Klaus Knopper answers your Linux questions

Ask Klaus

Article from Issue 173/2015

Migrating a Linux OS from DVD to flash.

Klaus: I am a newbie, and I have an XPS Dell laptop in excellent condition (still rather new, about a year old) except for ONE THING – it has "buggy" Windows 8 on it. I'd like to wipe the laptop's hard drive and do a full, non-partition installation of Linux using a CD supplied by Linux Pro Magazine. However, my laptop does not have a CD/DVD drive but rather has two USB 3.0 ports.

I do have a Dell XPS Studio 9100 desktop running Windows 7 Professional, and it does have a CD drive. That having been said, can I simply insert the CD, open a My Computer window, click and drag the contents to an empty flash drive, then transfer the flash drive to my laptop where I can do a clean install of Linux?

There must be a good reason that Linux OS installations in magazines are on CDs rather than on flash drives, but I'd like to know why.

Thanks for any advice you can offer.

Sincerely, Terrell

First, a word about CDs and DVDs as add-ons to magazines: It is true that a more modern way would be to include USB flash disks rather than DVDs. However, a DVD does not add significant cost to the production, and the process of gluing the DVD holder into the print medium is technically well supported. Inserting a USB flash disk would increase the price of the magazine so that readers who buy the magazine for the written content, and not especially for the included software, would face a price challenge that might not be acceptable.

Apart from the significantly higher production cost, mass-flashing USB drives is a more time-intensive task. CDs and DVDs are printed in a production line within a day, but "bulk flashing" requires manual insertion and removal, as well as verification of the content, which further increases the time and cost needed for production. So, it looks like we will have DVDs around as the primary "physical software container" for a while, even though drives are getting rare.

An obvious solution to your problem could be to attach a USB DVD drive or burner to the computer's USB port. The BIOS and even UEFI firmware of most computers will detect the drive and allow booting from it using the standard "El Torito" method [1].

Please note that booting from DVD differs from booting a disk or flash disk. A DVD does not have a "master boot record" but uses a special structure that tells the computer's BIOS where the bootloader is located. Therefore, just copying over the CD's content to a USB flash disk is not going to make it a bootable device. The flash drive needs its own version of a bootloader. Luckily, some tools provide an easy migration from DVD or CD to the flash medium or allow you to download Linux installation software directly to USB:

  • Rufus – An open source Windows tool for creating bootable USB flash drives [2] (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Rufus is a Windows tool for creating bootable USB flash drives.
  • UNetbootin – This tool creates bootable installation USB drives for various Linux distributions. UNetbootin is also open source software, and it runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS [3] (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: UNetbootin creates bootable Live USB drives.
  • Pen Drive Linux offers a collection of USB installation tools online [4].
  • Knoppix provides its own USB flash installer, flash-knoppix [5], which also allows you to encrypt personal data in the Live system or run updates on the flash drive, but it's strictly Knoppix-specific (Figure 3).
Figure 3: The flash-knoppix utility is found in the Knoppix  | Install KNOPPIX to flash disk menu.

If your computer gives you the choice, switching from UEFI mode to CSM (Compatibility Support Module, or the "normal" BIOS boot) will make installation of Linux distributions and booting from Live media easier.

The Author

Klaus Knopper is an engineer, creator of Knoppix, and co-founder of LinuxTag expo. He works as a regular professor at the University of Applied Sciences, Kaiserslautern, Germany. If you have a configuration problem, or if you just want to learn more about how Linux works, send your questions to: klaus@linux-magazine.com

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