William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

Linux on USB + a drive in the country

I’m about ready to declare war on syslinux, a purportedly “easy-to-use” Linux bootloader that theoretically allows a Linux kernel to boot from a FAT partition, such as the kind commonly found on a USB key. That’s the idea; I’m trying to get a bootable Linux distro installed on my new 2GB USB key, a $24 Wal-Mart special. But there have been so many gotchas that I’m officially giving up.

For instance, the Windows version barks at me that there’s an invalid parameter. There isn’t; it just doesn’t like my USB key. The Linux version, which I’ve figured out how to install and run from my Ubuntu liveCD, says it only supports 512-byte sectors. Cue hair-pulling. I’ve spent the last two nights trying to place Debian, Ubuntu, and lastly Knoppix – all without success.

So right now I’m basically screwed unless I purchase one of the USB drives specified on pendrivelinux.com - they’ve been verified to work. A note on them; they do address a need, and loading a Linux distribution onto a USB key seems like a great idea until you find out that the implementation is painful, awkward, lousy, doesn’t address common gotchas, and isn’t completeable by command-line novices.

What we need is a slick Windows program with an easy GUI to do all the heavy-lifting. Ah, but anyone with the expertise necessary to create such a thing – gratuis! – also has the expertise necessary to do everything manually. Where’s the motivation? We need to start nagging the Linux distros directly; they have the motivation, and enabling people to easily use speedy, change-persistent USB-based distributions will facilitate huge migrations from Windows. Nobody wants to mess with their computers, and CD-ROMs are awkward and slow; if a Windows alternative is as easy as sticking a little dongle into the side of your laptop and turning the laptop on, who wouldn’t be interested?

Well, it’s not that easy just yet. But it’s getting there. I predict that by this time next year, it’ll be doable by a novice.

BTW, anyone ever hear of OS/X being booted from a USB? I would probably be trying to set up a Hackintosh just for the giggles (it’s possible, but painful) – but it won’t support my wireless card or take any advantage of my dual core processor (I’ve got Core Duo, not Core 2 Duo). It’s not worth it; the only OS/X program I really want is Final Cut Pro.

* * *

On Sunday afternoon, Grandma and I took a drive around the country. We stopped for coffee at the Inn at St. Peters: wow. We sat on the deck and enjoyed the breeze and the sun shining on the bay, and the receptionist who served us happened to have been just a few grades ahead of me at my old elementary school. We had also driven all the way around Cable Head, driving on red clay roads and seeing and hearing the whitecaps of the north shore. That’s summer, and it’s great fun – even (or especially) if your companion is your grandmother. =)
Tags: drives, grandma, key drives, linux, operating systems, summer, usb

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