Is Linux more portable than Windows

Linux on the stick: 10 ideas for use

Hermann Apfelböck

Linux on USB is as varied as your requirements. One of them needs an office on the go, the next a system for risky web visits at home. And when USB media go on a journey, the data should be protected in the event of loss.

Technically it is not a problem to port a Linux as a live system to a USB stick, for example in classic use as an emergency or surf system. However, since USB 3.0 also delivers any properly installed Linux quickly, there is no prohibition on thinking about mobile Linux (points 1 to 6). The following examples are practical suggestions and not detailed instructions. We only go into more detail with the types of encryption of USB media (points 7 to 10).

1. Porteus fast surfing system

Any Linux system installed on USB will bring you to the Internet. In the case of low demands, a live system is sufficient, which then does not allow any browser bookmarks or other convenience. But the Porteus specialist is a surfing system par excellence - small, fast and, if required, a pure browser in "kiosk mode". However, the website with a selection of the numerous Porteus variants and versions is confused. We are simplifying the selection and are concentrating here on the interesting kiosk version with Firefox or Chrome.

You have to write the ISO image to USB or CD in an intermediate step in order to install it from there on the target medium. You can also load the ISO as a virtual machine in Virtualbox or Vmware and install it from there on the target medium released by the host.

The setup with the English-language installer is very detailed and you should take your time for the numerous options. The system and browser are finally configured. In addition to the browser selection, it is about the network connection (cable, WLAN), the keyboard layout, the ability to call up a shutdown dialog with Ctrl-Alt-Del, an optional access password or predefined bookmarks. In general, relatively generous settings are recommended for a kiosk porteus that you use yourself. At the end, the "System installation" dialog appears, where you can select the target drive. After clicking on “Install system” Porteus is on the USB stick in no time at all. The small system hardly takes up a GB of space. Using the surf system is extremely straightforward - after booting the USB stick, just wait a moment for the browser to appear.

Tip:The emergency system to take with you

2. Repair systems for Linux and Windows

EnlargeThe PC World Emergency DVD specializes in Windows breakdowns.

Repair systems have to do their job and have the right tools ready to hand. Demands on desktop aesthetics and adaptability take precedence when important files have to be scraped from the bootable main system. Therefore, live systems without installation are sufficient here. The following two are undemanding and run on any PC. Network, WLAN and Internet access are on board.

The PC World Rescue DVD is the ideal emergency aid for Windows breakdowns (775 MB). It offers virus scanners, rescue tools for deleted files and partitions, password deletion, copy and clone specialists, the Gparted partitioner and even an editor for the Windows registry. For Linux breakdowns, the live system of the respective distribution is often sufficient as a repair system. System Rescue CD (545 MB) is more specialized. The factual system starts at the prompt, but also shows a simple XFCE interface after startx. In terms of graphic programs, Gparted, file manager, browser and burning program only offer the bare essentials. The wealth of the repair system is only revealed in the terminal with countless tools for file processing and data recovery (7z, Badblocks, Ecrypt FS *, Grub2 *, Gvfs *, Isoinfo, Nmap, Photorec, Testdisk, Unrar ...). Partitions have to be mounted manually with mount.

The additional Windows partition

In addition to the Linux system, an additional Windows partition with FAT32 or NTFS is often essential for an ideal USB stick. If you think about this when setting up the Linux system, all the better: Then it is best to place this partition at the beginning of the USB stick. That is, you start partitioning the free space with a primary partition with Windows file system. This prevents harmless but annoying Windows error messages about unrecognized partitions later. But you can also use Gparted to reduce the size of the system partition on the stick on another Linux system and set up FAT32 or NTFS on the free space. The swap partition, if the size allows, you can even reduce the size of the partition with Gparted while the system is running, if you deactivate the partition in Gparted beforehand (“switch off swap space”).

3. The second desktop

Live systems are hardly suitable for a mobile work environment: one or the other desktop setting is painfully missed in the long run and essential programs are missing from the software supplied. A live system with persistence may be sufficient to compensate for this, but you are only on the safe side with a really installed desktop system on USB. Depending on the requirements and the target device, the minimalists mentioned later can or must suffice (point 6).

But if you can count on USB 3.0, a smaller Ubuntu edition is best. Ubuntu Mate and Xubuntu are good candidates for combining desktop comfort and fluid work on the USB stick.

4. Music station and media center

The effort for transportable media collections can be very different. If you rely on the fact that you will find the necessary players and codecs on other PCs, you can simply copy your media to USB media without software support. They should then preferably be formatted with FAT32 or NTFS in order to allow access to at least all operating systems. A little more service and independence is also possible with this simple variant: You can always include the universal player VLC (and possibly other software such as an image viewer): The portable VLC for Windows is available at portable VLC app image for Linux at Please note that the start of Appimages on FAT32 does not work, but this can be easily remedied by copying it to the respective Linux system.

An ambitious solution is a complete Kodi media center on USB, in this case preferably on a USB hard drive. One of the smallest and fastest Linux systems that transport Kodi is Libre Elec, which starts up on USB 3.0 in around 15 seconds. The easiest way to install is with the "LibreELEC USB-SD Creator" from the address (Linux, Windows, Mac-OS). It automatically loads the current Libre Elec for the desired platform, in our case “Generic_ x86” for PCs, and writes it to a connected stick. For the time being, this is only the installer with which you boot and then install Libre Elec on the actual target medium.

We cannot set up Kodi at this point. For mobile USB use, it is important that you do without network sources and stock all media on the USB medium.

5. The Wiki in your pocket

If you call up, edit and expand your notes, addresses, instructions and information collections in a wiki based on Apache or Nginx, you can of course also transport this wiki on a USB stick. The prerequisite is a properly installed Linux system on USB with Apache / Nginx, Wiki software and at least PHP. The Dokuwiki recommended here does not require a database. Dokuwiki is a good mobile companion because the data synchronization with the home wiki installation is easy: only the subdirectory “/ data” contains the content and can be easily synchronized with rsync.

You can even call up the wiki content on Windows PCs, as there is a portable Windows version of the Dokuwiki (see and there “MicroApache”). To do this on a single USB stick, you need an additional FAT32 partition in addition to the Linux installation. You can find information about this in the box "The additional Windows partition".

6. USB 2.0-ready general-purpose distributions

EnlargeThe economical Q4-OS has the retro design of extinct Windows versions.

The distributions recommended below are all based on Debian and are undemanding enough to start quickly and work smoothly on any USB stick with four to 16 GB. There is no noticeable difference to a hard disk installation on USB 3.0. These small systems also run responsively with USB 2.0.

Q4-OS with the Trinity desktop is fast and undemanding (download from, approx. 580 MB). The system starts on a USB 3.0 stick in 13 seconds to the login screen and only takes up about 175 MB of RAM for the system and desktop after login. The desktop Trinity is based on KDE 3. This KDE version, which has been discontinued for ten years now, looks old-fashioned to retro, but is typically KDE adaptable. The work surface is a classic file storage, the menu simply in the style of old Windows versions and the system bar ("control bar") contains the typical elements with quick starter, window list and indicators.

The installation starts from the live system via the desktop link "Install Q4OS". The setup on the USB stick is done with the Debian installer, whereby under “Partition hard drives” the entry “Manual” and then the correct identifier of the USB stick “/ dev / sd [n]” must be selected as the target. After the installation, the desktop profiler offers to complete the narrow software equipment.

Bunsenlabs Hydrogen is based on a Debian 8 and the simple window manager Openbox on the desktop. The download ISO under