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Is it possible to use Ubuntu from a USB without installing or editing the boot menu?

February 19Hits:1

This question already has an answer here:

  • How do I install Ubuntu to a USB key? (without using Startup Disk Creator) 12 answers
  • How to create a bootable USB stick? 4 answers

I was just wondering if it is possible to install Ubuntu on a USB Flash Drive, and then run Ubuntu from the USB without rebooting, touching the boot menu, or installing. Just using it on Windows 7, from a USB. Then, say the USB is removed, it goes back to Windows 7.

Many of you will probably ask why I would do this when I can just install it, and here's why: I already have Ubuntu installed at home, but I want to run it at school without touching anything I could get in trouble for. Also, I have no administrator rights, except I do know how to use the login screen as an admin account, but I can't download anything. (I enabled command prompt in the login screen in place of sticky keys, and then typed: explorer.exe to bring up the start menu, etc,)

Anyway, again, I was just wondering if this is possible to do. Thanks.


I have successfully done this with both Portable VirtualBox and Qemu for Windows.

  1. The pro for Portable VirtualBox is that it gives you the full power of VirtualBox. (It's a modified version of VirtualBox.) The con is that it's very slow from a usb drive. If you use this, definitely go for Lubuntu and maybe even use openbox or fluxbox alone instead of the full Lubuntu session.

    Portable VirtualBox has also had some problems with bugs on Windows 7. The developer has stated that it doesn't seem to affect everyone, so it may be related to some arcane Win settings. I had it work fine on one computer, but to get it to work on another Win 7 computer I had to download an older version of the binary. (And it took some trial and error to find one that worked right.)

    Another downside is that setting up Portable Vbox in Windows seems to mess up any pre-existing standard VBox install on the same the machine (just the app, not the VM's you may have already created).

    LinuxLiveUsb uses Portable Vbox for it's Virtualize this Key option, but the last time I tried it the Win7 bug prevented it from working; plus that option (unlike a standalone Portable Vbox) does not allow persistence.

  2. Qemu also works well. See Qemu for Windows for the binaries and Qemu main site Qemu documentation.

    Getting a virtual machine up and running is a little more hands on than in Vbox. But it's not really difficult. This slightly dated page originally intended for Qemu on the OLAP project is helpful for getting started, but it doesn't tell you everything you need to know.

    Qemu is arguably a little faster than Vbox since it's somewhat lighter. You may find some older pages saying it's too slow to use in Windows, but my experience is that is no longer true with the newer binaries. Still, you will want to make your install as light as possible with Lubuntu or similar.

Check out portable VirtualBox - http://www.vbox.me/

find out what key is used to boot into the boot selection menu, usually F8 right after (i mean right after) the bios splash screen disappears. then in the menu, you just select the device to boot from. (this doesnt change anything in the bios as in boot order or whatever. )

[...] I was just wondering if this is possible to do. [...]

  1. Yes, it is possible - but you have to be careful.
  2. You will obviously need 2 USB flash drives
    • stick 1 is your Ubuntu Live medium
    • stick 2 is the blank one, on which the system will be installed
  3. Stick 2 should be larger than 8GB!
  4. Boot from stick 1
  5. Install Ubuntu on stick 2
  6. Install the bootloader on stick 2!

This is the crucial step!

Make no mistake here and be extremely careful!

Do not overwrite the bootloader on your working system! (You might even want to unhook the harddrives in your working system before you start the installation process).

When the installation on stick 2 is finished, you might want to edit etc/default/grub and add GRUB_DISABLE_OS_PROBER=true to make sure that the OS on the hard drive(s) are not encluded in the GRUB menu.

If stick 2 doesn't boot at home, check if there's a bootable partition!

Goood luck and enjoy!

Tags:usb, boot, grub2

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