Having an operating system on a flash drive is handy. With a flash drive OS, you carry your own system from computer to computer so you don't have to rely on other people's systems. You can also recover files from damaged systems, test hardware, and give demonstrations of Linux. Installing Linux on a flash drive is a piece of cake. Several Linux distributions have been packaged to make them easy to install from any Windows computer. This article explains how to install SLAX Linux, a Slackware derivative. SLAX is recommended because it works on any USB drive greater than 256 MB and is easy to expand with office and other programs.
Visit Pendrivelinux.com (see Resources) and follow the link to download the USB version of SLAX. It will be named something like "slax-6.x.x.x.tar."
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Navigate to the slax-6.x.x.x.tar file you just downloaded. Using a program like 7-zip, WinRAR or IZArc, unzip the file to the root of your USB drive.
Your USB drive should now contain two folders, "slax" and "boot." Verify these are in the root of the drive. Note, there will also be several new files on the drive; do not remove these because they are important configuration files.
Open the "boot" file on the USB drive and run the program "bootinst.bat." This step is essential, as the small program will make your USB drive bootable. Once the process finishes, leave the drive in your computer and power it off.
Restart your computer and enter the BIOS setup by pressing the appropriate key displayed on the BIOS splash screen (generally F2 or F10).
In the BIOS setup, set your computer to boot from the USB drive first rather than from the CD-ROM or internal hard drive. Save your changes and exit the BIOS setup.
Restart your computer. It should now boot from your flash drive and present you with a SLAX Linux boot menu. Follow the onscreen instructions to boot into SLAX and enjoy.
There are many other types of Linux available at Pendrivelinux.com. Some require larger drives and different hardware, but all are free and can be installed on a flash drive. Play around with all of them. Running Linux on a USB drive is a great way to start out in the Linux world because it poses no risk to the host computer.
Things You'll Need
256 MB or larger flash drive
Computer running Windows