Create Bootable Live Linux USB Drives with UNetbootin
By on January 3rd, 2010

This year for Christmas, I received a new netbook to play with. It came pre-loaded with Windows XP, so I’ve had a little vacation from Windows 7. I’ve also had to live without a CD/DVD drive, and that’s been the real challenge for me.

Once I had my netbook set up the way I wanted it, my first order of business was to create a full system backup. Since my netbook doesn’t have a CD drive, I had to figure out how to boot a recovery system from the flash drive slot, or a USB stick.

The backup software I chose came with a Live CD ISO file that you would normally burn to a CD. Once the CD was booted, you could access your backup files on the network or on an external hard drive, and then you could restore your system. I tried a variety of programs, but I finally found a perfect solution at Sourceforge.net. UNetbootin (free and open source) easily created a bootable SD flash card containing my system recovery software. Below I’ll give you some details about this fantastic utility.

Here’s what UNetbootin’s home page says about itself.

UNetbootin allows you to create bootable Live USB drives for a variety of Linux distributions from Windows or Linux, without requiring you to burn a CD. You can either let it download one of the many distributions supported out-of-the-box for you, or supply your own Linux .iso file if you’ve already downloaded one or your preferred distribution isn’t on the list.

The list of supported operating systems that UNetbootin supports is very impressive and even includes a few malware rescue systems such as: BackTrack, Dr. Web Antivirus, F-Secure Rescue CD and Kaspersky Rescue Disk. These are very useful when you need to scan a system that’s been totally trashed by the bad guys.

They also tossed in some disk recovery and backup systems such as: CloneZilla, Gujin, NTPasswd, Ophcrack, Parted Magic, Smart Boot Manager, Super Grub Disk and SystemRescueCD.

Topping the list of supported operating systems are some Linux favorites such as: Arch Linux, CentOS, Damn Small Linux, Debian, Dreamlinux, Elive, Fedora, FreeBSD, Frugalware, Gentoo, NewSense, Kubuntu, Linux Mint, Mandriva, MEPIS, NetBSD, openSUSE, PCLinuxOS, Puppy Linux, Sabayon Linux, Slax, SliTaz, Ubuntu, xPUD, Xubuntu and Zenwalk.

Here’s a shot of the main interface you’ll see when you start UNetbootin.

unetbootin-linux-install-download

As mentioned above, you’ll have the choice of downloading a distribution ISO file, installing an existing ISO and even setting up your own custom installation. It will even allow you to install an OS onto an empty partition on a hard drive. This little app is very flexible and I haven’t had it fail me yet.

It’s nice to have a few spare USB flash drives around to try out some of these Linux operating systems. One of my favorites was described here by Chinmoy in his article about BrowserLinux. I was able to load it onto a 128mb SD flash card and run it there. It’s amazing and sometimes hard to believe that a complete and useful operating system can run in that small of   a space. I have a feeling I’ll be using it on un-trusted wifi hotspots.

Download UNetbootin for Windows and Linux

Techie Buzz Verdict:

UNetbootin is a must haveutility for those of you that are stuck without a CD drive. It’s simple settings, wizard-like UI and wide variety of supported systems, will keep you coming back for more. I did find that it is sometimes very slow downloading Linux distributions. You may be better off downloading them manually using a BitTorrent client or a web browser.

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Techie Buzz Rating: 4/5 (Excellent)

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Author: Clif Sipe Google Profile for Clif Sipe
Promoting Freeware and Free information since 2004. Owner of FreewareWiki.com with over 2000 pages of freebies. Please subscribe to my Google Feed or follow me on Twitter @clifnotes.

Clif Sipe has written and can be contacted at clif@techie-buzz.com.
  • http://www.ghabuntu.com ghabuntu

    Yup Approved too. Really great app especially for those who need to use the pc of other people.

    I specifically use it to create live usbs for testing purposes and like you said, it's yet to let me down.

    • http://clif-notes.blogspot.com Clif Sipe

      Thanks for the comment Ghabuntu. What's your favorite distro to take with you on the road? What size USB sticks are you using?

  • tfosorcim

    Great article. Thanks.
    Different subject: any thoughts on how to get Apple's Quicktime on Ubuntu 9.04; and on whatever distribution is used on Asus' EeePC 701? An acquaintance of mine claims it's not possible. He doesn't have a real life; he's a movies junkie AND a Microsoft Zombie (in case you hadn't guessed), and claims this is the main reason he'll never use Linux (can you say MicroSITH–MicroSoftInTheHead–boys and girls?). I'd like to show him trailers from apple.com/trailers and say "…and what excuse have you dreamed up now?".
    Again: great article. Many thanks.

    • http://clif-notes.blogspot.com Clif Sipe

      Hi tfosorcim,

      Ubuntu does not support Quicktime, only because it’s a proprietary format and possibly some legal issues. However, it can be gotten around using the instructions at LifeWithUnbuntu. it doesn’t look easy, but the instructions are clear and most folks can get through it.

      Thanks for asking.
      .-= Clif Sipe´s last blog ..Clif Notes Newsletter for January 2010 =-.

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