Introduction: How to Install a Linux OS in Your USB Flash Drive and Turn It Into a Portable App Suite

Picture of How to Install a Linux OS in Your USB Flash Drive and Turn It Into a Portable App Suite

Do you want to add more functionality to your flash drive? Did you ever wish you could do more than just put in files for printing or copying? Did you know you can install a Linux operating system in your USB and bring it wherever you want? Also, did you know you can install "portable" editions of your favorite apps in your USB? So whenever you borrow someone's computer and they don't have your favorite browser installed, you can just plug in your flash drive and all your settings and preferences are automatically set just the way you want it! With this instructable, you can do just that!

Step 1: What We Will Need!

So these are the basic requirements for this tutorial:

1. A USB flash drive, at least 4GB in capacity. 8GB or greater is recommended though. The bigger, the better.
2. An internet connection.
3. A computer running Windows.
4. A resolve to continue knowing the risks involved, which aren't really that drastic as long as you follow the instructions.

Now once you've acquired the above, let's get started!

Step 2: Downloading the Ubuntu OS and the USB Installer

Picture of Downloading the Ubuntu OS and the USB Installer

You've probably heard of the term Linux, it's a kind of operating system, similar to Windows. Linux comes in many different forms or flavors if you will, called distributions. The most common of which is Ubuntu. And Ubuntu is what we'll be installing in our flash drive.

Now head on down to the following link to download the OS: http://www.ubuntu.com/download/ubuntu/download

Click on the big orange "Start Download" button to, well, start the download. Depending on your internet connection, it may or may not be finished in a few minutes. If not, go and make yourself a cup of coffee or something then watch some TV. Once it's done, make sure of it's location in your computer. It's probably either in your "Downloads" folder or your Desktop.

Afterwards, click on this link to go to the download page of the USB Installer for Ubuntu, then click on the "Download" after scrolling down a bit: http://www.pendrivelinux.com/downloads/Universal-USB-Installer/  

It would be best if you save it on the same location as the Ubuntu ISO, and even better if they're on the Desktop.

Step 3: Installing the OS Into Your USB

Picture of Installing the OS Into Your USB

Now that we've prepared everything for the OS installation, it's a good time to plug in your flash drive. Before starting, make a backup of its contents to your computer just to be on the safe side. Take note of its drive letter, in our example, it's drive G:/, and its capacity is 8GB.

Now double-click on the USB Installer we downloaded in the previous step, click yes if the User Account Control prompts you to allow the program. Now, let's do this step-by-step:

1. On the first screen, click on "I Agree".

2. After that, it'll let you select a Linux distribution from a drop-down list, click on that and select "Ubuntu 11.04".

3. Disregard the "Download the iso" option as we have already done that.

4. Now click on the "Browse..." button and go to where you saved the Ubuntu ISO file then double-click it.

5. Next, and be careful on this step, because you may get confused if you have any other flash drives plugged in. Click on the drop-down list where you will select the drive letter of your flash drive. In this example, we will select G:/, but it may be different in your computer.  

6. Take note of the "Format X:\ Drive" option(with X being the drive letter of your flash drive). It's NOT really necessary, but you may want to have a fresh look on your drive after installation, if yes, then select this option, it'll format it to FAT32, which is normal. You can copy everything from your backup afterwards.

7. After that, click "Create" to start the installation. A dialogue box will pop up, stating what it will do to your flash drive, this is normal, after reading it through, click "Yes".

8. Relax and let the installer do its thing. After it's done, click "Close". When you check your flash drive, it probably has less space remaining than before, obviously because we installed the OS, but don't fret, it's probably only 1.5-ishGB. Also, you may be surprised of the funky sounding files and folders inside, like "casper", "pool", and "md5sum", but it's all part of Ubuntu, so don't worry and don't delete anything.

Step 4: Testing Out Ubuntu

Picture of Testing Out Ubuntu

Now that we have Ubuntu installed in our flash drive, why don't we take it for a spin? Do know this part gets kinda tricky.

So, remove your flash drive and Shut Down your computer. When it's off, plug in your flash drive again then turn on your computer. As soon as you press the power-on button, keep pressing F10(or F12, it depends on your computer) to access the BIOS. The BIOS(or Basic Input Output System) may look rather strange because of all the text and complete lack of graphics, and the fact that you have to use your keyboard to navigate around the menus.

A WORD OF CAUTION, MESSING WITH THE WRONG SETTINGS IN THE BIOS CAN LEAD TO PROBLEMS. BE EXTRA CAREFUL IN THIS PART.

Let's do this step-by-step again.

1. Once you've gotten in, navigate to the "System Configuration" menu.

2. Look for the "Boot Options" or something similar to that. It'll take you to another menu.

3. Then go to "Boot Order" or "Boot Priority" (BIOS'es are all built different depending on your computer's motherboard).

4. Once you've found it, change the order of the system boot with "USB Flash Drive" or "USB Disk Key" or something similar on the very top of the list, meaning it should be the first in terms of boot priority. Check the BIOS's instructions on how to do so.

5. Afterwards, save your changes and restart your computer(take note some BIOS'es boot straight into Windows after exiting, but don't worry, you don't have to go through it again, just restart from Windows).

You will then be greeted by the Ubuntu Installer boot menu, wherein you should select the first option, "Run Ubuntu from this USB".

After a few loading screens(and some matrix-style messages popping up) you'll be greeted by the Ubuntu desktop, and voila, you have successfully installed and ran Ubuntu from your very very awesome flash drive. You may now pat yourself at the back and gain a few bragging rights.

Once you're done tripping around Ubuntu click the I/O button on the upper right corner to see a menu from which you can shut down the computer. Then remove your flash drive afterwards.

Now we're done with the first part of the tutorial! Congratulations! Now, on to the part where we install portable apps on your flash drive! 

Note: The portable apps we're talking about here are different from the apps you may have seen in Ubuntu, meaning these portable apps are actually programs you run in Windows, not Ubuntu. So if you're thinking "Wait, so I gotta go through all that BIOS matrix stuff just so I can run a portable app?" think again. Ubuntu is just there for the purpose of say, your Windows OS borked on you and won't start. Using your flash drive, you can boot into Ubuntu instead of Windows and may have a chance to copy all your important files on a separate drive before completely re-installing Windows or still be able to catch the girl you like online on Facebook through the Firefox app within Ubuntu.

Step 5: Downloading and Installing the App Suite Pack

Picture of Downloading and Installing the App Suite Pack

This part won't be as hard as the first one, you can probably tell because we're downloading and installing in the same step, so chill. Portable app suites, somewhat like Linux, come in different forms. But probably the most common and handiest one is from PortableApps.com.

So head on to the following link, scroll down a bit, and click on which suite edition you want (the "Suite Standard" is recommended): http://portableapps.com/suite  

If you're worried about the amount of space you'll be sacrificing, you can pick the other editions which are more merciful in terms of install size. Also, if you think your flash drive looks cluttered from all the Ubuntu files, you can hide them by opening your flash drive, pressing CTRL+A on your keyboard, right-click any item then click on "Properties". Check the "Hidden" option near the bottom then click "Apply". All clean! Doing this won't affect Ubuntu.

Once the download is finished, double-click the installer. It's pretty straight-forward. But to be on the safe side, let's do it step-by-step:

1. On the first screen, click "Next".

2. On the second, click the "I accept...agreement" option to agree then "Next".

3. It get's a little teensy bit tricky here, but nothing to be worried about. Click on the "Browse" button and from the window that pops up, click on your flash drive(the flash drive's name itself, not the little arrow beside it), which is probably named "PENDRIVE" because of Ubuntu.

4. Click "OK" then "Install".

5. It might take a little while, so you can take a break in the meantime. If it looks like it stopped, it didn't, it's just extracting the apps from the installer.

Once it's finally done, click on "Finish" the portable app suite will start up for the first time. It looks very similar to the Windows Start Menu, so navigating shouldn't be so hard.

Step 6: Installing/Adding New Portable Apps

Picture of Installing/Adding New Portable Apps

If you installed the "Suite Standard" edition, then you already have a plethora of apps to enjoy time with. But if you went "Gasp! My favorite browser of all time, Google Chrome, was not pre-installed! Oh woe is me! Fare thee well good internets..."

Do not fret Chrome user! Installing new portable apps is as easy as pie! Whatever that means. There are two possibilities in this situation, the portable app is available in the PortableApps.com site or the portable app is not available in the site but available elsewhere.

Situation 1: The site: http://portableapps.com/  

1. Use the search bar on the upper right to look for the app you want.
2. Once you've found it, click the "Download <Version number>" button.
3. It'll save as a ".paf.exe" format. Double-click it to install.
4. Follow the very straight-forward instructions. It'll automatically detect your flash drive.
5. Done! Enjoy the beauty that is your new portable app!

Situation 2: Not available at the site...but available somewhere else. Make sure the app is in a portable form, usually just a single .exe file.

1. Download the portable app from wherever you got it.
2. Make a folder inside the "PortableApps" folder in your flash drive. For example let's say, "MyApp"
3. Copy the portable app you downloaded into the newly created folder.
4. Start the PortableApps launcher or click on the "Options" menu then "Refresh App Icons".
5. Voila! You've just manually installed your portable app which wasn't available at the site!

Well, that concludes our instructable on turning your ugly old flash drive into a feature-filled, ultra cool, very very handy peripheral that blow everyone's minds. Thanks for reading!

Comments

plasmalucario (author)2015-11-24

will it work on a school chromebook? (everything on are school is blocked except school related websites and a couple of gaming websites from weebly.)

Dude school chromebooks wont allow you to run a program of this nature on it

so you have to have admin access before you try this.

DarrenR18 (author)plasmalucario2016-01-27

No, on must school computers the bios or locked. And you need a way to get a WiFi password.

DarrenR18 (author)plasmalucario2016-01-27

No, on must school computers the bios or locked. And you need a way to get a WiFi password.

Destroy ns (author)2017-04-19

I have a problem here when i get to the screen to install Ubuntu from the flash drive it goes into a command line saying BOOT and above it it says invaild or corrupt kernal/image

SharangG1 (author)Destroy ns2017-05-11

You need to re download the ISO, you may have downloaded the wrong file or it must have been an incomplete download

ShaneZ3 (author)2017-04-24

There was way too much explanation in the first 3 steps. I nearly got confused until I realized that all it meant was, download iso, download uui, use uui on iso and direct it to flash drive. It really didn't need to be explained like it was rocket science.

BrianR266 (author)2017-04-20

Excellent instructions, many thanks. It really was easy as pie! :)

Zeon-N (author)2017-03-18

Linux OS worked.

Zeon-N (author)2017-03-10

Hello..!
Really good thing above there..!
I have a situation here. My PC crashed and when I tried to install windows OS again there is an error. However I need the files from my PC. If I am able to boot LINUX OS form pendrive is it possible that I can copy the files from my pc to another external drive. Is it possible that my files present in the windows OS (Files present in D,E, F drives) will be visible /available in this ubuntu OS as well.?

Will this method work..??

Kindly help me in this regard.

Thanks in advance...!!!! :)

idude (author)2017-02-01

This is lame, you can't install linux on fat32! What this create is an installation flash drive to install linux on another drive.

phishinphool (author)2016-11-22

I started teh process outlined but then read the comments below. Sounded like it was way too complicated so cancelled the whole shebang. Why does someone have to reinstall drivers? What is a Persistant file and who needs one and why? Etc, etc.

civic man (author)2012-05-02

hi great guide worked great but i have a problem and need you to clear it up for me i cant install any drivers without restarting when i restart there is no way for it to boot back into ubuntu.help
cheers

haety (author)civic man2016-11-16

Oye pagal.... usb hi hia na linux to gaya

katkisson (author)2016-10-18

Hi, guys,

So, on this instructable on how to put a linux disto on a usb drive and get apps is good. I can see where to choose to set a persistant file to save work to when downloading the distro to the usb, but how much room should I set, as much as I want? Will that amount make the usb run slower? How do I save my work when I shut down for the day on the usb? Also, could I load Minecraft on to the usb? Minecraft works on linux, I know, but will it run on the usb? Thanks for your help here. Karen

Ronos (author)2016-09-22

the ISO does not download, only a whole lot of folders, please help!

tnswimmer68 (author)2016-09-19

Instructions worked well.. until I rebooted. I made it persistant so
I can save changes to a 32gb USB flash drive with64-bit version of
16.04 Ubuntu LTS iso.I want to keep Ubuntu so I can use it on
different computers, but as soon as I make changes/run updates and
reboot. It takes me to the "(initramfs) Unable to find a medium
containing a live file system." I can't install or boot to disk or
anything after that. I re-imaged my USB drive again, and tried again..
made just a few changes and rebooted.. same issue. I tried booting on
another machine, same message.. unable to find live file system. These
are all Dell Win7 64-bit computers, but different models. Any ideas?
I've downloaded the 32-bit version of the ISO and will try that this
time. But any ideas what might be the problem?

TiagoV15 (author)2016-08-30

Just finished installing and running Ubuntu 16.04 on my ultrabook. I just have a question, it is possible to mount other flash drives or hard drives while running ubuntu throught USB?

tutdude98 (author)2012-06-03

Thats not really good to make with usb becouse usb can write and read about 1 milion times and then its over but hdd have unlimited times of writing and reading

aRBemo (author)tutdude982016-03-22

you use the USB to test compatibility then install it properly

tutdude98 (author)aRBemo2016-03-23

yep
but you can also run linux os directly from cd without instaling :D

RicC8 (author)tutdude982016-04-26

...which burns and wastes a CD/DVD. For anyone who evaluates many Linux distros (or even occasional ones), the USB is a much better choice. Unless you use the USB key constantly for years, you'll never wear it out. You're far more likely to lose it first. Or realize that it has become to small for your needs, like the many I have whose size is measured in megabytes, not gigabytes! :)

tutdude98 (author)RicC82016-04-28

if you just want to test it then yes its better

but if you plan on running it for more than few hours then it would be better to use portable hdd

RicC8 (author)tutdude982016-04-28

Of course--but that wasn't the point of your original comment. You were talking about burning the distro to a CD.

tutdude98 (author)RicC82016-04-30

Yeah becouse its easier to just burn iso on cd

BiggDanny (author)2016-04-20

When installing Linux on the flash drive It gives you the option to "Set a persistent file size for storing changes (Optional)."

What changes are they talking about? Will there be less space for portable apps. Should I set a Persistent file size, in your opinion? If so, how big?

SeanC101 (author)2016-03-18

I installed opensuse on my usb disk. It turned out to run quite slowly. Any solutions?

aRBemo (author)SeanC1012016-03-24

Its just a way of testing it not a long term solution, virtualisation through windows or other operating system is another way of using it. Look up virtual box by Orace (Sun)

HannahB24 (author)2015-12-29

PLEASE ANSWER - i downloaded the OS onto my USB with the installer and you can see the files on my USB and i triple checked for the boot options on the BIOS and everything else, does anybody have any idea what i am missing?

basmalt (author)HannahB242016-03-23

Make sure when the boot up screen comes up with logo that there is an option for boot like pressing F12, I have a dell laptop even though I enabled the boot from USB it would go directly to windows. hope that Helps.

TristanS4 (author)2015-08-28

Will the instructions work with a Mac????

AlinA4 (author)2015-07-12

Great tutorial ! It helped me to save data that I thought would be safe before re-installing W8.

IgorJ3 (author)2015-06-30

Good and usefull guide, thank you.

markthepotatoguy (author)2015-04-07

omg thank you so much this allowed me to boot my broken mac youre awesome

JazzM1 (author)2015-03-12

Great ! tutorial ! Thank you for taking out time and explaining so nicely.I haven't tried this yet but I will soon :D

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