The Ultimate Guide to USB Flash Drives: Part III

Take your USB Flash Drive and load it up with software to turn it into a portable workhorse.

April 3rd, 2007 • General •
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In the last segment, we talked about how to get the best deal on a USB Flash drive. Heck, you could even get the USB Flash Drive for free.

So, now you have your USB Flash Drive and are ready for the best part of this series: loading software onto your USB Flash Drive. Choose between Operating Systems or Applications...or both.

Operating Systems

Mark my words. One day, people will walk around with 64GB USB Flash Drives around their neck or in their pockets and a shell of a PC will be sitting at their desk. The only thing they need to do is plug their USB Flash Drive into the PC Shell. When they turn on their computer, it boots to their USB Flash Drive instead of the internal hard drive and brings them into their mobile operating system.

PC BIOS settings are more common to have an option to boot from a USB device as opposed to booting from a hard drive. Check your user manual that came with your computer to find out if your system supports USB bootable media.

Think having an operating system on a USB Flash Drive is impossible? People are already doing it!

Portable Linux

Since Linux is naturally small, the entire operating system can fit on a USB Flash Drive with no problem. There are different flavors of Linux, though. It just depends on what is your favorite Linux distro (distribution) you want installed on your USB stick.

It seems Ubuntu is gaining in popularity with Linux because 1). it's simple to setup and 2). it has a Windows-ish look and feel. Although there are other Linux OS's available, Ubuntu may be the way to go for installing Linux on a USB Flash Drive.

Some sites I would recommend for individuals brave enough to create a bootable Linux operating system on USB stick are listed below:

  • Pen Drive Linux - the leading site for installing a bootable Linux on a USB Flash Drive. The site provides installations of the following flavors of Linux: Ubuntu, DSL (Damn Small Linux), Knoppix, Slax, and PCLOS.
  • Mandriva Flash - Installing a full 3D version of Mandriva Linux on a 4GB bootable drive. One downside...it's 89.00 Euro. One upside...You don't need to fiddle with it to work.

Portable Windows

Windows installed on a USB Flash Drive is very rare since it has so many drivers that need loaded and requires a lot of additional files, but since it is used on a majority of computers these days, here are a couple of Windows sites that address Windows installations:

  • MojoPac - MojoPac is the equivalent of taking a virtual Windows PC with you. MojoPac takes common desktop files and uses a host PC for their driver files, but runs everything from the USB flash drive. Unlike Linux, it's not free. The cost is $30 and Gina Trapani over at LifeHacker has a great post about how to use MojoPac.
    NOTE: MojoPac is not supported anymore.
  • Tom's Hardware (Windows in your Pocket) - Tom's Hardware is a favorite among many techies so it stands to reason that they have a great tutorial on building Windows XP on a USB Flash Drive.
  • Install Windows Vista from a 4GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive - Simple steps to create your own bootable Windo

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Picture of Jonathan Danylko

Jonathan Danylko is a freelance web architect and avid programmer who has been programming for over 20 years. He has developed various systems in numerous industries including e-commerce, biotechnology, real estate, health, insurance, and utility companies.

When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, he replies, "Programming."

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