Run Linux from a USB flash memory drive

The DVD-Rom drive is becoming obsolete and fewer computers have one these days. A lot of laptops don’t have an optical drive for example. So how do you install and run Linux, as it is designed for DVDs?

There are a great many flavours of Linux and it can be fun to try some on your computer. You don’t want to lose Windows of course, and you need a way of running Linux without changing the currently installed operating system.

Downloading Linux is easy and at distrowatch.com is information and links for hundreds of versions. Let’s take a popular one, such as Ubuntu. Version 15.04 was recently released (15 is the year and 04 is the month of the release). It is available for download as a .iso DVD image. The idea is that you burn it to a DVD-R and then either run it or install it. How do you do that on a computer without a DVD-Rom drive?

All computers have USB sockets and lots of people have one or more USB flash memory drives (sometimes called thumb drives or pen drives). If you have one that is 4GB or more, you can install Linux to it and boot up from it.

Download the Ubuntu .iso image and save it to the disk drive. Then go and download a copy of USB Universal Installer.

Run the program and in the Step 1 list, select the version of Linux you are using. In this case it is Ubuntu. In Step 2, click the Browse button and select the .iso file you downloaded. In Step 3, select the USB flash drive. It is best if you plug it in before starting and tick the box Show All Drives.

 Universal USB Installer

Don’t select the hard disk of you will damage Windows. In the screen shot you can see that E:\NEW VOLUME 29GB has been selected. You can tell the USB flash drive from the size – 29GB.

That’s it. Click the Create button and sit back and wait for it to finish. It will take a minute or two, then you can quit the program and restart Windows.

 Universal USB Installer

The PC is configured to automatically start from the hard disk drive with Windows on. To get it to start from a different drive, such as the USB flash drive with Linux on, you have to press a hotkey. On my computer this is F9, but yours could be a different key. Try all the F (function) keys until you find the right one. Then select the USB drive and boot from it.

 Ubuntu 15.04

This does not affect anything on the hard disk drive, so if you quit Linux and reboot the PC it will go straight back into Windows.

Not only is it interesting to try different versions of Linux, it can also be used as a rescue system. If Windows will not start up, boot up Linux and you will be able to access the PC’s disk drive and rescue your documents, photos, music and so on.


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