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I tried installing a "pen drive" version of Ubuntu from PenDriveLinux.com, but since it was a modified version of Live Ubuntu (i.e. that usually runs from a CD), it had some kind of custom "persistence" options that made some parts of the file system readonly. What I am looking to do is boot from my USB and have the distro work exactly like a "regular" distro - i.e. be able to write anywhere I would normally be able to and have it persisted, install packages, etc.

Also I would like to be able to access the filesystem from Windows (i.e. not just mounting the Windows disk while running Linux).

I tried just installing a standard Ubuntu distro to my USB as if it were just a standard drive, but I got what seemed to be some low-level errors (forget what they were). Should this be expected, or should I just try installing some other standard distros.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Basically these are two questions.

  1. You can install any distribution onto a USB-drive or stick. 8 GB should be enough.
  2. If you want to be able to access files from Windows, then Windows has to be able to mount the linux-partitions. A "solution" might be to install Linux on VFAT/NTFS/...

But: I see no reason to do so. Use a separate partition formatted with VFAT und use that as data-exchange-partition.

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Excellent, thanks. I just wanted to confirm that I should be able to install any distro to the USB before I troubleshoot what I am doing wrong and/or download other distributions. I like the partition idea; I will actually rarely need to copy a file from Windows to the Linux fs, I just need to sill have the USB available for transferring files from one computer to another. – David Deutsch Mar 3 '12 at 21:58
+1 for the separate vfat-formatted partition (or even ntfs) idea. (Don't try to install to that tho.) – rsaw Mar 3 '12 at 22:08

Also be aware of Windows' limitation on removable Flash devices, where it can't see but the first partition. Yes whatever the filesystem on it.

The solutions I found to make the Data partition usable under that silly OS are:

a) Put the data partition first on the device and then the system, bootable partition,

b) Or put it where you like it best, and then swap the partitions number. A simple way to achieve this is described on this post: Point "4a. Use RMPrepUSB" alone does the trick.

This requires to launch RMPrepUSB (GPL) from Windows with the USB stick plugged. BTW I'm looking for a way to swap partitions on a usb device from Linux. Please share if you know!

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This is not true. It can see them - it just generally does not reveal them. This behavior can be affected by manipulating the way it handles the removable flag. And, as always, there is DISKPART. – mikeserv Jan 4 '15 at 22:06
Can you please expand on using Windows DISKPART to swap partitions order for Windows? Or using a linux utility? As for removable devices «In Windows, fixed disks can have multiple partitions and removable disks can have only one partition. You can create two or more partitions on the removable disk in Linux, but Windows will recognize only the first partition on that disk.» [social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/windows/fr-FR/… – lliseil Jan 5 '15 at 8:46

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