I realise by now practically everyone in the world has been using USB flash memory sticks for a long time but for some odd reason I’ve never actually bought one myself. Why is this you ask? Well, I suppose mainly because the places where I worked often supplied them to me as part of the job and I also carry my laptop around with me everywhere, so I already have all my data. I’m beginning to worry I’ll need expensive surgery to separate me from that computer when the time comes but that’s for another article. Last week I was asked to install Ubuntu on a netbook for a friend and the most obvious way seemed to be booting from a USB stick, netbooks don’t have optical drives you see so the CD was of little use to me. I bought myself a 4gb Freecom Databar for just a few quid and it was about this time I first tried the niftly little program I’d like to talk to you about today.
It’s called unetbootin and people have been telling me how great it is for quite some time, not being a USB stick owner myself – I’ve probably surrendered my last shred of geek cred with that confession – I hadn’t had much call to try it though. There are various ways to put a Linux distribution on a USB stick and making it bootable, I don’t even think it’s that hard a process but I wanted something quick, easy and effective. That’s just what I got with this tool. One click and you can download an install image for the distro of your choice, copy it to your USB stick and make it bootable. Bish bash bosh!! As I believe some Cockney types are prone to say. I tested this out on Ubuntu 8.10, my temporary home while I write my long overdue Debian review but this process should work with any Linux distro the same I think. Unetbootin even has a Windows version so you can free yourself of that old ball and chain with ease. You have to do a few quick things to setup the program and get started on Linux, so here comes the science bit:
- Firstly head to http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/ and download the unetbootin.bin file, save it somewhere handy
- Next you’ll need to make it executable by adding security permissions to the file, not as scary as it sounds
- Right-click the .bin file you saved earlier in your file browser to bing up a menu
- Go to “properties” at the bottom of the pop up menu
- Head to the permissions tab and tick the box which says “allow executing file as a program”
- Now you can just double click the file and it will run, you may also want to load your USB stick before doing that though as it doesn’t seem to detect it unless it’s plugged in when you start the program
- You will be asked for your root password when first loading, it’s nothing to worry about
That’s it you can now use the program to load a plethora of Linux distributions and even some BSDs (heads up BSD fans) onto your USB stick and try them out. It’s easy. There are two drop down boxes at the top of the main window, just select your poison and click ok, it should have detected your USB drive already provided you plugged it in, if not just close the program and reopen, it’ll find it. That’s all there is too it. The speed of the download operation will obviously depend on your Internet connection but you can also load any ISO image you might already have on your machine to the stick in a matter of seconds. Once it’s completed you can use the stick to boot (and install if you choose) on any device capable of booting from USB, as most modern computers are.
Have a play around with the program and let me know how you get on in the comments if you like. I think it’s a lot of fun and one thing’s for sure, it’ll save an old distro hopper like me a fortune on blank CDs and DVDs. Take that Phillips! I can already hear the sound of their shares tumbling at the news, though aren’t everybody’s these days. I’ll be producing a quick screencast about this in the coming days so keep an eye out for that too.
Thanks for reading and enjoy 🙂