheers
 

wizardfromoz

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Just an FYI on Puppy.

On one of my computers, I run Tahrpup 6.05 CE as a full install (sacrilege). It has no difficulty running with UEFI nor with being on a GPT-formatted drive.

Tahrpup as some can tell by its name has the access to the Ubuntu repositories for Ubuntu 14.04 'Trusty Tahr', and that is an LTS (Long Term Support) product which has an eol (end of life) in April 2019 , some time, yet, away, so hopefully that also applies to Tahrpup.

On the subject of Pups, our own @darry1966 has his own spin, with AnitaOS here https://www.linux.org/threads/anitaos-a-diy-distro-you-build-it-yourself.8860/page-7#post-48399 and he may have relevant input?

Also, if Puppy is seen as a viable option, and whilst I hesitate to refer people offsite (in case the buggers don't come back, lol), Murga Linux is the place to go for all things Puppy. John Murga has been running the site almost since Australia's Barry Kauler invented Puppy.

At that site, a bloke name of Mike Walsh is very good, you can tell him wizardfromoz sent you, then he can email me and have a grumble :p

Cheers

Wizard
 

atanere

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Just an FYI on Puppy.
Greetings all,

I have long harped about UEFI issues, and this may be a good time (at least partly on-topic as the OP may benefit) for me to give some examples. Puppy is an excellent distro, especially for older and low-resource computers... but the OP is using Windows 10, and so he should be capable running any modern mainstream Linux. But he is new to Linux (has not yet booted it for his first time)... he doesn't want to break Windows, and he expressed a preference for Linux on USB. I think it is fair to assume that a Windows 10 computer will be UEFI based, and it will have Secure Boot enabled (and maybe Fast Boot too). So, to me, the safest thing is to guide him to something with which he will not have to make changes in the UEFI setup. Setting up a USB with Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and (I think) Fedora should all provide a mainstream boot-and-run live Linux distro, with the exception that he may still have to enter UEFI setup to change his boot order (whether USB or DVD)... but other settings can remain untouched. (And he need not even change the UEFI boot order if he can find the Boot Menu interrupt.)

I don't have a lot of UEFI experience, and much of it has been bad... meaning I'm learning a little bit. :confused::D And as I said earlier, I haven't tested Puppy in awhile, so this is a good opportunity to reevaluate it and look at its UEFI ability. My experience today is different from Wizard's experience.... but that's how UEFI is sometimes. It works differently for some people than it does for others.... so Wizard's experience is not invalidated by my experiments today. I downloaded and burned DVD's for three of the latest Puppy versions (all 64-bit): Slacko 6.3.0, TahrPup 6.0.5, and TahrPup 6.0.6-UEFI (with high expectation for that one). I tested these three versions on three different computers. Here is a summary:

1. BIOS-only desktop: All three DVD's booted and ran perfectly. I verified my .iso checksums and that the DVD's work on this computer indicates they probably have no defect in burning the DVD's.

2. UEFI laptop by HP:
a) With Secure Boot and UEFI enabled - Slacko/TahrPup not recognized. TahrPup-UEFI recognized but fails security check (issue with Secure Boot).
b) Secure Boot off, but UEFI enabled - Slacko and TahrPup not recognized. TahrPup-UEFI now tries to boot, but fails on many attempts at "loading kernel modules" stage. Did not search for a workaround for this problem, if one exists.
c) Secure Boot off, UEFI disabled (Legacy enabled) - Slacko boots and runs. Both TahrPup versions stall at the "loading kernel modules" stage described above and do not run.

3. UEFI laptop by Lenovo:
a) With Secure Boot and UEFI enabled - Slacko/TahrPup not recognized. TahrPup-UEFI blocked by security policy (different wording but same issue with Secure Boot as on HP laptop).
b) Secure Boot off, UEFI enabled - Slacko and TahrPup not recognized. TahrPup-UEFI fully boots and runs on this laptop.
c) Secure Boot off, UEFI disabled (Legacy enabled) - Slacko boots and runs. TahrPup boots and runs, but screen is not properly sized. TahrPup-UEFI boots and runs.

So, Wizard's experience with TahrPup 6.0.5 works in a UEFI environment, but mine does not (in 2 computers). With UEFI being as quirky as it is, I might also have had different results if I had done this experiment with USB instead of DVD. I continue to try to learn and understand UEFI issues better, and newer computers may well be more stable than the laptops that I own (both Windows 8/8.1 originally). But because of Windows 10, I have lost any interest in buying new computers, so I am probably dooming myself to falling further and further behind in this fast-paced world. That's okay... I'm getting old anyway! :eek::D

Cheers
 

wizardfromoz

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HUGE "like" on the above ... a lot of work gone into that ... nicely done, Stan :D

I will have to run a couple of Pups on this Toshiba Satellite I am writing from but don't expect quick results :(

Wizard
 

JasKinasis

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Without wishing to go off-topic too much, or take this thread on a tangent:

A number of years ago I had a laptop with no HD. The HD died, so it was removed and destroyed. Until I could afford a new HD - I was running a full install of Ubuntu on a 8Gb USB stick. BTW: This was back when Gnome2 was Ubuntu's default DE.

To set it up, I copied the Ubuntu LiveCD/installer .iso onto an 4Gb USB stick - (using dd on a different Linux PC).

Then I booted my laptop from the 4Gb stick, with the 8Gb stick plugged into a different port.

When the live image booted to the desktop, I selected the option to install Ubuntu and did a full install of Ubuntu onto the 8Gb USB drive.
This wasn't a live-CD with persistence, it was a proper, full install.

And for the most part - it ran beautifully. It booted slightly faster than it did from HD too.

There was only one caveat/performance issue that I experienced:
At times the system seemed to come to a complete crawl - Initially I thought it was a memory related issue, or a bug in the desktop. But it was actually due to the limited throughput of the USB bus.

Basically, when the system had a lot of processes running - that were simultaneously trying to read from and write to the USB drive (e.g. when downloading/installing updates and running a browser and building a piece of software from source) - sometimes threads were having to wait for other threads to finish reading/writing to the USB drive before they could perform their reads/writes. So at particularly busy intervals, certain system/desktop related processes would hang for a few seconds making it seem like the system had crashed/frozen.

But once all of the disk activity had died down - the system would respond normally. It wasn't horrendous, but it could get annoying sometimes!

This slow-down was sometimes apparent in "live with persistence" type installs too. But the effect seemed to be more pronounced in "full" USB installs.

That said, this was a good number of years ago. By now there may have been some changes made that have mitigated this problem somewhat. IDK. I haven't tried a USB install for a long time!

But it is possible to do a full install of Linux on a USB stick as if it was a normal HD.
 


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