Monday, 5 September 2011

Multiple Live CDs on a Single USB Startup Disk

Recently, I tried out a Live USB for the first time. It's a great way of installing a Linux-based operating system or simply trying one out before committing to an installation. In fact, I liked the idea of a convenient, reusable medium for testing new distros so much, that I purchased a new USB drive in order to keep a copy of Kubuntu to hand.

Whilst I didn't put a great deal of effort into my search, the smallest thumb-drive that I found was 4GB - that's an enormous drive for a c.700mb image file and I started wondering whether I could put multiple images on a single usb stick - it turns out that sundar_ima has already thought of the idea and produced a fantastic utility called MultibootUSB.

Put simply, MultiBootUSB is:

"... a shell script which allows user to install multiple Linux Distros in to USB drive / Pendrive / Flash drive and able to boot from it."
And it works!

You can find some great instructions for installing MultiBootUSB at, so I won't use up space replicating them here. However, it might be useful to point out a couple of things to watch out for if you want to use this application.

After installation, make sure that the thumb-drive is mounted in the /media/ directory before starting the application - I know that it sounds obvious, but check anyway! The easiest way is to plug-in the drive and click on the icon in the Places sidebar in Nautilus or Dolphin. When the drive is mounted, you can find the application (in Kubuntu) via the Applications > Utilities menu.

When you want to add a new image to an existing MultiBootUSB, you'll still receive a warning that "Grub2 will be installed in the MBR!" - don't worry, this will not overwrite or delete any existing images on the drive. Select the drive from the device list and click the confirm button to access the Multisystem menu.

If you are installing OpenSUSE, be patient: it seems to take much longer to install to the pendrive than Ubuntu-based distros.

A really nice feature is the test function in the Multisystem menu: you can test using either QEMU or Virtualbox.

So far, I've put four images on my 4GB drive (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Mint, & OpenSuse) and still have 1.1GB free! For those who want to explore the vast world of Linux distros, take a look at DistroWatch for some ideas about other bootable offerings.

Sources & References:

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