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Fedora on a stick

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols on August 05, 2008 (4:00:00 PM)

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Fedora 9 now lets you create a bootable Linux distribution on a flash drive with persistence. In other words, you can not only boot any PC that will accept USB drive booting into Linux, you can even boot into your own personal desktop. Now, that can be useful.

Perhaps the easiest way to set up your own Fedora desktop on a stick is to use, believe it or not, liveusb-creator on Windows. This program gives you a straightforward GUI for creating Fedora desktop sticks. There is also a version of the program for Linux, but it's still in beta.

Of course, you can also install the Fedora stick desktop with command-line instructions. I tried both ways, and while the Windows application is mindlessly simple, using the manual way on Linux isn't going to task anyone with any Linux experience.

Either way you do it, you have the option of installing Fedora as a non-destructive upgrade, so if you already have files on a USB drive you can keep them while still turning the stick into a bootable drive. In practice, however, I found that I got better results by zapping the stick's files and reformatting it. After all, it is just a USB drive. As far as I'm concerned, they're meant for temporary storage.

I also found, although Red Hat staffers told me that you can deploy Fedora on USB sticks with as little as 64MB of storage, you really don't want to do it with drives that hold less than 512MB. Officially, Fedora recommends that you use 1GB or larger USB drives.

The USB stick needs to be formatted in FAT-16 or -32 or the ext2 or ext3 filesystems. Most drives arrive preformatted in Windows' FAT-32.

There's a long list of tasks to keep in mind when creating a Fedora USB stick, including making a USB drive bootable and setting a master boot record. I ran into a problem that wasn't covered though. I discovered that, for me at least, trying to create Fedora desktops on smaller USB drives or with older systems with USB 1.1 interfaces didn't work. When I tried, the installation either failed or I ended up with a stick that would boot but ran as slowly as if it had one foot in a bear-trap. Once I moved to good-sized drives and PCs with USB 2.0 ports, creating the Fedora desktops went off without a hitch.

I also found that it was almost impossible to boot and run the stick-based Fedora on old PCs with USB 1.1 ports. On systems with 2.0 USB ports, however, everything went well. You should be aware though that, to quote the Fedora scripts page, "This may or may not work on your flash drive or your computer due to different BIOS settings and capabilities. I've tested several flash drives on several computers and the results were unexpected and surprising. Flash Drive A worked on Computer X but not on Computer Y. Flash Drive B didn't work on Computer X but worked on Computer Y." In my experience, using recent Lenovo, Dell, Gateway, and Hewlett-Packard PCs, the USB-stick-based version of Fedora ran flawlessly.

That said, you won't mistake Fedora on USB for Fedora installed on a hard drive. The system is fast enough to be useful, but it's not as fast as native Fedora on the same system. On the other hand, I found it to be much faster than using a live CD on the same PC. And, of course, you can save your settings and work on the USB stick.

You can also install additional programs on your portable desktop. To do this you simply use Fedora's usual System -> Administration -> Add/Remove Programs from Fedora's default GNOME 2.22 interface. Once you've installed them on your stick, you can use the new programs just as you would any other application. This really is a full, no-compromise version of Fedora. It just happens to live on a USB stick.

Once you've booted a system with it, you can also use all of the PC's peripherals. To make full use of a system that normally boots Windows, you'll want to be sure to install NTFS Config. With this program, you'll be able to read and write to Windows systems' native NTFS hard drives. Once installed, you'll need to set up the drive configuration every time you're working on a new Windows PC. It's easy enough to do: pick NTFS Config from the System menu and set the hard drive to read/write. You will need to do this by hand, however, and you'll need to re-do it every time you switch PCs.

With Fedora on a stick drive, no matter where you go or what PC you're using, you'll have your own Fedora desktop already set up just the way you want it. Fedora 9 is an excellent, modern Linux; if you enjoy using it, you'll enjoy even more being able to use it on almost any PC at hand.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the operating system of choice for PCs and 2BSD Unix was what the cool kids used on their computers.

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on Fedora on a stick

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Persistent overlay sensitive

Posted by: TK on August 05, 2008 05:07 PM
We use a Fedora USB key for various tasks in our computer lab, and it works quite nicely. The only issue is the persistent overlay (2GB on our thumb drive) is extremely sensitive to the drive being used as storage. If you store too much (haven't experimented with how much), you end up losing the changes saved in the persistent overlay and the key is fairly useless. Only a guess, but if you have a 2GB overlay and 512MB worth of changes and installs stored on it, adding more than the remaining 1.5GB will push some or all of those changes off the overlay.

It'd be great if someone can clarify this or add some insight.

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hmm

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 88.229.164.209] on August 31, 2008 03:41 PM

Fedora on a stick

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 121.246.205.20] on August 05, 2008 06:14 PM
Thanks for the info about Fedora on a USB stick.. Can you figure out about running some Linux on a Pentium 1 Laptop ? Please give suggestions.

Explore Technology - www.itech7.com

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Fedora on a stick

Posted by: Srikanth Karra on August 05, 2008 07:07 PM
Recently I tried out the same on my Transcend 8GB drive. I was all more excited to see my pendrive boot :) And I agree that it is faster when compared to live CDs. But, I got stuck when I tried running many apps simultaneously. Anyways, it is always good to see your own desktop (with all those settings ranging from desktop wallpaper to user preferences or whatever) wherever you go.

Finally, you can carry your desktop in your pocket; Uhh... problem solved ;)

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Fedora on a stick

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.21.190.42] on August 06, 2008 01:24 AM
Not to spam or anything, but this is nothing new (http://lifecodeidiocy.enanocms.org/2008/01/17/fedora-on-a-stick/). You even stole the title of my blog post.

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Re: Fedora on a stick

Posted by: nanday on August 06, 2008 05:07 AM
An accusation of plagiarism is pretty serious, Dan, especially when leveled against a professional journalist. At the very least, you should check your facts before making one.

In this case, a search for "fedora on a stick" returns over 800 hits, many of which are titles of articles or blog entries. You didn't originate it.

Moreover, at least one use of the phrase occurs on September 4, 2006 -- over sixteen months before you used the phrase. However, I'm not accusing you of plagiarism -- like SJVN, you simply used a phrase in current use for your title.


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Fedora on a stick

Posted by: Bob on August 06, 2008 06:03 AM
I was excited to try this new feature for Fedora 9. It worked wonderfully, until I performed a system update. After the updates, which went very slowly, the system was corrupted and wouldn't boot. Rather than try again, descriptions of the feature as 'beta' prompted me to give up. Maybe this was a fluke, but Xubuntu has performed perfectly (repeatedly) under identical conditions. Fedora may not have worked out all the bugs yet. Lets hope they do, because it's a great distro and option.

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Fedora on a stick

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 212.95.115.132] on August 06, 2008 02:41 PM
good hint TK, its something to think about, before the "Big crash" comes... its a new trend on the web with all these "portable applications", but a really nice trend. i have many things on my USB-Stick (xampp, open office, and many more) its great to have them all in your pocket without installing anything. also great article Steven. "Anonymous" what do you want? a backlink and an information that YOU are the original source? i think you are maybe even not the first at all... with regards Jacky from http://da.tabula-online.de

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Fedora on a stick

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 217.35.93.182] on August 11, 2008 12:01 PM
now if only..... I could run my linux apps from inside another OS as well as booting into my Linux OS when I wanted too.. ;) that would be awesome...

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UNetbootin - Live USB Creator that works with Ubuntu, Fedora, and most other distributions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.234.216.128] on August 14, 2008 11:41 PM
You may also want to see UNetbootin http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/ which brings the same Live USB creation functionality to Ubuntu and many other distributions; simply download an ISO file and UNetbootin will create a Live USB from it.

An older version was previously featured at http://www.linux.com/feature/124684 but since then it has attained many new features such as ISO file support and Live USB creation support.

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Fedora on a stick

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.88.212.218] on August 24, 2008 11:42 PM
I just upgraded my laptop pc to a 200 GB 7200RPM drive. The old drive is a 60GB 5400 drive. Is there a Linux I can install on the old drive and boot from the drive via a usb enclosure? I want to test Linux but do not want to clear out my Windows until I know I like it. I also would rather not swap hard drives to try it.

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