Carry An Entire PC Operating System In Your Pocket

I thought I’d pass on some fairly new technology for computers that make it easy to carry an entire back-up PC operating system around with you on a $10 4GB USB memory stick…and it’s FREE.

I have an entire computer operating system on this USB stick that I bought at Frys for $10.

Most of you know there is an alternate to the Microsoft Windows operating system called Linux. Newer versions of Linux have all the functionality and look of Windows. They come bundled with the Firefox and Chrome internet browsers, a Microsoft Office clone called Open Office, a mail system that works and acts just like Microsoft Office Outlook and which includes a contact list, a media player, Skype, photo editor, games and utilities. Unlike Windows, the newer versions of Linux will boot off of a USB memory stick and operate a PC without using the PC’s hard drive. Most new PC’s sold in the last two years or so will boot-up off of a USB memory stick. Older PC’s may have a BIOS upgrade that will allow this.

When you boot-up a PC, watch the first screen that flashes on. You will see a screen that says something like:

Setup = Fxx
Boot menu = Fxx

Place the USB memory stick in an open USB port and turn on the computer. Press the Boot Menu function key during the boot-up, about once per second, and a menu will show with all the devices the PC will boot from; usually hard drive, CD, USB and Network. Select the boot from USB menu and the PC will ignore the hard drive and use the system in the USB memory stick to boot up. You don’t even need the drivers specific to the PC you are using. They are all in the Ubuntu kernel. You can export your browser bookmarks and mail program contact list from your current PC and import them into Firefox or Chrome and the Linux mail program. You don’t have to reenter them all. So, with the bootable USB memory stick, you can walk into any internet cafe, reboot a computer with your USB memory stick, and have your own desktop system, just like what you have at home. When you leave, you take it all with you. Nothing gets written to the PC’s hard drive.

To get the USB memory stick up and running, you will need two pieces of software, which are free. You will need to download an image file of the entire Linux operating system, and a program to install it on a USB memory stick and make it bootable. It used to be technically difficult to create a bootable USB stick, and get the operating system on it, but not any more. A program called “LiLi USB Creator” will do all the work. You can get the program here:

Link to linuxliveusb.com.

Download the program. It runs on Windows. When it is running it will ask you to choose which system you want to install on your USB stick (the image file must already be downloaded and saved on your harddrive). The newest and best version  is “Ubuntu Version 10.10”. You can download that image file here:

Link to Ubuntu Version 10.10.

The above link also has several different Linux versions that can be downloaded. It also has a link to another USB installer, if you want to try it. Just look for the highest version number of Ubuntu, as it is constantly being updated.

The operating system will take up about 2Gb of the USB memory stick so you have another 2Gb available to back-up your files and carry them around with you. For instance, you can scan all your important documents, like passport, FM3/2, bank statements, etc. and save them on the USB memory stick.

As an added benefit, if the hard drive on your PC crashes (usually from a corrupt boot record) and will not boot, you should still be able to boot from the USB stick. Ubuntu has a windows-like file manager program that sees your hard drive. As long as your hard drive is still spinning, even though it has corrupt sectors, you can backup or transfer files from the hard drive to another computer on the network, another USB stick, or burn them to a CD. Ubuntu also offers an option to install the system on your PC’s hard drive, if you want to. It will install side-by-side with your existing operating system, so you can choose which one you want to use. It will also make clone bootable USB memory sticks.

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